Friday, March 16, 2007

Still "surging" in Iraq

I think military analyst Anthony Cordesman is ready to give up on the optimism on the Iraq War to which he has clung even as his analyses painted a very grim picture of the situation. In the latest round of his continuing evaluation of the McCain escalation (aka, the "surge") in Iraq, The New Strategy in Iraq: Uncertain Progress Towards an Unknown Goal 03/14/07 (Center for Strategic and International Studies), he writes:

In practice, any form of US action that ends in some form of “victory” means finding a strategy that allows the US to withdraw most US forces from an Iraq that is stable enough to have reduced internal violence to low levels that can be controlled by local forces, that is secure against its neighbors, that is politically and economically unified enough to function and develop as a state, and which is pluralistic enough to preserve the basic rights of all of its sectarian and ethnic factions.

Things in Iraq may have deteriorated to the point where none of the "least bad" options now available allow the US to achieve these goals. From a perceptual viewpoint, "victory" may already be impossible because most of the people in Iraq, the region, and Arab and Muslim worlds will probably view the US effort as a failure and as a partial defeat even if the US can leave Iraq as a relatively stable and secure state at some point in the future. The perceived cost of the US-led invasion and occupation has simply been too high in terms of local opinion (and most polls of opinion in Europe and the rest of the world.) (my emphasis)
Cordesman writes that "the US has not yet shown that it has a clear plan for taking control of Baghdad", much less of the rest of the contested areas of the country. He says of the current US position:

This set of problems has been compounded by a decisive British defeat in the four oilrich provinces in the southeast, which include Iraq’s only port and access to oil exports through the Gulf. The British are reduced to a largely symbolic effort to reform the police in Baghdad.
And he cautions again that despite the general assumption in the US, when and how US forces leave Iraq may be less an American choice than most people think:

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.
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