Sunday, November 27, 2005

Dave Schuler of The Glittering Eye set off a blogospheric dialogue on the prospect of withdrawing from Iraq - all thoughtful and considered arguments from the participants:

"Discussing Withdrawal From Iraq" by Dave Schuler

" Thoughts on Withdrawal" by Dan Darling at Winds Of Change

"Staying the Course and Paying for it" by Jeff Medcalf at Caerdroia

"The Political Reality of Troop Withdrawals" by McQ at QandO

"Biden, Democrats Ask The Wrong Questions" by Ed Morrissey of Captain's Quarters

Additional Related Links:

"The Controlled Chaos Exit From Iraq" by John Robb at Global Guerillas

"Iraqi Guerillas Make Key Demands of CIA at Cairo Conference" by Juan Cole at Informed Comment

My best forecast is that the United States will make a partial withdrawal from Iraq because the U.S military absolutely requires it at the current level of force structure, regardless of the situation in the Sunni Triangle. We'll probably do a mix of deal-cutting, unleashing of the loyalist paramilitaries and reducing to a heavy-duty " sledgehammer" force to hang in the background and support our Iraqi allies.

The post-Cold War demobilization that occurred during the Clinton and first Bush administration set a force level that was inadequate for the United States to carry out any of its presumed global responsibilities other than short-term MOOTW operations and bombing the hell out of some rogue state by air. Never mind fighting 2.5 or 1.5 wars at once, we're having grevious personnel rotation trouble with just one.

The mismatch of potential missions with the size of American ground forces is not accidental either but a deliberate policy of politicians from both parties who saw a pot of money in 1990 to use for other things but did not care to admit that slashing the Army from 18 to 12 active-duty divisions also meant changing our strategic expectations for using the Army. A policy of unreality cheerfully continued by the Bush administration for reasons both good ( force the Pentagon to transform) and bad ( it costs money without paying political dividends).

We forget that with an economy 25 % smaller in terms of GDP, the United States once easily afforded parking 300,000 troops in West Germany alone, a mere 15 years ago. So our current dilemma is a matter more of political choice than wallet but the problem cannot be fixed except over a period of several years, so we are left pretty much with employing the paramilitaries alongside an American counterinsurgency effort or giving up.

The loyalist paramilitaries are chomping at the bit, arguing that fire can only be fought with a fire that Washington does not have the stomach to do itself. They're probably correct - the insurgency can be defeated militarily ( or significantly degraded) but not without getting your hands dirty by slaughtering (or at least jailing) Sunni clansmen en masse until the insurgent networks collapse. It's a pragmatically ruthless tactic with a record of success in strangling guerilla armies that goes back to the Boer War, but it requires a Lord Kitchener type leader to carry it out and is exceedingly difficult to do and still look like you are the guy wearing a " white hat". (Though, perhaps if Zarqawi , whose Qaida Iraq group Juan Cole reports as being " fabulously wealthy", assists us by ramping up his own level of ghoulish atrocities, it isn't impossible).

President Bush, for good or ill, is no Lord Kitchener and even winning on the battlefield this way becomes meaningless unless America also wins in the "moral" and "political" spheres in Iraq. Indeed, the Boer war was won by Great Britain militarily, British " paramountcy" in the Cape was preserved by bringing the Afrikaaner states into the empire, but the political costs were very high. Arguably, the Boer War weakened Britain's hold over " the white dominions" and left the British Empire less willing or able to face up to looming strategic challenges, economic or military.

An outcome the United States cannot afford.
If we do withdraw to a strategic over-the-horizon base of operations, it would be interesting to see if Zarqawi would continue to receive the massive amount of Saudi oil money to defeat democracy or would that oil money simply go towards maintaining a Sunni domination, which, as you pointed out in your last posting, the two are not exactly the same. I may be as blind as the planners of the Iraq war, but I don't see the militias as being pro-democracy. I think the militias, by definition, have a central leader. In the war to maintain the Kingdom against democracy, which Zarqawi must be fighting with the use of Saudi’s oil money, I don't see the militias’ conflicts as being relevant. The militias simply want to destroy the Saudis not change the dynamic of the situation. A civil war would be much more agreeable to the Saudis than having elections. The Saudis are fighting democracy there, so they don’t have to fight it back home in the Kingdom.
An excellent post.

Teaching international relations, "Why are we in Iraq?" and "What happens if we leave?" are two common questions I get. Your post is essentially what I have been answering.

So if I'm crazy, I'm not the only one :)

Dan tdaxp
President Bush, for good or ill, is no Lord Kitchener and even winning on the battlefield this way becomes meaningless unless America also wins in the "moral" and "political" spheres in Iraq.

This interests me.

My problem in analyzing the situation is that I don't have a firm understanding of what we can expect from the Iraqi government. Whatever the theoretical composition of the government may become, I wonder who is actually leading or going to lead the country through the next four years or so. Will the new Iraqi leadership be able to "hold the course" on democracy -- I mean on the airwaves as well as on the ground -- or will the militias and paragovernmental religious leaders have more sway over the development of Iraq after we leave if we leave within the next 1.5 years?

Leaving aside Larry's consideration of the Saudis -- ? -- I think he is right about the militias having little pro-democracy motivation. Besides which, I believe that a harsh crackdown on insurgent Sunnis by the new Iraqi government might have a destabilizing effect: unless they can contain such efforts (which also means defending against enemies from without) and work in a highly efficient and totalitarian manner, they are likely to fuel resistance by their clumsiness and/or indiscriminate (and, non-democratic) activities. If, on the other hand, the leaders of Iraq do become quite totalitarian, the world will say the U.S. has failed, or has replaced one dictator with another form of totalitarianism; and this, too, would fuel Sunni extremism in the region.

How quickly can a "democracy" -- where everything gets debated -- act? How efficiently can such a system, particularly when it is very new, respond to an internal insurgency?
Hi Everyone,

Larry raises some excellent points.

Insofar as Zarqawi is " fabulously wealthy" the money is coming from KSA and the Gulf - and I'm sure his group is not alone in receiving a cash flow- which could probably best be turned off by having a number of pious donors to the cause to have fatal misfortunes on or about the same day. Car accidents, heart attacks, sudden suicides might get across the point that the hand with the checkbook is as much a terrorist as the hand with an AK-47.

Of the Loyalist paramilitaries I think it is fair to say the Kurdish Peshmerga, who number 100,000 or so are very amenable to democracy and pro-American positions so long as Kurdistan remains at least autonomous. Facilitate Kurdish independence with the Turks and the U.S. has created a second Israel.

Of the other militias, they simply want a chance to kill their Sunni enemies and where they are on democracy depends what Shiite party they are aligned with.

For Curtis, I'm not sure how the Sunnis are going to ramp up to a higher degree of resistance than they are putting out right now. Smart policy would peel off the moderate factions by giving them a place at the table and isolate the hard-core fanatics from the rest of Iraq.

Basically, barring a dramatic change in tactics or resources, the best we can manage at this point is a central government that heeds democratic norms being aided by the U.S. in an expanding civil war. Further progress is not going to be made unless a huge dent is put in the insurgency or unless it can be geographically contained by inkblotting Iraq with secure zones that are truly secure.

Dan - are you unleashing your open-source graphics on your students ?

I somehow feel there are some Nebraska co-eds out there wearing t-shirts emblazoned with Boyd's OODA loop....
I never thought about OODA co-eds... hm.....

Some interesting shirt ideas are dancing in my head...

Students are pretty cool on Boyd, actually. Very little friction with his ideas -- they glide smoothly past.

However, lots of heat with Barnett. Students have suprrised me by having a very "New Core" mindset - materialistic, optimistic, forceful. This in spite of apparently universal disapproval of Bush's Iraq policy. The chapter's lectures about the "Global North" and "Global South" are particularly good, because they overlap so closely with Core and Gap.

"Insofar as Zarqawi is " fabulously wealthy" the money is coming from KSA and the Gulf - and I'm sure his group is not alone in receiving a cash flow- which could probably best be turned off by having a number of pious donors to the cause to have fatal misfortunes on or about the same day. Car accidents, heart attacks, sudden suicides might get across the point that the hand with the checkbook is as much a terrorist as the hand with an AK-47."

True. Of course, it'd then be a b*tch if the oil were to suffer some interruptions. That's basically turning the Gulf states from a back theater to a front theater in this war. Now, if the neo-con dream had come true, and Iraq were to be firmly under US control, this might be doable. But it hasn't, and Iraq isn't.

As to carrying out a serious slaughter amongh the Sunni arabs, this would play nicely into Al Qaida's hands, IMHO - you can't buy better propaganda, and there'd still be 10K or so seriously radicalized surviving guerrillas.
Hi Barry,

Well, I'm not suggesting a squadron of F-16's hit the U.A.E. but something a little less dramatic. And some of these donor types do travel to Bahrain, to Europe...

And as for the oil being shut off -that trick was tried once before - today the oil states are secretly selling to Israel through third parties so I hardly think they will muster an embargo simply when people who played with fire end up getting burnt.
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