Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Iraq War: "It can be lost with surprising speed"

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

In the real world, the US has already wasted time and opportunities that it cannot recover. This means the odds of success in giving Iraq stability and security without a major civil conflict are at best even. A new strategy can only consist of finding the "least bad options." ...

It is true that ultimate success in each of the above action areas requires a US understanding and commitment to at least 5, and probably 10, more years of support for nation building to really be successful. ... It can be lost with surprising speed. It can only be won with patience, persistence, time, and resources. ...

Advancing a new strategy confined to slogans and generalities, without an honest statement of the problem and convincing evidence that a new plan will work is far more likely to reinforce failure than to move towards success. (my emphasis) - Anthony Cordesman, Looking Beyond A Surge: The Tests a New US Strategy in Iraq Must Meet (Center for Strategic and International Studies) 01/04/07

Cordesman's paper gives some important guidelines on what to look for in the Battle of the Surge. Cordesman is a war supporter, but he has managed to hold on to a reality-based view of the prospects. His mention of 5-10 years as the time horizon of the "long war" in Iraq is not new for him. And notice he's saying 5-10 additional years from now, on top of the nearly four years we've already invested.

Most of that paper consists of excerpts from the Defense Department's most recent (Nov 2006) Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq report which the administration is required by statute to provide Congress on a quarterly basis. (If you read those, he has provided excerpts out of the DOD report with some section highlighted by him; the highlighted sections are not Cordesman's own commentary.) He says that this one "is the first official US report that frankly admits the extent to which past economic aid efforts have largely been a failure in the field and in shaping the lives of many ordinary Iraqis". But the sections on the state of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) he pretty much dismisses as worthless.

Among other things, Cordesman's report makes it clear that ethnic tensions and pressure toward ethnic cleansing are a major issue. The idea that we keep hearing from war boosters that it really only four provinces where there is significant unrest is highly misleading at best. He writes:

[T]he results of the [2005] voting .. still show that most of Iraq’s governorates have large enough minorities so that that they do not divide easily along sectarian and ethnic lines. These problems are compounded by the urban nature of Iraq. More than half the population lives in four cities which have at least a significant sectarian and ethnic minority: Baghdad, Basra, Kirkuk. ...

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that these struggles extend to the north, south, and east of Baghdad in ways that reported deaths do not portray. They extend to Basra and the cities of southeastern Iraq, where secular Shi’ites are coming under growing pressure to conform from Shi’ite Islamists, and where Christians, Sunnis, and other non-Shi’ites are being pressured to leave or move to marginal enclaves.

They are compounded by growing tensions between SCIRI (Hakim) and Sadr/Al Dawa at the national, governorate, local, and religious levels. The sectarian nature of the Shi’ite coalition does not mean it is unified, or will not divide even in the face of Sunni and Kurdish threats. The tensions between Hakim and Sadr also extend far beyond Baghdad, and affect much of the south.

Ethnic pressure is mounting in the Kurdish areas – where Turcomans and others are subject to discrimination – and along the borders of the former Kurdish security zone, where sectarian and ethnic divisions are becoming a growing problem. Kirkuk and the northern oil fields are the most obvious flashpoints, but there are many others, including an uncertain dividing line to the east of Mosul.

Since I've followed Cordesman's commentary on the Iraq War since the start, I'm particularly struck in this paper by the tone, which is something like hopeless resignation. These two paragraph, part of which I quoted at the beginning, gives a feel for it:

In the real world, the US has already wasted time and opportunities that it cannot recover. This means the odds of success in giving Iraq stability and security without a major civil conflict are at best even. A new strategy can only consist of finding the "least bad options."

The President needs to make this clear. The time has long gone for spin and false hopes or promises. The Congress needs to recognize the risks, the costs, and the need for persistence as long as the US and Iraqi governments have a serious hope of success.

And when you read the 13 items he lists in the "What is To be Done? The Need for Immediate Action" section on pp. 9-10, it's hard not to think he was being very imaginative in saying that that "at best" there was a 50-50 chance of success.

Probably no politician at this point wants to be too associated with words like "lost" or "failure" in relation to the Iraq War. But Ivo Daalder is basically on the mark when he writes (Confronting Failure in Iraq TPM Cafe 01/05/07):

So here's a thought on how those of us who think we've lost in Iraq should respond to when the president rolls out his old-wine-in-new-bottles Iraq strategy next week. Make clear the issue isn't how to succeed, but how to contain the consequences of failure. And to do so now, rather than later.

There are a whole lot of policy implications that come with this shift in focus, including using our troops to resettle Iraqis voluntarily ... and starting a real diplomatic effort to try to avoid the civil war in Iraq escalating into a regional war.

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

Tags: , ,

No comments: