Tuesday, February 6, 2007

New Cordesman update on the Iraq War

Anthony Cordesman has done an update as of 02/05/07 of his paper on the McCain escalation, now titled The New Bush Strategy for Iraq: What Are the Chances of "Victory"? (Center for Strategic and International Studies/CSIS).

I've only compared the Executive Summary with the
previous version of 01/16/07, but the new summary has a considerable amount of updated analysis.

Cordesman has managed to retain his optimism about the possibility of a successful outcome to Cheney's War in Iraq. But it's clearly hanging by a thread. I think this is called defining "success" down:

The end result is that that the odds of success [for the McCain escalation] are less than even, much less high. They are probably less than one in four. At the same time, critics should remember that this is a search for least bad options, and that it is far from clear that the mid and long term odds of success from other options are notably better. Adopting a high-risk strategy is virtually unavoidable.
I think this qualifies, as well:

The end result could be a form of defeat where the US could claim victory, withdraw, and leave an Iraq that Iran could not easily exploit and which might get better over time. (Cordesman's emphasis)
And this:

One of the grim realities in the search for the “least bad” option, is that even if the US can actually find the "least bad" option and make it work, it will still be "bad."
On the whole, few actual opponents of the war offer as relentlessly grim a picture of the prospects for the US in the Iraq War as Cordesman does.

Cordesman even uses that forbidden word "defeat":

One of the lessons that both the Bush Administration and its various US opponents and critics may still have to learn is that at a given level of defeat, other actors control events. US discussions of alternative plans and strategies may well be becoming largely irrelevant. (my emphasis)
It's worth pausing to recognize what it means that a cautious military analyst is saying this. He's mildly but clearly referring to a real worst-case possibility that the US military position in Iraq could severely deteriorate much beyond what we see now. That could make his CSIS colleague Jon Alterman's formula of not winning and not losing but being "trapped in a tie" look like wild-eyed optimism.

Blogger Steve Gilliard may be overly pessimistic, but he gives a dramatic formulation to what a near-term worst-case would look like in this 02/05/07 post,
The theory of pessimists:

We don't have the luxury of time, we never did, but the recent Sunni offensive in Baghdad speeds things up. Even among the left, people assume that the American army can control things for two years.

I consider that foolish thinking. Sadr has reigned in his people and the Shia have paid for it in blood. That will not last forever.

The assumption is that we can keep things together and I don't think that is the case. The US Army is on a time clock which ends before 2008. It's falling apart as we speak. It has unreliable allies.

I don't disagree with Kos, nailing the Republicans is always good. But I think by June, it will be totally irrelevant. We will have far more pressing problems in Iraq than to worry about what Congress dpoes.
Cordesman doesn't go that bleak in his predictions. After all, he's still holding out a 25% chance that the McCain escalation could succeed. But he's more realistic about what that success would imply than you'll hear from any administration official speaking on the record, or any Republican member of Congress for that matter:

The irony is that this means the US could see the strategy fail relatively quickly, but success would be the prelude to years of further US uncertainty and engagement.

Success over the coming year does not mean victory, it is simply the prelude to much longer efforts at winning at the national level and assisting Iraq with nation building. Here, it is important to note that the Bush plan does not give the US a real strategy for Iraq or the Gulf, it is only a strategy for getting through the coming months and year. (my emphasis)
This new Executive Summary spells out the various alternatives open to the Sunni and Shi'a militias in responding to the McCain escalation. One of them is this:

The Shi’ite militias stand down, inevitably shifting the battle to the Sunni insurgents that are too ideological and exposed to adopt a similar strategy. The net result could be to make the US and ISF [the Shi'a-dominated Iraqi Security Forces] fight for the Shi'ite side in Baghdad.
Cordesman comments of that option:

This latter option is particularly important because it may already be in progress, and because the Bush Administration - at least publicly - seems to treat the Iraqi government as if it had the same interests in creating a unified, democratic, secular Iraq as the US.

The Iraqi government clearly does not have interests identical to those of the US. In fact, the power structure in the Iraqi government has every reason to try to use US offensive to consolidate Shi’ite power, and deflect the battle to strike at the Sunni insurgents and hostile factions with minimal or no operations against the major Shi’ite militias.
Cordesman has consistently been one of the most valuable public sources on the Iraq War. I'm not sure why we don't see him quoted more often in other blogs. But I sure cite his work a lot.

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