The Right Idea Too late?

Michael Ware of Time magazine told Christopher Matthews this evening that after next week’s election in Iraq the US policy will be to force the inevitable government of Shia clients of Iran to accept Sunni nationalists into the government in positions and numbers that will insure a "peace-making" acceptance of that government by the people the president described as "rejectionists" at Annapolis a few days ago.  Perhaps Ware did not say "force" but that was the idea.

Ware says that US military intelligence assures him that the American government has now accepted the idea that the Baath Party must be revived (without Saddam’s clique) because it represents the nationalist interests of the Sunni Arabs and many among the secular Shia Arabs.  The neocon "agitprop" machine sold the American people the notion that the Baath Part was the reincarnation of the Nazi Party.  In fact, the Baath exists all over the Arab World as a unifying force that spans religious differences, espouses modernism, and promotes the rights of women against traditionalism.  Where did the image of the Baath as Nazi Germany reborn come from?  Go ask the high neocons and their image maker operators.  Go ask them.  Don’t bother to talk to the fraudulent "little people" like Paul Vallely (See blog No Quarter). 

This is the policy that we should have had from the beginning.  I hope that it is not too late.  The process of Shia political consolidation is now far advanced, and it may be that developments in Iraq are now beyond our ability to determine or significantly affect the end game.  Why did we go down the "suicidal" road of seeking to bring our long term enemies to power as a satellite government of Iran?  Simple.  Read the works of Reuel Gerecht and his friends at AEI and the Weekly Standard.  The neocon Jacobin crowd believed and still believe that Sunni Muslims are the "root of evil" in the Middle East and that the grip on power that they have maintained for centuries everywhere in the region but Iran must be broken to insure a transition to "democracy."  Rubbish.  "Democracy" used as code by these people means a forcible transition to a secular, Western way of life antithetical to everything in the majority tradition of the Islamic peoples.  This is beyond our strength unless we are to accept the administration’s exhortation to a "generational" mission to do so.

Howard Fineman earlier told Matthews that it is the intention of the administration to begin to withdraw from Iraq after the election next week.  Everything I hear from the military indicates to me that this is so.  We will attempt a withdrawal from many areas in the contested Sunni Zone.  What remains to be seen is whether or not the "Iraqi" forces will then face an empowered, stronger guerrillas movement operating in bigger units.  If this is so, then we will have a test as to whether or not these "Iraqi" forces,which have not fought very well thus far and which are lightly equipped, can hold towns "vacated" (by us) against the rebels. Oops! (rejectionists).  I suspect that they can not without considerable US support.

What happens then?  Bob Baer told Matthews (good show tonight) that he thinks:

a- The Shia government is going to ask us to leave.  (quite possible)  He also said that if that happens, he thinks that the ultimate arbiters of the situation as it develops will be the government of Iran with its armed forces as a possible determinant.  Baer said that he had been in Tehran this year and that the "Mullahs" spoke openly of their intention to intervene if necessary to protect Shia rule in Iraq.

b- Bob also gave his opinion that the Iraqi Shia would prevail in a struggle against the Sunni Arabs on the Sunni Arabs’ own ground.   I think he is mistaken.  A Shia triumph in the Sunni Zone would require the intervention of the Iranians.  Numbers only count "so much" against nationalist fervor, popular support and a lot of prior military experience and skill.

How much can we influence the future in Iraq?

Some, but less every day. 

Pat Lang

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18 Responses to The Right Idea Too late?

  1. John Howley says:

    If we can pull off a disengagement with the Sunni/nationalist forces, I would be very happy. Challenges: how centralized are they? And Shia and Kurds could disrupt the process (they’d rather have U.S. soldiers doing the fighting, can you blame them?). As I look back on history of recent years, I see the U.S. backing one faction, then another, then another, keeping all factions off balance and keeping the U.S. in the deal-maker position. However, I think that the new constitution contains a structural flaw that will de-stabilize any new equilibirium. That is, granting regions the right to do oil deals. Oil is money and money is power. Empowering the regions this way undermines the “central government.” It’s another instance of our serial deal-making; we included it in the constitution to bring Kurds and Shi on board, and it is the main grievance of the Sunnis. Now, we jump into bed with Sunnis. Still not optimistic. Kurds recently announced an oil deal with a Norwegian firm. I’m sure the Sunnis/nationalists aren’t happy about that.

  2. BH says:

    The “Too Late” in the title of your post is exactly where we stand in Iraq right now. If US troops are leaving after the next Iraqi elections, then the only question about Iranian intervention is “when” not “if”.
    Iran has invested too much in getting the US to remove Saddam and building the Shia political machine to see it all destroyed in a civil war with the Sunnis.
    I also agree with your assessment of the balance of local forces in Iraq. The Baathists were much better prepared for this guerrilla war than any American military leaders thought. They ridiculed the Saddam Fedayeen at the beginning of the war. The Fedayeen told us all exactly what they were going to do, and they have done it. The experience that these people have gained over the past two years insures that any Iraqi government “forces” will have their hands full after the Americans leave.
    Of course, the other possibility is that once a withdrawal (sorry, redeployment) begins, and fighting increases, Bush’s folks may carry on about how we “can’t leave now”. They may try to cook up all kinds of PR on Fox News to keep US soldiers there indefinitely.
    I read General Clark’s op ed piece in the Washington Post this morning. He offers only wishful thinking that might have had some chance of working in April 2003. If that is the best military mind in the Democratic Party, they are in big trouble.

  3. Alvord says:

    The show was a good one. However, the idea of supporting the Baathists sounds like one more attempt to tweak a process we have no significant control over. Last night General Odom was on and he said we should leave as soon as possible. Meanwhile Senator Biden on CNN on Sunday was rolling out the next corner to be turned, the completion of the Iraqi constitution 40 days after the Iraq elections. Have we rounded enough corners by now that we have completed a full circle?

  4. Marc Lord says:

    I think both the Strong Man and the Shiacracy opportunities have been lost, with splintering now unavoidable. My brief experiences in Yugoslavia may be biasing me here, but there are some parallels. Everybody hated Tito, and he was the only thing holding the country together.
    Before the invasion, I assumed that the plan was to just decapitate Iraq, leave the apparatus in place, and install another Man with a Black Mustache. That would’ve meant a a career military man who wouldn’t get assassinated immediately, and who could keep doling out the oil revenues. Silly me, trying to think rationally.
    I just couldn’t believe the plan was to put the country under Chalabi, and that the neocons were actually serious about trying to make democracy out of instant Jello Pudding mix. The mullahs have skillfully played these errors and realized that, yes, we ARE that dumb. They’ve won without firing a shot, and Saudi Arabia is going to be next.
    The Sunnis will prevail against the Shias. They prevailed against the British, they’re prevailing against us, and the Shia battalions won’t be able to get out of there fast enough. I guess Sunnis are quite strong on Family Values.
    That said, I don’t think we’ll be leaving Iraq entirely. The Bushco strateegery may evolve into simply parking military bases on top of oil fields and patrolling pipelines. If US military completely leaves Iraq or Saudi Arabia, the fields will soon be scorched earth and wrecked geo-formations, because if you can’t keep a strategic resource and you can’t take it with you, you deny it to your enemies.

  5. Sonoma says:

    No one one the face of this earth has the slightest understanding of the Bushites intentions in Iraq, including the goddamned pissants themselves.
    They are lying, incomptent, and murderous swine, and for anyone to pretend otherwise- at this point in time- is folly.

  6. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Nevertheless, I think that military necessity will require an attempt at withdrawal next year. pl

  7. Marc Lord says:

    Military necessity. An armchair, thumbnail estimate on the number of combat troops left is 40-50,000 at best. Roughly 50,000 combat troops must have been burnt through in one way or another already. At the present rate we’ll be almost out of trained combat personnel by summer or perhaps even spring of 2006. Thus we’re using tankers as legs and planning to rotate AF and Navy personnel in.
    I saw Al-Jazeera video of the Marines who walked into a trap in Fallujah last week. 10 KIA, 14 WIA, and judging from the severe explosion there must be more KIA by now. My reaction to the video was, “Saudi Arabia is lost.”
    The reason for that reflexive thought was probably the properties of the patrol–these were Marines in box formation, noncom on point ahead of the Humvee advancing down a walled street toward the camera, five or six grunts visible in trail on each flank. There weren’t sweeping for IEDs, they exhibited poor situational awareness, were not well dispersed, and seemed (hard to finger precisely) on autopilot. Their interpreter was in a white business shirt, probably walking next to the platoon leader, and was oblivious to impending danger. The Humvee was almost blown out of the frame. I wondered how streets in Saudi Arabia would be any different.
    This thread triggered another thought: if the objective is oil protection, can air assets be placed under the direction of mercs guarding the fields? I believe the Bushites intentions center on keeping American and British oil companies in place as long as possible.

  8. Geoff says:

    is it Bob Behr? Or do you mean Robert Baer?

  9. W. Patrick Lang says:

    OK. It’s Baer. I know the man and can never remember how to spell his name. pl

  10. jonst says:

    I’m starting to wonder if the concept express this AM on Mahablog’s website is accurate.
    She wrote:
    “Think of the Iraq War as the Mother of All Security Blankets”.
    That’s all this was, perhaps. The Administration, the MSM, the talking heads, and most of the people in America felt, strongly, urgently, wildly, that we must hit back at someone and something Arab though this certainly could not be, and cannot be now, publicly articulated. And Afghanistan, like a veggie appetizer did not suffice. So we went into Iraq. That’s all there was to it. No thinking. Little planning. Dust off old war game scenarios and GO.
    I’m sure there were, and are, may vested interests that saw this irrational drive as a chance to fulfill their wish lists: Neo Cons, Oil interests, Defense Contractors, Allies in Eastern Europe that saw this as their chance to do “a service for their Don” and so forth. But the driving for, ultimately, was an irrational one. And now we are there. And now we are viewing the consequences of our actions and inactions in the face of our running head long into a box canyon. And it ain’t pretty and no one has any good answers.

  11. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Actually, the approved contingency plan for an operation in Iraq that was “inherited” by Franks and the Bush Administration was sound and well put together.
    They wrecked it. pl

  12. J Thomas says:

    I’m no expert but I can guess. Nobody in iraq but us has the sort of armor we have. So anybody else is in even more danger from IEDs than we are. So it will be hard to take territory. Whenever you move you’re in danger of ambush, particularly when you move into areas that includes hostile civilians.
    So the default is for each militia to control its own area and defend it successfully. You can sneak in and blow things up and hope to sneak out again, or you can do a great big offensive and take casualties. The objective for a big offensive would be … not to occupy land full of hostile civilians. Something else.
    Sunnis would hope to take oilfields. But those fields would be hard to defend, and if they get severely damaged in the fighting it would be $20 billion and some years to get them fixed. Sounds hard.
    So the default would be ethnic cleansing in the mixed areas. You actually control an area when all the people who oppose you (who can make IEDs etc) are gone. And offensives into hostile areas would have the goal of ethnic cleansing. You win when all the hostile civilians are gone.
    The USA could aid in that with airstrikes, even without any ground troops. I don’t know how much we would do when our ground troops were gone and foreign journalists could get in to observe anything they wanted. It would look bad to do terror-airstrikes.
    The iranians could move in ground troops. But their big advantage is armor. They’d be risking well-trained troops against amateurs, just like us. And we might do airstrikes. The USA or the israelis would surely give antitank weapons to the kurds. The USA or the saudis or kuwaitis or syrians might give antitank weapons to the sunnis.
    I figure the iranian army could keep the sunnis from overruning the shia, if that looked necessary, but they would probably tend to stay out of it. Iraqi shia don’t want iran running things, and they particularly don’t want iran to annex the southern oilfields. So they don’t want iranian troops calling the shots and won’t ask for very many of them unless they’re losing bad. If it turns out that the sunnis have a bunch of armor they’ve been hiding for a rainy day, the shia might ask iran for antitank stuff without a lot of troops.
    Meanwhile commodities speculators etc might pay sunnis (or whoever) to blow up oil facilities at particular times. preferable things like pipelines that can be repaired fairly quickly. Try to make it so nobody but them can predict how much oil will get out of iraq some particular month.
    Barring some strategic genius, it looks fairly predictable.
    But if it followed this default, the sunnis would start running out of money. And maybe food? The bulk of their food comes from southern ports now, and it’s subsidised by the government. Why should a shia government give them food they can’t pay for, except out of altruism and sheer compassion? They may feel the need to do something drastic, quickly, before they lose the strength to. I can’t predict that. It doesn’t seem plausible they’d ask to be part of syria, and certainly not jordan. They coul make a big bloody attack on something-or-other and take a lot of casualties whether they win or not. It looks like no good options for sunnis. Maybe they’ll see something I’m missing.

  13. geoff says:

    Baer’s books are amazing. I’d rec’d both of them to everyone.
    I can’t wait to see ‘Syriana’.

  14. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I’ve know him since we were both in government.
    Too bad his boss will never write a book.

  15. ed_finnerty says:

    J Thomas
    excellent summary. It rings accurate to me. The only thing is – why would’t the sunni’s ally with Syria ?

  16. searp says:

    Seems to me it isn’t a capacity to influence, we have always had that. It is more an issue of how and what to influence.
    I have never heard any war aim that made sense to me. Who are our friends, and can we meaningfully help them?
    PL’s answer is the secular types, and I agree. I remember reading a puff piece on Iraq in National Geographic about 25 years ago. It was illuminating. Unveiled, educated women. Education for the Marsh Arabs. A welfare state. Until Iraq became all about Saddam, Baathi Iraq didn’t sound like such a bad place.
    That is all over with now, Humpty Dumpty is broken, and we’re trying to figure out if there is anything that we can really accomplish. What a brilliant piece of work.

  17. J Thomas says:

    Ed Finnerty, here’s a link I’ve seen since that explores it deeper than I did. it’s a Democratic site but they have some interesting ideas.
    About allying with syria, first the sunnis might not be unified enough to do that well. Religious sunnis might not like syrian Ba’athists. Iraqi Ba’athists might not like syrian Ba’athists. They’d want aid but they probably wouldn’t want union. The ethnic tensions between iraqi sunnis and syrians aren’t as bad as those between iraqi shias and persian shias, but I just don’t think they’d want union. And syria might not want extra territory that isn’t of any immediate use. I’d see syria giving aid. Maybe encourage volunteers. Of course, I’m no expert.
    I tend to imagine that no nation will want to send trained soldiers in, unless they think they can fight other trained soldiers and go home. Unless it’s explicit ethnic cleansing. Here’s my reasoning. If you don’t shoot innocent civilians, then you can expect to run into endless mines. Say the other side has 25 teams of 4 men each who know how to make and set off IEDs only. You have a platoon of fully-trained soldiers. They attack 25 times and each time you kill 2-4 of them. One time they get lucky and kill 10 of your men. Are you winning? Only if you’re carrying out some specific mission that’s worth the 10 casualties. But they can train 100 more guys to lay mines a lot easier than you can train 10 real soldiers.
    So the intention ought to be to use trained soldiers to carry out specific missions that are worth some casualties, and otherwise keep them out of harm’s way, preferably in some other country. It might not work out that way. They might think they can do occupation better than we did. But I’m guessing if they try it they’ll get chewed up.

  18. ed_finnerty says:

    J Thomas
    Thanks for the link
    The reasoning is sound. I tend to agree with the idea that no-one will do anything until they have to. I think the medium term impact of the removal of Saddam is a regional war involving Iran, Turkey, Syria etc.

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