Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Iraq and Catch-22

Anne-Marie Slaughter writes about a panel she moderated recently at Princeton. Panelists were given ten minutes to describe what they thought Iraq would likely look like in 2010. One of the panelists was Ray Close, a retired CIA Arabist. As she points out, he offered a sobering prognosis.

Close identifies a number of very real potential crises in the region ranging from the western Indian border to the Mediterranean Sea in addition to Iraq which are part of the same picture. This would include toppling of governments, chaos, and possible militant Islamic takeovers of Pakistan (armed with nuclear weapons), Egypt (the most populous country in the region), and Saudi Arabia (the most oil rich in the region). Situations are already simmering in Afghanistan, Iran and Israel-Palestine. And, of course, he doesn’t rule out the possibility of another major terrorist attack on the United States.

Finally, he addresses Iraq and lays out why there is unlikely to be any satisfactory conclusion to the conflict there anytime soon..
1. FIRSTLY: At the moment, a continued large US military presence in
Iraq is the most effective barrier to a complete breakdown into civil war. To
put that proposition another way: I do not buy Congressman Murtha’s argument
that immediate and precipitate withdrawal is either practical or indeed
conscionable in terms of our responsibilities and obligations to the Iraqi
people. Much of what we are struggling to accomplish in Iraq today is generally
admirable and praiseworthy on the tactical level, and will continue to be
essential on the strategic level for the immediate future.

CATCH-22: The American military presence is also the main cause and
inspiration behind growing opposition BOTH to the US occupation AND to the
credibility and legitimacy of those leadership elements in Iraqi society on whom
a future of unity, stability and political moderation critically depend. I have
always maintained that in the final analysis, the person or the group that ends
up running Iraq, if the country remains in one piece, will have established his
or its credibility and legitimacy by the degree to which it has successfully
DEFIED and OPPOSED the American military occupation, not cooperated with it.

2. SECONDLY: Before a strong and stable central government can be
established and economic recovery sustained, the violent insurgency and general
lawlessness must be brought under strict control, and the central government
must command and control the loyalty of security forces that can function
independently of US occupation forces. Stated differently, organized
governmental authorities must possess a monopoly over the employment of lethal
force in the society, or effective governmental authority will never

CATCH-22: The only forces even potentially capable of establishing
order are the fiercely competitive and mutually hostile ethnic and sectarian
militias, which are growing larger and more powerful every day, and which are
becoming more and more determined to maintain their independence of action as
each respective ethnic or sectarian group feels threatened by the others. At the
same time, many individuals and even organized units of militiamen who owe their loyalties primarily to competing factions in society have become embedded within
the existing government security and military organizations, to the point where
an attempt to weed them out would destroy the cohesion and the effectiveness of
the central government’s already weak and very limited forces. The United States
cannot and will not disarm these rogue militias by itself, either by force or by
persuasion. In many cases, of course, they are the most efficient and reliable
forces in the country, as is particularly true in the case of the Kurdish
Peshmerga. And the United States cannot make common cause with one Iraqi faction against another without provoking civil war. Even standing by as passive
observers of this situation has its serious risks and drawbacks.

3. THIRDLY and finally: To do the Iraq thing right, either militarily
or in terms of economic reconstruction and political institution-building, will
take many more years, even under the best possible conditions. No one, American
or Iraqi, supporter or critic of the Bush Administration, has predicted anything
less than several years of continuing struggle to overcome the many obstacles
that presently stand in the way of a stable and unified Iraq.

CATCH-22: The American people are already rapidly running out of
patience. They will not tolerate the expense and the tragic loss of life, both
Iraqi and American, long enough to accomplish the job. So where a “cut and run”
strategy threatens to cause the whole undertaking to disintegrate, a “stay the
course” alternative that looks beyond the next two or three years holds no more
chance of bringing satisfactory results. Simply stated, expectations and
objectives, however nobly inspired, bear no reasonable relationship to time
availability. Finally, remember my point that failure in Iraq will make every
single other potential disaster in the region much more likely to occur and much
more apt to produce equally tragic and wasteful results. Unfortunately, that
true vice versa, as well.

You can read the entire article here.

Close’s analysis doesn’t have to completely accurate to make the point some very serious and creative thinking is called for, as well as strong and competent leadership, to minimize destructive chaos that can result when events begin to spin out of control.

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