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July 27, 2005

Changing Tack on Iraq
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Just weeks after President Bush's primetime speech vowing to stay the course and redouble U.S. efforts in Iraq, it appears today that the Administration is changing tacks.

Rumsfeld issued something that sounded suspiciously like an ultimatum, demanding that the Iraqi leadership crack down on the insurgency, agree swiftly on a new constitution and put more pressure on Iran and Syria to seal the borders.   From the sound of things, the Administration may be putting out terms they know the local government cannot meet laying a potential foundation for later announcing that America can't or won't stay in light of the Iraqis' failure to hold up their end of the bargain.

General Casey, who is in charge of the U.S. troops in-country spoke today of "substantial reductions" in the U.S. presence next Spring, provided progress is made on training Iraqi troops.

On cue, Iraqi Foreign Minister Jafari stressed Iraqis' desire for a speedy timetable to send the Americans on their way.

Make no mistake, these comments do not reflect any improvement on the ground in Iraq. 

On the insurgency, General Casey said this:  "I wouldn't say that it's necessarily a stalemate . . . Insurgencies need to progress to survive, and this insurgency is not progressing. There's been a change in tactics, to more violent, more visible attacks against civilians. That's a no-win strategy for the insurgents."

Now, why are violent, visible attacks against civilians a no-win strategy for the insurgents?  They terrorize people, presumably undermine their confidence in the Iraqi government and security forces (and the U.S. military) to protect them, they can disrupt the political negotiation process (as occurred last week when the Sunnis pulled out of the constitutional talks due to security concerns).  These attacks project publicly that the insurgents are alive and well and capable of mayhem.  They are probably helpful in drawing in recruits and support from anti-U.S. elements abroad.

Perhaps what Casey means is that such attacks turn the Iraqi people against the insurgents.  Clearly the Administration wishes this were the case.  After a bomb that killed 25 Iraqi civilians earlier this week, the Pentagon issued a statement quoting an unnamed Iraqi who said: 

"They are enemies of humanity without religion or any sort of ethics. They have attacked my community today, and I will now take the fight to the terrorists."

The trouble is, according to the New York Times, that the Pentagon used the exact same quote after a separate explosion two weeks earlier.   The Times reports that Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a military spokesman, said he had "no idea" how the duplication occurred.  "I have sent a message out to discuss this with the leadership," he said.  The gaffe is now being chalked up to "administrative error."

That the Administration is beginning to despair over Iraq is no surprise.  A look at headlines  during the past 24 hours tells the painful story:  Diplomats are being gunned down, pounding deadly violence is targeting both Iraqis and U.S. troops, the U.S. death toll is mounting, Iraqi morgues are overflowing, the military is struggling to deal humanely with swelling numbers of detainees, British intelligence analysts are calling Iraq the dominant issue driving the violent extremists behind the July 7 bombings, the political fissures dividing the country may be deepening.

While the completion of a draft constitution on time in August will be a hopeful development if it happens, the document's content may raise serious concerns about women's rights and religious freedom.

Bottom line?  I wrote about 5 weeks ago that I thought the consequences of U.S. retreat from Iraq were grievous, and that there were still ways to turn the situation around.  I still believe the former is true.  Leaving Iraq in danger of becoming a failed state will have dire results for the region and for U.S. security.  But there's no sign of improvement on the ground and the amount of sound advice that has been dismissed and ignored would fill volumes.   Whatever glimmer of hope there was to build up the Iraqi security forces in time to combat the insurgency and allow a noble exit for the U.S. is fading fast.

If the Administration has indeed grown cynical about prospects for putting Iraq on a stable footing so that its no longer in danger of becoming a failed state, then it is time to rethink the wisdom of putting American lives at risk for that goal.


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If the Administration has indeed grown cynical about prospects for putting Iraq on a stable footing ...then it is time to rethink the wisdom of putting American lives at risk for that goal.

Ya think? I would really like to know why you continue to believe Iraq is worth fighting for. Right now we're defending an ally of Iran, and Iranian intelligence officers are openly laughing at us for our stupidity.

I say let's cut our losses and let the Iranians spend the blood and treasure to stabilize the country. They're the ones who are benefiting from this disaster.

My understanding is that Iraq has a free press and other attributes of a civil society, although the insurgency obviously limits expression. Iran's interest is to prevent Iraq from becoming a threat and Iraqi leaders seem willing to accommodate Iran on this point.

The question is whether and how far the Iraqi government will curtail basic freedoms at home, particularly the freedom to elect secular parties that pursue secular policies. I don't think we can regard Iraq as an Iranian client state unless (and until) secular parties are prevented from running. I don't see a consensus among Shia Arabs to repress secular parties but I guess we'll know soon enough.

This is playing out more or less as I'd expected. The Bush administration has run into an untenable situation: Army and Marine Corps recruitment is insufficient to sustain the operation in Iraq for the long term, and they know quite well that initiating a draft to sustain our presence in Iraq would be political suicide for Republicans. As I've argued before, the American public bought into this war for "hard" reasons of national security -- the "mushroom cloud over Manhattan." They also supported the vision of building liberal democracy in Iraq, but that was a very "soft" support -- there is very little willingness to continue taking casualties over many years in support of such a mission. The net result is that people are voting with their feet -- not joining the military, and not encouraging their children to do so, and hence the policy is unsustainable.

As for the ultimate outcome, I think Zbigniew Brzezinski's June 30th piece in the Financial Times got it right -- Iraqis are the only ones who can bring stability to Iraq, and either the Sunnis will be forced to cut a deal, or the Shi'ites and Kurds will use their superior numbers to crush them, with whatever level of brutality that takes. The problem isn't "training" Iraqi security forces -- it's motivation. Shi'ites want to fight as Shi'ites. Kurds want to fight as Kurds. It's rather telling that the only three battalions of the Iraqi National Guard which are considered fully combat ready -- capable of fighting on their own -- are Kurdish peshmerga units who have put on Iraqi National Guard uniforms. It's also rather telling that Ibrahim al-Jafari and his allies in parliament are so keen on preserving the Badr Corps militia -- because they intend to use it to settle scores with the Sunnis on their own terms. The real winner here, in realpolitik terms, is Iran -- and that was foreseen by a number of well-informed observers before the war.

As for your concerns about women's rights, I share them, but really -- is this any surprise? The people elected to the Iraqi legislature last January reflect their system of values, not ours. The majority of Iraqis want Islamic law applied to personal status issues. Remember when the people at CPA Baghdad in 2003 started out discussions on the constitution process by stipulating that there would not be an established religion (i.e. no mention of Islam in the constitution)? Does anyone really not see, in hindsight at least, how ridiculous it was to expect them to accept that?

One thing I expect, as this nightmare winds down (at least our participation in it), is a vigorous debate within the Democratic party about what lessons we should learn from our experience in Iraq. There are going to be some people who are still so wrapped-around-an-axle ideologically that they can't accept those lessons, and I expect to see plenty of articles in the general vein of "Iraq: The Missed Opportunity and How Democrats Would Have Done it Better."

I also expect, though, that there is going to be a lot more healthy skepticism expressed in the future any time someone brings up the subject of using the U.S. military to "transform" societies radically different than ours. John Kerry ran as a self-proclaimed realist in 2004, and I suspect whoever we nominate in 2008 will also run on a platform of being smarter and more judicious in the use of military power -- saving the troops for fighting where we really need to fight, rather than taking on missions of "civilizing the natives" on open-ended occupation duty.

Running out of Steam?
Let's put this sudden talk about departure in the proper context shall we? The key timeline that this administration is moving against- isn't Iraqi readiness, constitutions or victory against terrorists -its plain old mid-term politics. All of these " events" are going to simply be the pre-text for " rapid withdraw of combat troops and declare victory." This isnt the first time we've done this i.e. Somalia ( on a smaller scale).

But quite frankly, I suspect that the real " non-political" reasons we are positioning ourselves for disengagement is that we reaching a point where our modern army is running out of steam - reservists are reaching duty limits, equipment replacement is going to be a problem, costs are out of control, morale ( at home and in theatre) is starting to drop. The are less Coalition Troops and less in the future which means that a " void" primarily in the South will need to be filled. For this option to happen - you have to have more stability in these sectors AND viable Iraqi forces ready to step in. I guess we willing to throw the dice.....

You seem to be missing the obvious. This oil venture in Iraq is no longer safe enough to continue. The administration knows important cogressional seats are in jeopardy in 2006 so they figure they only have about a year to drag this thing out even if they have to settle for less in the way of oil theft. The toll on the military is not an issue in the eyes of this Whitehouse. It's certainly not concerned with the post occupation and the future of the Iraqi people or they would have taken the training of these people seriously.

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