Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Can't Lose For Winning

You've got to hand it to these guys. Not only do they come up with whoppers, they do it on the fly like it was no thing. No sooner had Tony Blair announced that he would draw down British troop levels in Southern Iraq (by 1600 out of roughly 7000, with the rest to follow depending on conditions on the ground), than the Bush administration claimed it was a sign that things were going as planned. Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, didn't quite see it the same way in an analysis published today:

The British may not have been defeated in a purely military sense, but lost long ago in the political sense if "victory" means securing the southeast for some form of national unity. Soft ethnic cleansing has been going on in Basra for more than two years, and the south has been the scene of the less violent form of civil war for control of political and economic space that is as important as the more openly violent struggles in Anbar and Basra.

As a result, the coming British cuts in many ways reflect the political reality that the British "lost" the south more than a year ago. The Shi'ites will takeover, Iranian influence will probably expand, and more Sunnis, Christians, and other minorities will leave. British action will mean more pressure for federation and separatism, but local power struggles are more likely to be between Shi'ite factions than anything else.

He also had some sobering words for the Surge in Baghdad:

Just as the British confused Basra with a regional center of gravity, the Bush Administration may well have compounded these problems by confusing Baghdad with the center of gravity in a national struggle for the control of political and economic space that affects every part of the country...

Winning security control of the city and losing Iraq’s 11 other major cities and countryside to Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic factions is not victory in any strategic (sic), it is defeat. As has been discussed earlier, the minimal requirement for a successful US strategy is a relatively stable and secure Iraq, not temporary US military control of Baghdad.

So far, however, the US has not shown that it has a clear plan for taking control of Baghdad with the US and Iraqi resources it has available, or described a credible operational plan for moving from “win” to “hold” and “build.” It has completely failed to set forth a strategy and meaningful operational plan for dealing with Iraq as a country even if it succeeds in Baghdad.

He goes on to outline any number of tactics the insurgents could use to respond to the surge, including:

  • Stretching American forces thin across Baghdad to pick off isolated and weak outposts;
  • Carrying out high profile attacks against civilian targets, aid efforts and political leaders;
  • Carrying out high profile attacks on US forces;
  • Taking the fight elsewhere, thereby shifting the center of gravity of the conflict outside of Baghdad.

It seemed like public opinion had already come to terms with losing the war before the Surge. But at that point it had been lost, not to an enemy, but to the uncontrollable chaos and violence of the Iraqi civil war.

What happens if the Surge not only doesn't work, but actually exposes us to significant losses? Will the possibility of actually leaving Iraq as a "defeated" army be enough to restore public support for the war? Or will it, on the contrary, accelerate the calls for withdrawal? And if the goal now has been reduced to leaving Iraq with honor, as Cheney put it recently, will that be further justification for escalating our involvement?

Up until now I didn't really think things could get much worse. I'm not so sure anymore.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Iraq   

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