Monday, October 22, 2007

Update on the Iraq war

So how goes it?

Better, but still not great. The "surge" has worked as advertised, in a limited sense. But it remains a temporary solution and cannot be sustained beyond next spring. Chatter about the "surge" deflects attention from the fact that the US needs a longer-term strategy, and it's fairly clear what that is.

That strategy is reducing the troop level to something much lower (30,000 say) and reshaped for pure counterinsurgency, without the typically long and massive American logistical trail - the one that winds through the fast food joints in Kuwait and ends in a military warehouse back here in the States. The keys to successful counterinsurgency are:
  • Using the minimal force necessary, not the maximum force possible
  • Keeping the politics to the fore and the military aspect to the rear
The political constraints should be the following. It's not in American interests to intervene military in purely internal Iraqi conflicts. That's not to say the US can't do conflict resolution here; it just shouldn't involve military intervention. The reason is simple: get involved militarily in the Middle East and, no matter how hard you try, you'll end up being viewed as "taking sides" and "dishonoring" or "shaming" someone (viz. Lebanon in 1982-83).* OTOH, if something in Iraq involves al-Qa'eda, its affiliates, or their Iranian-Shi'ite counterparts, then indeed the US has a real stake in the regional and global implications and military involvement is absolutely justified - like in Afghanistan, in the same way and for the same reasons.

Al-Qa'eda's military and political fortunes in Iraq have plunged in the last year and a half. Whether this reversal will stick depends heavily on whether al-Qa'eda can regroup and regenerate itself, like in Afghanistan. That in turn depends on the presence of outside sponsors and sanctuaries - like the case of Pakistan vis-à-vis Afghanistan.

Supporters of the Iraq operation also need to face a by-now fairly obvious American political reality. Many of them have wrongly fused support for the Iraq war with support for Bush (or vice versa). In the last year, that fusion has become no longer tenable. It's not "Bush and Iraq," but "Bush or Iraq." The combination of Bush's "true believer" stubbornness and incompetence, his now-almost complete reliance on military people who understand things better than he does, and the remains of BDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome) among liberals and Democrats makes separating Bush from his Mess-o-potamia essential, if we're ever to straighten the latter out.** Bush will no longer be president after January 2009. The Iraq mess, and even more, the Iranian threat hanging over it all like a dark cloud, will still be there.

POSTSCRIPT: A politically- and militarily-savvy synopsis, and a somewhat different point of view, from the San Antonio Express-News.
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* Thus, under no circumstances should the US intervene militarily in a Kurdish-Turkish conflict. There's a lot of other things we can do to help stop or contain such a conflict; military intervention isn't one of them.

** This has a powerful added bonus for the 2008 Republican candidates. As Bush and Iraq are peeled apart, the powerful anti-Bush obsession among Democrats dissipates. There's little else to the Dems these days except BDS. They're still as bankrupt now as they were in 2004.

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