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A proud member of the reality based commentosphere since 2000. You can find my two Eurocent mainly at liberal and centrist discussion threads, but also at some other surprising places. Also tweeting now, as user "graygoods".

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Victory is not an option anymore, let's speak about the best possible outcome.

In my ongoing, yet irregular, effort to feed the blogspot beast by cannibalizing comments I posted elsewhere, I want to put some light on the remaining alternatives for the US in Iraq today. Two recent opinion pieces, written by knowledgeable US officers, provide food for thought:

Victory Is Not an Option
The Mission Can’t Be Accomplished — It’s Time for a New Strategy

The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq starkly delineates the gulf that separates President Bush’s illusions from the realities of the war. Victory, as the president sees it, requires a stable liberal democracy in Iraq that is pro-American. The NIE describes a war that has no chance of producing that result. In this critical respect, the NIE, the consensus judgment of all the U.S. intelligence agencies, is a declaration of defeat.
First, the assumption that the United States could create a liberal, constitutional democracy in Iraq defies just about everything known by professional students of the topic. Of the more than 40 democracies created since World War II, fewer than 10 can be considered truly “constitutional” — meaning that their domestic order is protected by a broadly accepted rule of law, and has survived for at least a generation. None is a country with Arabic and Muslim political cultures. None has deep sectarian and ethnic fissures like those in Iraq.
Second, to expect any Iraqi leader who can hold his country together to be pro-American, or to share American goals, is to abandon common sense. It took the United States more than a century to get over its hostility toward British occupation. (In 1914, a majority of the public favored supporting Germany against Britain.) Every month of the U.S. occupation, polls have recorded Iraqis’ rising animosity toward the United States. Even supporters of an American military presence say that it is acceptable temporarily and only to prevent either of the warring sides in Iraq from winning. Today the Iraqi government survives only because its senior members and their families live within the heavily guarded Green Zone, which houses the U.S. Embassy and military command.

Read it all, the author, William E. Odom, a retired Army lieutenant general, was head of Army intelligence and director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan and sure knows what he’s talking about. Imho Odom's main topic here, the question if the common idea of a US victory is even viable anymore, doesn't get the attention of the MSM and pundits that it requires. Obviously, it's about time to abandon this goal and formulate a new best possible outcome for the US.

The insights from his strategical view are supplemented by a report by Gian P. Gentile, a lieutenant colonel in the 4th Infantry Division, about his experiences as a tactical battalion commander in Baghdad’s Amiriyah district and the conclusions he draws from them. It says a lot about the chances of the surge to succeed:

In Amiriyah we were neither winning nor losing; we were in stasis. Between August and November last year, I substantially increased the number of combined American and Iraqi army patrols there and the capacity of the American adviser team that worked with a local Iraqi army battalion. Still, the deadlock did not break.
As violence mounted significantly in Baghdad over the summer, we confronted this hybrid enemy head-on for a week in early August with an almost fourfold increase of American and Iraqi troops. We also shut down all vehicular traffic in the district, among other things.

The stated purpose for our efforts was to provide breathing room for the government, to allow a break in the violence so it could demonstrate that it was a government of unity. In this sense we “cleared” Amiriyah, and there were no violent acts during that week. Yet the increase in troops was not sustainable.

In the weeks and months after our weeklong operation, American forces did not leave or abandon Amiriyah. We held it with nearly double the number of American and Iraqi troops that had long operated there.
But the violence continued. Sunnis killed and continue to kill Shiites and government forces because of sectarian hatred, to retaliate for what they view as unfair acts by the Shiite government and because they fear that any Shiites remaining in their district would provoke more oppressive government actions against them.

Could more American troops have eliminated the Sunni insurgency in Amiriyah? Probably not, because the people were not willing to separate themselves from the insurgents. Residents saw the Sunni insurgents as their final hope for protection from an illegitimate government out to crush them.

So, a regional surge "with an almost fourfold increase of American and Iraqi troops" "was not sustainable", because the troops were needed in other areas were violence erupted. And even securing the region "with nearly double the number of American and Iraqi troops that had long operated there" couldn't prevent that "violence continued". Well, the US can't double the numbers in Iraq, the US army hasn't that much troops. And even if it could, it wouldn't help, as shown by an officer who fought there. So, it's safe to assume that the mini surge announced by Bush will have no serious impact.

Gentile also correctly points out that Iraq is a political problem in the first place: “More American troops, more Iraqi troops and more American advisers cannot produce a legitimate government; only the Iraqis can do that.”
Indeed. The only question he doesn’t address is, will Sunni Iraqis accept a governement elected by the Shiite majority as legitimate? In the long run, maybe, but not in the heated atmosphere now, where Sunni leaders are putting oil into the flames. Iraq is still on a very long journey towards stabilization.

However, imho a prolonged US intervention in the civil war wouldn’t have either a positive nor negative impact on the growing instability of the region. An active participation of the US in the fight might not even reduce the casualties among the civil population. But it may help if the US could really close the borders, so that at least the fueling of the insurgency with arms and ammunitions would stop. Of course, this would demand the redeployment of the troops in border areas.

The WaPo articles cited above show that a US victory, defined as the stabilisation of Iraq under a pro-US government, already isn’t an option anymore. Regarding the demographics, (60% Shia, 20% Sunni) and the high animosity between the sects, it’s inevitable that eventually a purely Shiite national government will run the country. Which of the two main Shiite forces (al Hakim or al Sadr) will prevail isn’t really important, since both are essentially enemies of the US. The US can’t gain anything by playing the umpire, each time they will support one party will result in alienating more Iraqis of the other side. So, it looks like helping limit the civil war by using US troops to cut off foreign interference with the sectarian parties is the only reasonable and responsible alternative that’s left. This should happen better sooner than later.

(Compiled from my comments at TMV)