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September 12, 2007

Prisoners of Uncertainty
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

John Stewart made a profound point last night.  According to most of those who support an open-ended commitment to Iraq we can’t set a timetable for withdrawal because we can’t possibly predict what will happen in Iraq.  And yet, somehow we know exactly what will happen if we leave. 

Petraeus:  our experience in Iraq has repeatedly shown that projecting too far into the future is not just difficult, it can be misleading and even hazardous.

Stewart:  Don’t criticize the surge because no one is can know what is going to happen.  Unless you’re talking about not sticking with the surge.

Petraeus:  A rapid withdrawal would result in… the disintegration of the Iraqi security forces, rapid deterioration of local security initiatives, al Qaeda-Iraq regaining lost ground… a marked increase in violence, further ethno-sectarian displacement…and exacerbation of already challenging regional dynamics, especially with respect to Iran.

Stewart:  That’s what happened when we went into Iraq

Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias poke some more holes in the “Middle East in Flames” theory.  The MEI theory is to Iraq what the domino theory was to Vietnam.  Inflate the consequences of failure and present a picture that we cannot afford to lose.  In Vietnam, the rationale was that all of Southeast Asia would go Communist and we’d end up fighting the Soviets in Berlin.  Today, it’s that the Middle East will fall apart and we’ll have Al Qaeda on our doorstep.

Note: Prisoners of uncertainty is a term from Zbig Brzezinski.


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Even Juan Cole has fallen for the MEIF theory. This theory, it seems to me, appeals to those who always see the military as 'peacekeepers' operating in a diplomatic vacuum. This is true even though the military itself says that settling a low-intensity conflict must be 80/20 diplomatic/military. So without any diplomacy we're missing eighty percent of our capability and must try to persevere forever with the twenty percent. This is just fine to the M-I complex, because war is much more profitable than peace.

Since Bush is arming everyone in Iraq and the region, and encouraging Sunni regimes to confront Iran, I don't think the administration has any right to talk about a Middle East conflagration. Indeed, Bush seems to welcome it.

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This is similar to a broader point I'd like to add to Kevin's whole analysis, which is that Armageddon is not going to materialize in the ME overnight, and we'll have a lot of ability along the way to influence things. Even if big problems turn up, they're going to be relatively small big problems at first, that can be killed in the cradle. There's just not enough momentum for anything big to happen in the ME right now such that huge problem, insoluble except for our having kept a military presence in the ME, is going to show up. Anything that happens, we can stop along the way.

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