WIN, LOSE OR (WITH)DRAW IN IRAQJohn Robb
has an important post up on Iraq at Global Guerillas
entitled " Nation-State Strategy:Clear And Hold
", one that follows up on the article by Martin van Creveld
that predicted an outcome somewhere between MacArthur's retreat from the Yalu and the Roman Legions of Crassus in Parthia for the American military in Iraq. I have to wonder though if van Creveld's deep antipathy for the Bush administration might not be coloring his formidible powers of analysis. The United States is doing poorly in Iraq in part by its own self-imposed political restraints and not entirely by the " natural" dynamic of battle or the inherent military excellence of the insurgent groups.
The insurgents are definitely " a thinking enemy" but much of their thought has gone into crafting tactics contingent on the continuance of our odd ( from an Iraqi perspective) practices and routines of the U.S. military, many of which were developed in response not to the conditions of the Iraqi battlefield but to the pressures emanating from the domestic American political arena. Those constraints are within our power to change which could improve our position to better respond to those factors which are not.
Nevertheless, should we continue along on our merry way as we have been doing, Robb's scenario
"What this means
The likely outcome will be that the US will have little real value (a decrease in violence) to show for its efforts over the next year. If we do it flawlessly (which is going to be very difficult given a thinking enemy), the controlled chaos may hold long enough for the US to get most of its troops out. Here's what it means: Moral collapse. There will be intense pressure from US voters to exit Iraq prior to the US elections next year. This is the last plan that the US public will allow without serious repercussions for the American political leadership. It's a one way ticket.
Melt down. As the plan bogs down and the body bags of Iraqi troops flow home in increasing numbers (due to insufficient armor, training and increased fighting), there will be a backlash against the US. Expect increased pressure by Shiite militias on our rear 'safe' areas after full independence. Since this pressure will threaten our lines of supply as well as our exit path, it will put the US military in a difficult position. The key is to get as much as we can out of Iraq before it occurs.
Unexpected events. A rapidly evolving plan like this creates the potential that unexpected events may cause serious disruption. For example: the expansion of the conflict to a new area (the US?) and/or a major overrun (we almost saw this in the attacks on the Baghdad hotels in October/November) where a large group of Americans are killed and taken hostage. Either event could cause a radical policy collapse " I think Robb's critique should be taken very seriously as an argument for changing the strategic game plan in Iraq from trying to achieve maximum objectives into guaranteeing minimum results - which in my view would mean:1. Qualitatively building up the military capabilities of the Peshmerga to several orders of magnitude above all their other militia rivals or the insurgents -i.e. accept reality that the Kurds are the only reliably pro-American and effective indigenous military force in Iraq.
2. Aim for an Iraqi army that can hold Baghdad - by that I mean just the government buildings, the airport and the road connecting the two. Beyond that, a capability to temporarily swarm an area in force to demonstrate the central authorities' ability to punish, if not occupy. Taking over the duties of American troops is a fantasy we ought to just drop. Good security in Baghdad beats bad security everywhere .
3. Recruit the services of Shiite militias to keep order in the South with financial subsidies but do not upgrade them significantly in terms of training or arms. Their reward is conceding de facto dominance on their home turf
4. Draw down to an airpower/socom heavy, " hammer" force to back up operations of the Iraqi government and the Peshmerga.
This is " The Syrian Scenario" answer to the " Lebanon Logic" problem in Iraq. We remain an 800 lb gorilla and paymaster but a less targetable one and accept a much higher level of chaos in return for keeping Iraqi democracy on life support, letting the Kurds continue to nation-build their autonomous proto-state and avoiding the position of being overwhelmed by a civil war despite our best efforts. (We need to be honest about the degree of " victory" we wish to pay for in Iraq. Total victory ? Ok - lets talk about a 20 division U.S. Army because that would go a long way).
Unless the Iraqis themselves settle politically, civil war is going to happen in Iraq and the parties involved won't negotiate in earnest until they see the light of the train rushing at them.