Saturday, July 15, 2006

Ideas for Winning In Iraq

Commenter jason, in my "Bring Back the Neocons" post below, pointed me to a roundtable discussion in Foreign Affairs which is worthy of attention and consideration. As he points out, it avoids the name calling and provides solid analysis coupled with reasoned ideas about what to do in Iraq. The discussion is over an article written by Stephen Biddle called "Seeing Baghdad, Thinking Saigon" which appeared in the March/April 2006 of Foreign Affairs.

No one in either article calls for either a unilateral withdrawal from Iraq, or a "follow the Bush Administration and stay the course". All participants want us to win, and avoid partisan backbiting as well as revisionist history(Bush lied!).

All this is important because the situation in Iraq is looking pretty dire right about now. Although "the violence" is not the whole story, it is what everyone looks at, like it or not. And all the rebuilding of infrastructure and Iraqi military capability is only the backstage to successful operations in the field; none of it is of value unless it leads to results. Right now we are in the middle of the Battle of Baghdad, perhaps the most crucial battle in a long time in that country. This Belmont Club post points to an analysis by Iraq the Model, in which Mohammed concludes that the good guys aren't winning. Myself, I'm not so sure, but I will tell you that I'm a lot less optimistic about chances for success in Iraq than I have been in a long time. But more on that later.

Both Foreign Affairs articles are far too long and complicated in their analysis and recommendations to fully summarize here, so you'll want to read them both on your own. Biddle, in his article, agrees that Iraq is not Vietnam
But if the debate in Washington is Vietnam redux, the war in Iraq is not. The current struggle is not a Maoist "people's war" of national liberation; it is a communal civil war with very different dynamics. Although it is being fought at low intensity for now, it could easily escalate if Americans and Iraqis make the wrong choices.
Meanwhile, commentators such as Andrew Krepinevich argue essentially that Washington is not refighting Vietnam properly ("How to Win in Iraq," September/October 2005). Krepinevich sees the current U.S. strategy as a repeat of the failed search-and-destroy missions of early Vietnam and wants Washington to adopt instead the approach of territorial defense used in late Vietnam. ...
Iraq, Biddle says, is not like Vietnam in which you had a "Maoist people's war" which was "a struggle for good governance between a class-based insurgency claiming to represent the interests of the oppressed public and a ruling regime portrayed by the insurgents as defending entrenched privilege" Iraq, rather, is a "Communal civil war" in which people are divided by ethnic and sectarian allegiances.
Whereas the Vietnam War was a Maoist people's war, Iraq is a communal civil war. This can be seen in the pattern of violence in Iraq, which is strongly correlated with communal affiliation. The four provinces that make up the country's Sunni heartland account for fully 85 percent of all insurgent attacks; Iraq's other 14 provinces, where almost 60 percent of the Iraqi population lives, account for only 15 percent of the violence. The overwhelming majority of the insurgents in Iraq are indigenous Sunnis, and the small minority who are non-Iraqi members of al Qaeda or its affiliates are able to operate only because Iraqi Sunnis provide them with safe houses, intelligence, and supplies. Much of the violence is aimed at the Iraqi police and military, which recruit disproportionately from among Shiites and Kurds. And most suicide car bombings are directed at Shiite neighborhoods, especially in ethnically mixed areas such as Baghdad, Diyala, or northern Babil, where Sunni bombers have relatively easy access to non-Sunni targets.
Biddle's presciption is to slow down the growth of the Iraqi Army and bring more pressure on the various parties to form a viable government. The way we should achieve this is to use our military to "threaten to manipulate the military balance of power among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds to coerce them to negotiate."

The Roundtable Reaction

All of the participants agree with Biddle that Iraq is not Vietnam. Strange as this may sound, that alone to me justifies reading what else they have to say, because I am so sick and tired of the same old "another Vietnam" refrain that we've been hearing from the left that some honest analysis is refreshing.

They disagree with Biddle and each other, however, about exactly what should be done. Their various responses are so long and complicated that I cannot do justice to them here, so you'll want to read the article yourself.

But just to provide idea, as to their thinking, one of the participants, Chaim Kaufmann suggests that we stop insisting on either a power-sharing arrangement in the Iraqi government, or a " genuinely Iraqi security force" , because neither are possible given the level of ethnic hatred in Iraq. Rather, we should allow Iraq to break up into " communal cantons", which in some respects seems to already be occuring. The US military, he says, should be used to facilitate this process and protect the various peoples as they move about, and then once they have settled into their new homes. He defends this policy against those who would claim that it amounts to ethnic cleansing
Some might say that this policy will legitimate ethnic cleansing. But they would have to face squarely the costs of not protecting refugees; to the extent that the policy did succeed, Iraqis would experience less suffering than if it failed or was never attempted. Others will object that the current U.S. administration is unlikely to adopt these measures. Perhaps, but saving at least some lives would require getting only a few brigade commanders in a few places to think seriously about refugee protection.
Another of the participants, Leslie H. Gelb, agrees, while the other two, including Biddle in his response, do not. As I said earlier, read the whole thing.

Everyone's a Genius

Not to be mean to Biddle or the participants of the roundtable, but it's easy to sound smart when you're not in power. The reason for this is simple; your ideas are rarely tested against the hard rock of reality. "The enemy get's a vote" is more than a cliche, it is true, as is "no plan survives contact with the enemy." As Clausewitz said, "the enemy is an animate object that reacts."

Unfortunately, we can't replay history using different variables, so if things do not work out in Iraq then all of the naysayers will be able to say that "if only they'd taken my recommendation" we would have been successful, and of course there's really no hard counter to their arguments, no matter how contradictory they may be to each other.

So Where Are We?

Is the situation in Iraq as dire as the participants make it out to be? Maybe. Reading the two articles does not give one hope for optimism. Further, I already mentioned how Mohammed of the Iraq the Model blog is not optimistic as for government chances of success in the Battle for Baghdad. I'm given to lend some credence to his analysis, if only because Belmont Club takes him seriously. Cable TV is mostly useless, and newspaper reporting spotty. I've read too many times that editors spike good news stories even when their reporters file them.

Second, I, and others such as StrategyPage(and here) were a bit overoptimistic in writing off al-Qaeda in Iraq after the death of Zarqawi. They have retained more of an ability to create terror than I would have thought. Despite their ability to remain viable, however, the real threat, I think, is from ethnic violence, especially that coming from the Shia militias.

As I wrote in this post, this is the analysis General Casey gave in a press briefing with Secretary Rumsfeld on June 22 in which he says that (as summarized by Belmont Club) that "Al-Qaeda in Iraq is hurt and perhaps dying; the Sunnis are looking to throw in the towel", and that "Criminal gangs and ethnic militias are the rising threat, (although) Casey does not appear all that worried."

As for the sectarian violence, the bloodshed is getting worse (see also here), with the past twelve months seeing about twice as many dead as the year before. It needs to be pointed out that the violence is localized, as General Casey pointed out in the same news conference cited above, "The insurgency hasn't expanded. Fourteen of the 18 provinces still have about nine attacks a day or less. And if you look at where the sectarian violence is occurring, it's occurring within about a 30-mile -- 90 percent of it is occurring in about a 30- mile radius around Baghdad." Further, as John Hinderaker of Powerline points out, the violence needs to be put into the context of Saddam's Iraq. It's not as if the place was a balloon-flying paradise.

That said, it must also be noted that he who controls Baghdad controls Iraq. It is the key to the country in a way that no city in the United States is.

At the same time, it appears I was right in that we have now started to focus on taking down the Shia militias, especaially the Madhi Army, which is controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr. This is a good thing because no country can survive if every power souce is allowed it's own army.

Further, for all our mistakes, we need to remember that the enemy isn't fighting a perfect war either. It sounds obvious, but so many people seem to forget that victory in war doesn't go to the side that doesn't make mistakes, but to the side that makes fewer of them. As Kat points out in this post of hers, al-Qaeda is making plenty of mistakes themselves.

That said, I still agree with the editors of StrategyPage that the situation in Iraq isn't characterized by civil was as it is ethnic cleansing and "civil disorder", much of which was caused by the misrule of Saddam Hussein. Iraq would be in a civil war if the government and army split along sectarian lines, and the Sunnis set up an alternative government or declare self-rule. ,

Lastly, the US military continues to meet or exceed it's recruitment and retention goals. If we were doing so badly, wouldn't the soldiers would be the first to know, and to leave the service in droves?

Strategically Right, Tactical Misque?

Even knowing what we know now, and even if things do not work out, I still think it was right to invade Iraq.

How so? Consider; if the North had not won the Civil War, it would still have been right for them to fight it. Unlike World War II in the Pacific, where we were attacked, fighting the South was volunary. Lincoln could have evacuated Fort Sumter and let the South go.

Even if our tactics after the invasion were flawed, as undoubtably some of them were, it was important to maintain the strategic offensive in the War on Terror, instead of simply playing defense as John Kerry would have had us do.

There were good reasons for us to go into Iraq, as I've said before (and here). The invaluable Victor Davis Hanson points out that with the jihadists preoccupied in Iraq, we have not suffered another 9-11 style attack, but that "in our complacence, we think our recent safety was almost a natural occurrence rather than the result of national sacrifice and ordeal that must continue." Futher, for all the problems in Iraq, "its democratic government just keeps chugging along, its enemies so far unable to derail it."

Let us hope that it continues to chug along. Perhaps Biddle and the roundtable have some worthwhile ideas to keep it going.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bring Back the Neocons?

A fascinating editorial titled "Bring Back the Neocons" appeared in today's New York Sun:
So look where President Bush's decision to sideline the neoconservatives has gotten him. Instead of worrying about America, Iran now holds the upper hand, choosing which U.N. officials will inspect it as America begs Tehran to accept an offer of negotiations and "incentives" that include civilian airline parts. North Korea is as belligerent as ever, test-firing medium range missiles. Iraq's capital is a bloodbath of sectarian violence. Israel is under fire from a Hamas state in Gaza. Russia and Communist China are blocking American action at the U.N. Security Council.

Well, if this is what four months of a "softer line" has gained us, we say bring back the neoconservatives, particularly because Mr. Bush himself hasn't totally abandoned their — and his — freedom agenda....

The neoconservatives said success in Iraq depended on pressing on to neighboring Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. The administration stopped short, and Mr. Bush strolled through the Texas bluebonnets holding hands with Prince Abdullah of the House of Saud. Neoconservative calls for American support for Iranian democrats were met with a belated administration proposal of a paltry $75 million.

Neoconservatives want to liberate North Korea by opening the door to refugees seeking to escape its oppression, the same way that the breach in the Berlin Wall took down the Soviet empire. Mr. Bush did sign into the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 and did meet on April 28, 2006, with North Korean refugees. But the Bush administration, in a variation on President Clinton's approach, has been devoting energy to negotiating with Pyongyang in six-party talks that the neoconservatives think are a waste of time.
(Hat tip to The Reform Party of Syria for the editorial, which I received through their email list)

The editorial goes on to say that while the Bush Administration put a lot of faith in Mahmoud Abbas, the neocons warned that he would not be much better than Arafat. The Bush Administration also spends a lot of time trying to work with the United Nations on problems such as Iranian nuclear weapons, an institutions most neocons despise.

Who Are the Neocons?

It's always a good idea to define your terms. This definition from seems as good as any to me:
Neoconservatism (or neocon) refers to the political movement, ideology, and public policy goals of "new conservatives" in the United States, that are relatively unopposed to "big government" principles and restrictions on social spending, when compared with other American conservatives such as traditional or paleoconservatives.

In the context of United States foreign policy, neoconservative has another, narrower definition. Critics define it as interventionist with hawkish views on foreign policy. Supporters define it as advocating the use of military force, unilaterally if necessary, to replace autocratic regimes with democratic ones. This view competes with liberal internationalism, realism, and non-interventionism.
Is the Editorial Right?

I think it's largely on track. We all know that the insurgency is being fueled by Iran and Syria (not that if we sealed the borders it would totally disappear, but it would help the situation). Failure to strike known terrorist centers is due to the understandable fear of a larger war, but it may have been a risk worth taking.

Although I'm sure we're covertly supporting Iranian democrats, I have to wonder if we're really doing all that we can.

North Korea is a tough nut to crack, and I don't really blame Clinton as much as some do for his virtual appeasement. But while it may have been worth a try once, we should have learned and moved on. And I have to admit that the "Six Party Talks" never seem to really achieve anything.

Mahmoud Abbas, or Abu Mazen, or whatever name he calls himself these days, hasn't done anything more than Arafat to resolve the crisis on the West Bank, and never had any intention of risking anything for peace. The long-term way to resolve the issue there it to promote democracy, but this requires democrats, and Abbas isn't one.

So we've tried the soft line with the Palestinians, North Korea, and Iran, and it hasn't gotten us anywhere. It's time to go back to a freedom agenda.