Tuesday, August 07, 2007

US Reasons To Stay In Iraq "Tenuous"

By Cernig

This one, I guarantee you, won't get as much play from rightie blogs as the recent shill job from Ken Pollack and Mike O'Hanlon.

Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), is one of the most respected military analysts there is, and he's just back from a trip to Iraq.
The United States has only high-risk and uncertain options in Iraq but a "tenuous case" can be made for staying on, a respected US military analyst just back from the country said Tuesday.

Anthony Cordesman wrote in a report that some recent breakthroughs in Iraq were down to luck, and quoted an unnamed US official as likening the situation to "three dimensional chess in the dark while someone is shooting at you."

..."It seems likely that the US will ultimately be judged far more by how it leaves Iraq, and what it leaves behind, than how it entered Iraq."

...He was part of a trip to Iraq also taken by two Brookings Institution analysts, whose separate conclusions that parts of the surge were working were seized upon by the White House and Republicans in Congress last week to defend the more than four-year-old war effort.

Cordesman was more circumspect, warning that an extended US presence in Iraq would have to last years to work and its chances were uncertain at best.

While the surge has had "value in some areas," much of the progress was not the result of the strategy, US planning or the Iraqi government, he said.

"In fact, the 'new' strategy President George W. Bush announced in January 2007 has failed in many aspects of its original plan," Cordesman wrote.

Recent US success derived largely from the "sheer luck" of Sunni tribes in Al-Anbar province turning on Al-Qaeda militants, he wrote, warning that Iraq's government was still failing to move the country forward.

"But, it is sometimes better to be lucky than to have the right strategy."

Cordesman noted a US case for "strategic patience" rests on the hope that Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders were slowly coming together in a way that would keep Iraq united but devolve sufficient power to the provinces.

But he warned such a deal would take "months of painful negotiation" and "years" to come to fruition.
If it happens at all while the US presence provides a safety blanket for those leaders, of course. And that too is a tenuous hope.

No, Cordesman's right - withdrawal is the important thing now. Not waiting for the neverland of victory in Iraq, but a careful and well planned withdrawal. An unplanned rout brought about by denialist cheerleaders who refused to allow planning to be done properly will be the true "biggest disaster" for American prestige.

Meanwhile, the US and UK are trying to, belatedly, get the UN more involved.
The United States and Britain introduced on Tuesday a resolution charging the United Nations with trying to bring together Iraq's embattled factions as the two Western powers contemplate ultimately leaving.

The resolution, expected to be approved on Thursday by the 15-nation Security Council, would upgrade the mandate of the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, or UNAMI, which would also include promoting dialogue between Iraq and its neighbors.

"The U.N. needs to play an enhanced role in helping the Iraqis overcome the difficulties they have at the present time," U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, formerly Washington's envoy to Baghdad, told reporters after a council debate.

"The U.N. can, given its comparative advantage, play a role in facilitating and helping Iraqis get to that goal" as well as getting regional powers to support Iraqi reconciliation and dealing with refugee problems, he said.

Some major Iraqi players, such as top Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, were willing to talk to the United Nations but not the United States or Britain, Khalilzad said.
Let's be very clear about this - the only reason the UN wasn't more heavily involved already is that the Bush administration's neocons hate the UN with a vengeance and successfully pressed for minimal security efforts for the UN mission, leading to its withdrawal.

It's a good thing that they have now done an about-face, to my mind - and one in the eye for recent pundits who tried to have their cake and eat it too by wishing to sidestep the UN in favor of some international coalition which could grant US interventionism legitimacy while at the same time holding out no chance it would ever refuse US wishes.

But one word of caution to the UN - be sure that the security arrangements for your diplomatic surge don't become the new reason US forces must stay in Iraq for years and years.

Update Greg Sargent has noticed Cordesman's report and it's significant disagreement and divergence from the O'Hanlon/Pollack op-ed, even though Cordesman was on the exact same trip. Here's what Cordesman has to say about US options in Iraq:
From my perspective, the US now has only uncertain, high risk options in Iraq. It cannot dictate Iraq’s future, only influence it, and this presents serious problems at a time when the Iraqi political process has failed to move forward in reaching either a new consensus or some form of peaceful coexistence. It is Iraqis that will shape Iraq's ability or inability to rise above its current sectarian and ethnic conflicts, to redefine Iraq's politics and methods of governance, establish some level of stability and security, and move towards a path of economic recovery and development. So far, Iraq’s national government has failed to act at the rate necessary to move the country forward or give American military action political meaning.
Here's the PDF of Cordesman's report. Therein he writes:
The US will have to continue to try to influence the process of sectarian and ethnic partition in Iraq. It is absurd, however, to talk about this process as if it was some form of success. The term "soft partition" only applies to the extent it has not produced another Darfur, or the conspicuous kind of sectarian and ethnic violence that occurred in Bosnia or Kosovo – where the percentage of the total population affected now seems likely to actually be lower than in Iraq.

...Partition has not yet meant a full-scale a blood bath, and May never mean one in the future. Iraq's insurgency and civil conflicts have, however, already done immense damage to virtually every ordinary Iraqi, and there are essentially no provinces where the problem will not produce further hardship and violence, even in a best-case scenario.
That conclusion has also been reached by senior British military leaders and is influencing British thinking heavily.
Most British military commanders say Britain should get out of Iraq as soon as possible. "If we want the Iraqis to be responsible for their own security then there comes a point when they must do that. Otherwise there's no point in training them," a senior defence source said.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the chief of defence staff, echoed the frustration in a recent interview with the BBC. Basra had been a success, he said, though that depended on "what your intepretation of the mission was in the first place". The mission was to "get the place and the people to a state where Iraqis could run this part of the country" he said, adding pointedly, "if they chose to".
Cordesman writes that a well planned and methodical US withdrawal would take 16 months to two years. In my opinion, it should begin right now - but it won't. Cordesman writes:
The idea that General Petraeus can give a military progress report in September that should shape US policy ignores the fact that the fate of Iraq is scarcely dominated by US military action.

...the US has a vital national interest in changing the nature of the debate in the US from the current options of either staying the course or rushing out with little regard for the consequences. The domestic US security structure has so far failed to present meaningful options, and seems incapable to doing so. The US team in Iraq, however, is much more experienced, and there is a new degree of realism and competence that clearly can never come from within a failed Bush Administration.

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