It's understandable that when we in America look at the options for exiting Iraq that the Paris Peace Accords of 1973 and the Vietnamization program would come to mind. The Vietnam War and the post-Confederate mythology of the Lost Cause in the American Civil War seem to be our major conceptual paradigms for lost wars.
But what if the end comes in a very different way? Not as a gradual withdrawal, and not as an orderly surrender at Appomatox Court House, but as a rapid collapse (Untergang) of the US military position in Iraq? The latter possibility is what I've come to think of as the Untergang Option.
Pat Lang explained the logistical vulnerabilities in The vulnerable line of supply to US troops in Iraq by Patrick Lang Christian Science Monitor 07/21/06.
Jane Hamsher quotes Ambassador Joe Wilson on the Iraq War saying, "[W]ith every passing day the situation becomes ever more grave. I worry that we might actually have to fight our way out. There are no magic bullets." (Not As Easy As It Looks FireDogLake blog 11/27/06)
Yet the Decider so far sound like he plans to stay the course. "We'll succeed unless we quit," he said in Vietnam a fews days ago. Today in Riga, Estonia, he said that "we will continue to pursue al Qaeda to make sure that they do not establish a safe haven in Iraq." Which is apparently how he's trying to frame the entire war this week.
Different things could trigger the Untergang Option: a US military strike on Iran, a decision by the Shi'a militias (aka, the Iraqi Security Forces [ISF]) that the American presence is no longer helping them to stomp the Sunnis, a fatwa by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani declaring that foreign troops must leave Iraq immediately.
If the Shi'a militias turn full force on the Americans, there will essentially be no more Iraqi government backing the US. And the ISF that we've been training so they can "stand up" will stand up against the US Army. It will be fortunate at that point that the claims the Pentagon has made about the combat readiness of the ISF are lies.
As Gilliard illustrates with maps, American supply lines run from Kuwait through heavily Shi'a territory in southern Iraq. So do the American lines of retreat. If the Shi'a go over to fully opposing the US, the critical points of control become the Baghdad Airport, the "Highway of Death" connecting Baghdad's Green Zone to the airport, the bridges at Nasyriah and the roads in the south providing the supply lines and escape routes.
The Untergang Option is not likely to look like Dunkirk where a few days' fortuitous weather allowed British troops to evacuate with cloud cover that interfered with German air strikes. Or like Stalingrad where Gen. Paulus' 6th Army was surrounded and trapped by the Soviet Red Army.
But if the Shi'a are able to cut the supply roads and retreat routes, possibly with the Green Zone being overrun at the same time and the Baghdad Aiport coming under serious attack, the US forces will have to leave. Not in a "phased withdrawal" over six months or a year. Not with a face-saving "peace with honor" agreement. But in the "precipitous withdrawal" even war critics have said we want to avoid. Or, as Joe Wilson put it, "we might actually have to fight our way out."
The Untergang Option would involve a major spike in American casualties. And American prisoners would be taken. American POW's are unlikely to receive even as much consideration as Rummy's torturers showed their victims at Abu Ghuraib.
Like virtually all Americans who have become accustomed to thinking of our military as invicible in conventional war, the Untergang Option is hard to imagine. But it's a real possibility. I have neither the expertise nor the information to say how likely it may be. But it's certainly one of the real possibilities we could see develop in the coming months.
Given a political process that has become dysfunctional in many ways, and an Establishment press that has crippled itself, it's hard to guess how such a turn of events would affect our domestic politics. The real existing Republican Party could only fall back on jingoistic and militarist slogans, despite the obvious fact that those very Republicans qualities had just would up with the US Army partially wrecked and its combat readiness seriously degraded.
The Democrats would be sorely tempted to insist on throwing even more money into corporate-welfare boondoggles like Star Wars to show they are "tough on defense". Let's hope that some of the more realistic and pragmatic-minded Democrats would insist instead on serious oversight investigations of the debacle, including the failures of our infallible generals, and on a coherent military policy going forward.
Impeachment of Cheney and Bush would be very likely. But with a one-vote majority in the Senate - and one of those being Joe Liebermann - the Senate might not be able to get the 2/3 requirewd to convict and remove them from office.
The Untergang Option would be uncharted waters for American politics.