Monday, October 30, 2006

Gray Ending to Iraq?

In the most recent issue of Newsweek Fareed Zakaria writes "Rethinking Iraq" an attempt to explain how the United State can create a "gray ending" in Iraq, one that "that is unsatisfying to all, but that prevents the worst scenarios from unfolding, secures some real achievements and allows the United States to regain its energies and strategic compass for its broader leadership role in the world." It is an article well worth reading for anyone interested in the current Iraq debate, as a member of the foreign policy establishment Zakaria's views will probably be echoed in the post-election Baker report.

Zakaria's has a pretty good understanding of events on the ground, that we are not winning, and therefore are loosing, the war against the chaotic poverty, the Sunni insurgency, and the sectarian violence that define the current state of Iraqi politics. He outlines the intra-communal "deal" (division of oil revenue, amnesty, distribution of jobs to all three communities, disbanding of Shia militias) that appears to be the consensus among US foreign policy experts on how to solve the current situation in Iraq. He also explains that this deal probably won't happen, because both the Sunni and Shia communities would rather fight it out than make peace (see the US/al-Maliki rift). Meanwhile Iraqi leaders denounce the presence of US soldiers in order to win favor with their communities, while quietly assuring America that they support our continued involvement. The main goal of his article, however, is to explain what the US needs to do, assuming that Iraq's leadership does not go through with "the deal." His suggestion:

Currently we have 144,000 troops deployed in Iraq at a cost of more than $90 billion a year. That is simply not sustainable in an open-ended way. I would propose a force structure of 60,000 men at a cost of $30 billion to $35 billion annually. . . The core national-security interests of the United States in Iraq are now threefold: first, to prevent Anbar province from being taken over by Qaeda-style jihadist groups that would use it as a base for global terrorism; second, to ensure that the Kurdish region retains its autonomy; third, to prevent or at least contain massive sectarian violence in Iraq, as both a humanitarian and a security issue.

Zakaria then proceeds to undermine the relationship between his proposed reduction in force and achieving the two remaining goals that most American's would support the fight against Al-Qaeda and protecting Kurdistan. First, he argues that most Sunni's and Shia hate Al-Qaeda and would probably clean out the minority of jihadists once they made a deal (or, as he implies, if the Shia win a civil war). Second, he claims that since the Kurds can provide their own internal security, a major presence of US troops may cause more problems than it solves.

Thus, the reader is left to assume that most of the 60,000 men would be, in essence, managing a civil war (training the Iraqi army, guarding bases/supply lines, conducting limited offensive operations, etc). This is deeply troubling, on the one hand a "butcher's bill" that would likely stand at $30 billion, likely 500-600 American dead, 5000-6000 seriously wounded, and an endless source of jihadi propaganda inflaming Muslims worldwide, every year, for a decade. On the other, what exactly would we accomplish, given that as Zakaria admits, the Al-Qaeda and Kurdistan issues could be managed at a far lower cost?

Zakaria never makes that clear what America would receive for that painful, politically unpopular sacrifice he proposes, except some ability to shape the new government (so we can have "our" favorite Shia thugs in office?, to keep our bases?, to deter the Iranians?. . .) and prevent regional chaos. How exactly does Zakaria propose to sell the American people on to paying the aforementioned "butchers bill" so that Iraqi refugees don't destabilize our dear friends in Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia?

If this is the best case for staying in Iraq that the establishment crowd can come up with, then, if I were an Iraqi, I would be making my reservation on the last helicopter out of the Green Zone.

And now for somethingcompletelyy different, today's YouTube Clip: the Dreseden Dolls Girl Anachronism.


Blogger Steve S said...

Well, one must ask what the US gains by managing a civil war - which, really, is what we're doing right now anyway. It seems to me that there are real benefits - and continuing to train a "third force" national army in Iraq and supporting a reasonably democratic government (it really is unfair to simply pass them of as "our thugs", except insofar as they are there because of US-backed elections) are going to pay off long-term. Regardless of who wins the civil war, having these structures in place will leave Iraq in a better situation down the line.

Also, you'll cringe, but I really do take Hitch at his word:
We have acquired this responsibility not since 2003, or in the sideshow debate over prewar propaganda, but over decades of intervention in Iraq's affairs, starting with the 1968 Baathist coup endorsed by the CIA, stretching through Jimmy Carter's unforgivable permission for Saddam Hussein to invade Iran, continuing through the decades of genocide in Kurdistan and the uneasy compromise that ended the Kuwait war, and extending through 12 years of sanctions and half-measures, including the "no-fly" zones and the Iraq Liberation Act, which passed the Senate without a dissenting vote. It is not a responsibility from which we can walk away when, or if, it seems to suit us.

Wow, that was ridiculously long. I'll stop now.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Joe A said...

As you know, after the invasion, I ambivalently supported the subsequent occupation because I felt that A) the government might be right about the WMDs B) I trusted that America’s leadership had a workable plan to improve the situation in Iraq, some of which, as Hitch points out, we are responsible for. The problem is that I don’t see the benefits from spending American tax dollars and American lives in a situation where the local people are not interested in accomplishing the same goals as we are. If the Al-Maliki wants us, for example, to disband check-points and treat al-Sadar with kid gloves, that’s his business, they are a sovereign country and we are guests of the government. It just doesn’t mean we have to support him in that course of action. .

If the Iraqi government is willing to make choices (and be held accountable for them ie with a timetable) I would entertain plans to continue the present course. For example, a 12 month plan that included stopping the death squads, achieving reconciliation with ex-Baathists, splitting oil revenue, etc might offer a way forward that stabilized the situation and offered the prospect of an honorable exit. This kind of strategy of timetables, targets, and consequences, might not only help the situation on the ground, it will also give the American people a feeling that they are not being taken for a ride.

10:07 PM  
Blogger Steve S said...

As you know, I supported the war for far different reasons. I believed that we could create a working democracy out of Iraq - but I also believed it would take at least 10-15 years to accomplish. Has the administration handled the situation well? No. But the project hasn't been an entire failure. The thing now is - failed states, more than anything else, breed terrorism. Using just that, it seems like a good idea to remain in Iraq and build up an effective Army and bolster the positions of moderates in-country. The generals are using the right criteria, so I don't think all hope is lost.

And re: WMD - have you seen this?

11:34 AM  

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