Wednesday, February 07, 2007

American troops and the Iraqi civil war

The anti-war forces, including many Democratic candidates for President, keep harping on the fact that no weapons of mass destruction were found and that the country was misled as to the reasons for the war in Iraq. They are certainly right on the first issue and more right than not on the second (there were reasons to at least be suspicious of WMD’s at the time) but the points here have little to do with trying to decide what we need to do in Iraq now.

And if the anti-war side is stuck on the issues of the past the Bush administration has been in complete denial of the reality that the victory in toppling Sadaam Hussein has been completely squandered and the window of opportunity to help establish a democratic and stable Iraq slammed shut quite some time ago. If it had not been the publicity of the rather gloomy conclusions from the bi-partisan Baker-Hamilton Commission it is quite likely this administration would still be carrying on as if nothing has changed. As it is, they have finally acknowledged things are not going well but seem to believe that a few changes in personnel and a few additional troops in Baghdad will turn the situation around in a few months that has been unraveling for the past four years.

It is becoming clearer each day that American troops in Iraq are less and less fighting an insurgency by Baathists trying to topple a democratic government than they are participating in a civil war being fought along ethnic lines. We are training and arming an army and police of which significant segments are loyal to interests other than the democratic state of Iraq. There are voices in our country advocating taking sides with the Shiite forces. This ignores the fact we have a national interest in being able to sit down with both Sunnis and Shiites throughout the region as well as the moral issue of taking sides mean American troops inadvertently become accessories to ethnic cleansing by helping crush the Sunni militias.

There is nothing that was inevitable about this state of affairs. As Peter Beinart pointed out the New Republic a few weeks ago Shiite and Sunni have cooperated for decades but the collapse of the Iraqi state due to the failure to provide basic security has left the population with no choice but to seek protection from the various militias responsible for most of the current fighting and ethnic cleansing. As Beinart points out despite all the lofty rhetoric about democracy if there is no state then there is no republic.

So what should we do? Is it possible to mitigate the effects of the civil war? How does the United States pursue legitimate national interests in a region in which we have become discredited?

Edward Luttwak has these recommendations in the New York Times:
…. The total number of American troops in Iraq — even including any surge — is so small, and their linguistic skills so limited, that they have little effect on day-to-day security. Nor have they really protected Iraqis from one another. At most, the presence of American soldiers in any one place merely diverts attacks elsewhere (unless they themselves are attacked, which is a sad way indeed of reducing Iraqi casualties).

Intelligence is to counterinsurgency what firepower is to conventional warfare, and we just do not have it or the capacity to gather information on our own. Thus the sacrifices of our troops on the ground are mostly futile.

Politically, on the other hand, disengagement should actually reduce the violence. American power has been interposed between Arab Sunnis and Arab Shiites. That has relieved the Shiite majority of responsibility to such an extent that many, notably the leaders of the Mahdi Army, feel free to attack the American and British troops who are busy protecting their co-religionist civilians from Sunni insurgents. For many Arab Sunnis, on the other hand, the United States must be the enemy simply because it upholds the majority of the heretical Shiites.

Were the United States to disengage, both Arab Sunnis and Shiites would have to take responsibility for their own security (as the Kurds have doing been all along). Where these three groups are not naturally separated by geography, they would be forced to find ways to stabilize relations with each other. That would most likely involve violence as well as talks, and some forcing of civilians from their homes. But all this is happening already, and there is no saying which ethno-religious group would be most favored by a reduction of the United States footprint. One reason for optimism on that score is that the violence itself has been separating previously mixed populations, reducing motives and opportunities for further attacks. That is how civil wars can burn themselves out.

In any case, it is time for the Iraqis to make their own history.
And Andrew Sullivan follows up on his blog:
Once the decision was made to foment anarchy in Iraq - a decision made with clear foresight by Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney - the chance of Americans to influence events in a country they don't begin to understand was thrown away. The great delusion of the pathetic rearranging of deck-chairs called "the surge" is that we are somehow supposed to believe that four years after we abandoned control of Iraq, we can regain it with a handful of new troops. We can't. A civil war is underway in Iraq to test the real power of the various factions and sects in the country. There will be no peace until such a rebalancing of power is finished. That will mean, alas, ethnic cleansing, more violence, hideous atrocities and the risk of regional war. So be it. It's already under way under American occupation; the only problem is that young Americans are - ludicrously - supposed to police it.

… the less the U.S. is directly involved in one side or another, the more options we retain for the future. Disengagement, in other words, is defeat. But it is defeat in a war we have already lost. It could mean a gain in a war that is only just beginning. Which could mean victory in the end, whatever victory at this point can be understood to mean.

1 comment:

Comrade Kevin said...

What is clear is that at this point neither Democrats nor Republicans have a clue on Iraq.

This is the same situation Richard Nixon found himself in, having inherited a situation from Kennedy and LBJ.

I find myself thinking that we ought to negotiate with Syria and Iran and the other neighboring states and then get our troops the hell out of the way.

There will need to be a steady (UN) presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

Saddam Hussein was a dictator who kept three factions at bay at the point of a gun. People will do anything out of fear.

In truth, we have the British Empire and WWI to thank for the current situation. Iraq was a construct of the Treaty of Versailles.

IMHO, we need to get our boys and girls out of there and just like your mom and dad said don't do this again