Kudos to Kevin Drum for spotting the obvious in recent pronouncements from the US military in Iraq.
The day-to-day commander in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, and his staff believe that the increasing competence of provincial security and political leaders will put pressure on the government in Baghdad that "will breed a better central government," said his chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson.Kevin writes that this "pressure on the government in Baghdad" has been mentioned by those close to Petraeus' thinking before now:
...."The grass-roots level will force change at the top because if they do not act on it, they will get overrun," said another senior military officer responsible for Iraq war planning.
In other words, our "bottoms up" strategy — which, you'll recall, was adopted out of necessity as a response to the Anbar Awakening — is creating competing power centers in the provinces that are becoming ever better equipped to successfully challenge the central government. And that's deliberate. Australian Lt. Col. David Kilcullen fessed up about this months ago in a little-noticed piece on the Small Wars Journal blog, and apparently U.S. commanders are now talking about it more openly too. The message to prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is: get your act together or else the Sunni sheikhs in Anbar and Diyala are going to get it together for you.Well yes, but the Maliki government is also doing a permanent basing deal with the US which includes an agreement by the US to defend that central government from all enemies, both foreign and domestic.
Kilcullen called the revitalized Sunni tribes "competing armed interest groups," and expressed the hope that their existence would create a stable "intra-communal balance of power." That was a pretty strained piece of spin from the start, and now even that thin curtain is being stripped away. Today, we're all but admitting that the more likely result of "competing armed interest groups" is civil war, and if the Maliki administration doesn't get this, "they will get overrun."
In fact, I imagine the Maliki government and its allies get this perfectly well — and they're undoubtedly preparing for it. Unfortunately, that preparation probably doesn't include making concessions to their Sunni adversaries. More likely, it means making sure they're the ones who get overrun.
So the US is creating a danger of civil war and also undertaking to defend the central government from that danger - all to justify keeping troops in Iraq on a permannent basis. It's the old colonialist "divide and conquer" in fine style, where threats are kept in dynamic opposition and never quite spill over into a massive bloodbath if you get it right - and all hell breaks loose if you miscalculate - while all sides look to the occupier as their defense against those competing local threats.
Here's the question - does anyone believe the U.S. military have the finesse to pull it off?