I still believe that my plan would have worked back then, but there has now been another three Friedmans worth of incompetence, of "stay the course", of corruption and of sectarian infighting. Because of that lapse, in the words of one private security contractor's recent report: "the various centrifugal elements will continue to pursue their own agenda . . . rendering unlikely the possibility of finding a single, national approach to the Iraq problem." That plan of mine wouldn't work now. Only now, though, are the majority of America's public ready to accept a new plan for success in Iraq and so everyone is calling for exactly that.
Here's the thing - I don't have a blessed clue what such a plan would look like now. Neither does anyone else. Everyone's groping around like a bunch of drunks in a forest at midnight. By "everyone", I mean everyone except the faith-based "stay the course" fanatics who delude themselves that the lack of plan which led to the current sorry mess is any kind of plan at all. Everyone else either has something they call a plan or wants someone else to have a plan and all of them are just walking into trees and ditches in the dark. It has reached that stage.
Part of the problem lies in that different definitions exist for "success" (even on the political right), from simply ensuring some part of Iraq doesn't become a new safe haven for Al Qaeda through to complete Western style liberal democracy in that nation. Along the way, definitions of success stop at stations which include hoping Iraq will still be a U.S. ally rather than an Iranian or Syrian one, trying to prevent or mitigate a sectarian civil war and - for the faith-based planners - trying to ensure their own version of faith triumphs in some "Clash of Civilisations" straight out of a Dungeons and Dragons game.
The other part of the problem is that the methods for getting to one or more of these successes are often mutually exclusive. They are based in large part upon wishful thinking about the facts and are utterly unwilling to consider other parties' wishes and long-term motives. Ultimately every single one is based upon an implicit assumption that the "winners" should be American politicians, America, Israel, the West, Iraqi Kurds, Iraqi Shiites, Iraqi Sunnis, Iraq the nation and everyone else, pretty much in that order. A look at the news and op-eds over the last week illustrates the extent of the Gordian Knot which neocon fantasies and the Bush administration's mismangement has given the world.
Private assessments by government officials are much more grim than what is said in public, Panetta said, ``and we left some of those sessions shaking our heads over how bad it is in Iraq.''The various groups looking at other options - from the Pentagon to Baker's group to liberal think-tanks - all agree that much of what they are considering is just as fraught with disaster as is "stay the course". They all also agree that the important thing is not to have a plan that will work, but rather a plan that will be palatable to a majority of American politicians and voters.
U.S. forces can't control sectarian violence and powerful militias. One of the most disturbing findings, Panetta said, is that many Shiite religious leaders who are a big part of the government have no interest in deals or compromises with Sunnis and other groups, and are ``playing for time because they say it's their show.''
After years of Bush administration rhetoric about establishing democracy in Iraq, Panetta said the only achievable goal is a rough stability, ``which can't be done by the military. It requires political reconciliation.''
One scaled-down goal, he added, is ``how do you maintain a low-level civil war so it doesn't blow up into a full-scale civil war?''
Afghans are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the performance of Hamed Karzai's government and as the country slides into ever more instability, Pakistan's ultimate game plan in Afghanistan has begun to unfold.You can see why I'm not upbeat. This perfect storm has been created by Bush/neocon mismangement and, I feel, is now so hopelessly tangled that the best we can hope for is to reduce the severity of the forthcoming hot version of the Iraqi civil war while getting Western troops - already effectively just another, well equppped, militai - out of the firing line by a phased redeployment. Then, diplomacy alone must try to ameliorate the interregnum until something - and no-one can tell what but it will be what Iraqis rather than America wants - re-emerges. Then, full reparations commensurate with the scale of Bush's fubar and a massive mea culpa would probably be in order.
Shifting its policy of half-heartedly cracking down on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, implemented in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US, Islamabad appears to have made a sombre decision to create the necessary conditions for regaining its strategic depth in Afghanistan by resuming its political and military support for the Taliban.
However, I fully expect it to take a few Friedmans worth of trying, again, before the American people are ready to accept the facts. In part, that is because it would be political suicide for anyone on either side of the fence to tell it like it is right now. Therefore, the people will continue to be treated to fairy-tales of what might work given six months, a year or more when in actuality it is already too late for any of it to have more than a minor positive effect.
Although the United States seemed to have forgotten the centrality of a state's monopoly on the legitimate use of force when it summarily disbanded Iraqi security forces, it subsequently relearned this lesson. The United States and its Iraqi partners are desperately trying to rebuild Iraq's security forces in order to have more effective policing. The problem is that it is already too late for "Iraqi" security forces to reestablish stability. The Iraqi government's forces are increasingly identified as "Shiite" forces. As it stands, schisms will continue to grow, neighbor will attack neighbor, quasi-states with their own militias will solidify and the challenges of stabilizing an Iraqi state will escalate by an order of magnitude.All this is gloomy in the extreme and I don't expect anyone to agree with me. But it is what I really think.
What does all this mean for Iraq's end state? First, it means the end of the state of Iraq as we have known it. Iraq is rapidly disintegrating, and there is no longer anything that can stop the disintegration, save perhaps an invasion by Israel, Iran or Syria. Second, having missed a number of critical opportunities from the beginning of its campaign to topple Saddam Hussein and establish democratic government in Iraq (the latter proposition dubious at best), the United States is now faced with an awful choice: leave and allow events to run their course or lend its dwindling support to one or more of the emerging states.
...It is high time the United States and its allies began national discussions about the relative merits of leaving or staying and, if they stay, about the merits of supporting the Sunnis, Shiites or Kurds. Either way, what we now think of as Iraq is almost certainly as gone as what we once thought of as Yugoslavia, and for the same reasons.