Monday, February 26, 2007

Iraq, post-US presence

A couple of recent articles challenge the worst-case scenarios for Iraq if the United States withdraws its troops: Apocalypse Not by Robert Dreyfuss Washington Monthly Mar 2007 and What If We Leave? by John Mueller The American Conservative 02/26/07 issue.

I'm pessimistic on this score. I think it's likely that the Iraqi civil war will get worse for some period if the US were to withdraw over a six-month period. But I also think that we've reached the effective limits of American power in Iraq and it's well past time to recognize that. There is a lot of evidence that the American presence is fueling the civil war and is likely to worsen sectarian tensions the longer we stay.

The US would be far better off at this point pulling out of Iraq and pushing hard for measures that would help prevent the war from expanding into a more general Middle East war - although that also is a real possibility. But American influence to avert that result will be decreased by remaining in Iraq and enhanced by withdrawing. With Iran backing the Shi'a and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states backing the Sunni partisans in Iraq, it may already be too late to avert a more general war. But it's worth a try. And getting the US out of Iraq is a necessary step toward that goal.

Robert Dreyfuss points to how the Administration used a phony worst-case estimate on the WMDs to justify invading Iraq backed up by a Pollyannish best-case estimate on how American troops would be received, and is now using a worst-case estimate to justify the continuing US combat presence there:

The Bush administration famously based its argument for invading Iraq on best-case assumptions: that we would be greeted as liberators; that a capable democratic government would quickly emerge; that our military presence would be modest and temporary; and that Iraqi oil revenues would pay for everything. All these assumptions, of course, turned out to be wrong.

Now, many of the same people who pushed for the invasion are arguing for escalating our military involvement based on a worst-case assumption: that if America leaves quickly, the Apocalypsewill follow.
Dreyfuss looks at the bogeyman of Al Qaida setting up a new "caliphate" or a "safe haven" in Iraq:

The idea that al-Qaeda might take over Iraq is nonsensical. Numerous estimates show that the group called Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and its foreign fighters comprise only 5 to 10 percent of the Sunni insurgents’ forces. Most Sunni insurgents are simply what Wayne White — who led the State Department’s intelligence effort on Iraq until 2005 — calls POIs, or "pissed-off Iraqis," who are fighting because "they don’t like the occupation." But the foreign terrorist threat is frequently advanced by the Bush administration, often with an even more alarming variant—that al-Qaeda will use Iraq as a headquarters for the establishment of a global caliphate. In December 2005, Rear Admiral William D. Sullivan, vice director for strategic plans and policy within the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered a briefing in which he warned that al-Qaeda hoped to "revive the caliphate," with its capital in Baghdad. President Bush himself has warned darkly that after controlling Iraq, Islamic militants will "establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia."

The reality is far different. Even if AQI came to dominate the Sunni resistance, it would be utterly incapable of seizing Baghdad against the combined muscle of the Kurds and the Shiites, who make up four fifths of the country. (The Shiites, in particular, would see the battle against the Sunni extremist AQI—which regards the Shiites as a heretical, non-Muslim sect—as a life-or-death struggle.)

Nor is it likely that AQI would ever be allowed to use the Sunni areas of Iraq as a base from which to launch attacks on foreign targets. In Afghanistan, al-Qaeda had a full-fledged partnership with the Taliban and helped finance the state. In Iraq, the secular Baathists and former Iraqi military officers who lead the main force of the resistance despise AQI, and many of the Sunni tribes in western Iraq are closely tied to Saudi Arabia’s royal family, which is bitterly opposed to al-Qaeda. (my emphasis)
After examining several scary postwar scenarios that war supporters use, John Mueller talks about the complications to diplomacy caused by the neoconservative policy and practice of threatening regime change in Iran and Syria. And he speculates on what the postwar public reaction in the US might be like.

The sorting-out process may be facilitated if, as seems likely, the U.S. reacts to its Middle East misadventure by embracing an Iraq Syndrome reminiscent of the Vietnam Syndrome that restrained America from meddling further in Africa and Southeast Asia, while the Soviet Union foolishly gathered up a set of expensive dependencies there (and in Afghanistan) that hastened the demise of the Cold War.

The American public would probably be quite capable of shrugging off defeat and failure, as it proved in Vietnam as well as in the lesser debacles of Lebanon in 1983 and Somalia in 1993. And since American casualties are what matter in the U.S., little attention would likely be paid if a civil-war bloodbath developed in Iraq. Accordingly, there would likely be few, if any, calls to send troops, contrary to the current cry of war supporters that if things fall apart we would just have to go in again. Since Iraqi citizens do not vote in American elections, the U.S. government would likely reduce financial support for the Iraqi government after American troops leave.

This process might impel a suitably mellowed country to abandon some of its self-infatuated rhetoric. The United States has become a "superpower" unable to make electricity to work in Baghdad and an "indispensable nation" incapable of garnering international co-operation when it really needs it, and it may come to re-examine its role in the world. (my emphasis)
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