“a strategy for success in Iraq”

Dale Davis is an old friend and colleague whose thoughts I am glad to post here.  Pat Lang

"Some thoughts on withdrawal as a strategy for success in Iraq. 

My academic experience compels me to begin with a definition of success.  Two and half years ago the definition of success in Iraq would have been a stable, secular, ethnically and religiously diverse government, at peace with its neighbors, leading a rejuvenated nation, powered by a vibrant economy, driven by one of the most educated people in the region – a strong ally of the US and a powerful example of democracy for the broader region.  Today, the best success we can hope for is a gradually diminishing insurgency, limited in its scope and divided in its goals, suppressed (perhaps a bit brutally) by a nominally secular yet Shi’a dominated and Iranian influenced government that is not totally opposed to every US policy goal in the region.

If we begin with this vastly different understanding of the realm of possibility then a carefully executed withdrawal strategy becomes increasingly eloquent.  It is so because it directly addresses the centre of gravity of the insurgency.

Critical Assumption:  Even if the US withdraws the insurgency cannot win a military victory.  It will not displace the Shia dominated government or any of its successors. Many would argue that withdrawal will result in Iraq being taken over by Pan-Islamist Wahhabi forces under the leadership of Bin Laden and Zarqawi. Or perhaps a return of the Baathists to power.  Neither of these scenarios is remotely possible. The Shi’a, (65% of the Iraqi population) having tasted both freedom and power, with the latter being the more intoxicating, will never  allow the their mortal enemies – the Sunni Jihadists to come to power. Even, if they didn’t have the capability to stop the emergence of an Iraqi Taliban (which they do), their friends in Iran would put an end to such a threat in short order.  Likewise, any attempt to return the “old guard” to power would be crushed with certainty.

The Insurgency’s Critical Vulnerability

The insurgency is a Sunni tribal revolt, seeking as its primary goal the protection and restoration of Sunni dominance over the Iraqi socio-economic and political system. This tribal revolt has been joined by the forces of global jihad due to a temporary convergence of interests – the desire to remove US and Multi-national forces.  In fact, it is the very presence of these forces, especially the US forces that catalyzes both the active and passive support for the insurgency both within Iraq’s Sunni community and in the broader Sunni-Islamic world.  Removal of this catalyst will quickly expose the fractious nature of the Sunni -Jihadi alliance and greatly diminish popular support for the insurgency, especially for the Jihadi cause.   This is due to the distinct divergence in the interests between  Jihadists and Sunnis.  The Jihadists are idealists who want to purify and unify the Islamic world beginning with Iraq.  The motivations of the Sunni are more self-centered, simply seeking to regain their status as the dominant sect and short of that guarantee the best deal possible in any compromise. Herein lies the insurgency’s critical vulnerability.  While the Jihadists seek the complete and humiliating defeat of the US, the Sunnis actually require US influence over the current government to protect their interests (although they may not yet realize it). If the US withdraws who will guarantee a role and protection of status for the Sunni minority from a possibly more radical Shi’a dominated government?   By threatening withdrawal the US places the forces of insurgency on the horns of a dilemma. Continued violent resistance after a US withdrawal removes the pan-Arab, pan-Islamic fig leaf from the insurgency.  It becomes publically what it already is – a religious-ethnic civil war – something the Jihadists seek but the more pragmatic Sunni will realize is not in their interests. Do the Sunni continue their alliance with the Jihadists or do they recognize their lot could become much worse if they continue to reject cooperation? Without the restraining and protective US presence the Shi’a dominated government will likely take quite aggressive action to suppress the insurgency.

How To Do It

Begin with statements like those uttered recently by Rumsfeld, Jaafari and Casey.  “We will withdraw soon.”  Get the Sunni leadership thinking about the real possibilities of what life might be like after a US withdrawal.  If they don’t get the picture at first then give them a taste of it – turn the security of certain critical Sunni areas over to the Shi’a militias. Meanwhile, increase the intensity and quality of training for Iraqi security forces.  Move as rapidly as possible to an situation where the US ground combat presence is mainly an advisory role a la El Salvador while continuing to provide combat support (artillery, air support, logistics, etc).  (Another reason to withdraw is the Iraqi security forces will always be reluctant to engage if the Americans continue to do the heavy lifting)."

This entry was posted in Current Affairs. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to “a strategy for success in Iraq”

  1. sbj says:

    This is perhaps the best clearly elucidated, pragmatic appraisal of the dynamics involved with the Iraq insurgency and our military presence there. It has seemed abundantly clear for quite a while now that at a certain point Sunni interests and the broader and intrusive jihadi interests would diverge, and Dale Davis’s view of this seems quite realistic.
    My broader question about all this goes to US behavior in response to these dynamics. I happen to believe that the Bush administration, for all it’s grandiose rhetoric and posturing, doesn’t really want stability to take root in Iraq for fear that such stability will undercut their ability to legitimize what I regard as their desire to maintain a large, long-term military presence in the region. In short, I suspect the US leadership would prefer to remain a catalyst for inciting the violence and providing grounds for the Sunni/Jihadi interests to remain united in their quest to force us out of that territory.
    I’d be interested in your thoughts, (both Dale’s and Pat’s). Is there a useful benefit in considering that what I surmise as to US intent might be true? Is there an argument to be put forward to specifically counter US behavior if it does in turn take a path that will only continue serving as the catalyst for this violence?

  2. wtofd says:

    I like the sound of all of it save the “give them a taste of it” at the end. It seems like Sabra and Shatilla in the making. Do we really want to enable a strictly Shi’a policing of Sunni neighborhoods?
    It’s a straight question, not grinding an ax.

  3. ismoot says:

    The Shia police and military are already trying to establish their power in
    Sunni neighborhaoods and the process is leading to increased violence on both sides.
    At some point we are going to have to acknowledge that our project in social engineering in Iraq and elswhere just doesn’t work at any price that we would be willing to pay. I think that in the end we will withdraw and the “game” will be left as Alexander predicted before his death, to “the strongest.” pl

  4. J says:

    our causality count has now hit the ‘2000’ mark.

  5. ismoot says:

    Keep reminding us. pl

  6. sbj says:

    Many thanks for your reply. sbj

  7. LCGillies says:

    A clear and concise precis, in which I think there are two significant loose ends.
    One is pointed to by sbj in asking whether withdrawal can be squared with a putative Bush Admin goal of establishing long-term presence on the ground. Perhaps the cost has forced a reconsideration of this scenario.
    The other, unaddressed point is I think the Iranian role. The benefit to Iran’s conservative Shi’a of our money and blood is almost off the chart. I think it explains, in part anyway, the apparent resurgence of a non-reform polity, even if it is based on election chicanery (known in other parts of the world as well…). The argument would be that the benefits of a shared or Iran-dominated Shi’a partnership in the region greatly outweigh and render far less useful those flowing from stonger links to west, which would require a more “reformist” posture from the mullahs.
    On the one hand, secure Shi’a dominance in Iraq might limit the attraction of Iranian “help”. On the other, it is looking far more likely that the Bush Admin, regardless of realpolitik, will engineer military action against Iran (as Dale points out more recently). The reasons for this direction may be at base purely domestic, but it will complicate the withdrawal picture…
    I don’t think I’ve seen the contrast between the original Wolfowitz/Feith utopian “success” formulation and the pass in which we find ourselves more concisely or clearly expressed. My grandfather saw action in Mesopotamia during the First World War, and based on some of his notes I think he would certainly recognize the current situation, but never credit the earlier view…

Comments are closed.