Sunday, June 18, 2006

Iraq: No good choices

Several weeks ago, Senator Biden suggested a solution to the future of Iraq. His proposal was to divide the country up into three quasi-autonomous regions under a federal system of government. Whether this was a good idea or not at least it was geared to start discussions about alternatives to the current situation. It was quickly shot down and the debate in congress has quickly deteriorated into partisan up or down votes to go or stay not to better the lives of Iraqi people but to embarrass opponents. As Tim Grieve put it in Salon:

Republican congressmen like Walter Jones and Ron Paul hoped that the
House of Representatives might have a serious debate about the future of a war
that has claimed 2,500 American lives. Dennis Hastert, John Boehner and others
in the Republican leadership thought it was more important to jam Democrats and other war critics with an all-or-nothing vote on a support-the-troops-or-else resolution.

Guess which side prevailed?

Is the debate in Congress over Iraq between false choices –leave entirely by the end of the year or stay the course? Leaving the country by the end of the year without strong and loyal armed forces to fill the void would seem to invite the ongoing sectarian violence to escalate into full blown civil war. Chaos on that scale is then an invitation for neighbors such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria to aggravate the situation by taking sides as well as for Turkey to do mischief in the Kurdish north. A regional war is not necessarily out of the question. As awful as the current situation is there are far worse scenarios. The present situation for the Iraqi people is just awful. Consider this article about the Al-Tub al-Adli in Baghdad in today’s London Times:
The single-storey Al-Tub al-Adli morgue, whose nondescript appearance
belies the horrors within, has become synonymous with the seemingly unstoppable
violence that has turned Baghdad into the most frightening city on earth.

It is here that bodies from the nightly slaughter are dumped each
morning. The stench of decaying flesh, mingled with disinfectant, hits you at
the checkpoint 100 yards away.

Each corpse tells a different story about the terrors of Iraq. Some
bodies are pocked with holes inflicted by torturers with power drills. Some show
signs of strangulation; others, with hands tied behind the back, bear bullet
wounds. Many are charred and dismembered.

So far this year, according to health ministry figures, the mortuary
has processed the bodies of about 6,000 people, most of whom died violently.
Some were killed in American military action but many more were the victims of
the sectarian violence that US and Iraqi forces are struggling to contain.

It is clear more security forces are needed on Iraqi streets, not less, otherwise this situation can, and probably will, get worse if that is possible to imagine. Yet, staying the course is hardly tenable either. Stabilization (let alone democracy) requires, at a minimum, two things. The first is a strong armed forces loyal to the Iraqi nation as a whole as opposed to loyal to sub-groups within (or outside) the nation but the problem is the only forces capable of establishing order are the sectarian militias. The second is substantial reconstruction of the country after years of neglect by the Hussein government and damage by the war. The problem is the initial reconstruction was botched by mismanagement and now is too dangerous to proceed due to the deteriorating security situation. Just as there was no plan for post-war Iraq there is no plan for post-post-war Iraq. Staying the course is very passive because is means events are in control of us and not the other way around.

Add to this the growing impatience of the American people who have been supportive of the administration as long as there were signs of progress. We are being told over and over again we are turning a corner every time some glimmer of good news comes out of Iraq. However, many of us are old enough to remember light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel pep talks from the White House and Pentagon during the Vietnam War.

Right now the administration is betting on the new national leadership in Iraq. On the one hand the new Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, does seem to be the strongest leader the Iraqis and the U.S. can hope for at this time. On the other hand, he is the third Prime Minister in three years, does not have reliable armed forces to back him up, and dependence on the U.S. armed forces can only weaken him politically in the long run. For our foreign policy there is a lot, if not too much, riding on the success of Maliki.

Even the good news about the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi serves as a reminder of how close Osama Bin Laden was to capture or death in the mountains of Tora Bora in December of 2001. The U.S. military failed to commit resources after requests by CIA operatives on the ground had pinpointed Bin Laden allowing him and many of his Al-Qaeda cohorts plus Taliban to escape into Pakistan. The failure to accomplish the mission has left Al-Qaeda to plan for more attacks against U.S. targets as is reported in this week’s Time magazine and for a resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan leading to some of the most intensive fighting in recent months since 2001.

Impatience of the American people is largely a product of the lack of leadership from the administration. The American people needed to be leveled with. If a war is worth fighting then it is worth the leadership being honest about it. Instead we have we are presented with rosy pictures and empty rhetoric about democracy. There are no good choices now – only bad and worse but even those are not clear which is which. If a war is worth fighting there should be discussions about alternatives to overcome failed policies. Instead there are up and down votes in Congress. If a war is worth fighting then it is imperative that plans be made and followed for the whole process from beginning to end, that there be contingencies in reserve if plan A doesn’t work, and that those plans be competently administered. Instead, this administration seems to be making it up as they go along and Donald Rumsfield’s job security seems to take precedent over the security of American troops and Iraqi civilians.

If a war is worth fighting then it is worth doing what needs to be done to make it an international force. Instead, with the exception of Great Britain, the “coalition of the willing” the administration has been able to put together is mostly small countries offering troops numbering in the tens and hundreds. If a war is worth fighting, then Americans need to be asked to make sacrifices. Instead, the administration pushes through war-time tax-cuts and urges the American people to go shopping. It is no wonder there is such a disconnect by the American people – war and peace are no different. If George Bush were President during WWII we would probably be eating rice and sauerkraut for breakfast now.

1 comment:

LaReinaCobre said...

During situations like this I have to think, "Who benefits from these dire circumstances?"