Thursday, November 16, 2006

Iraq Strategy

This morning the Guardian gives us a peek the Iraq strategy being cooked up by the Baker commission (h/t Adam). Here's a summary:

  • Increase US troop levels by up to 20,000 to secure Baghdad and allow redeployments elsewhere in Iraq
  • Focus on regional cooperation with international conference and/or direct diplomatic involvement of countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia
  • Revive reconciliation process between Sunni, Shia and others
  • Increased resources from Congress to fund training and equipment of Iraqi security forces
There isn't much more detail in the article, so it's hard to launch into any substantive criticisms. I had planned to write a few anyway (the ones I shared in an email to Nat-Wu and Adam about this very article) but it seems more prudent now to wait until the plan itself is revealed. I will say that in general, if anyone is expecting the Baker commission report to reveal any miraculous plan to win in Iraq, they're going to be disappointed. Although I do believe that the members of the commission are seriously and sincerely considering approaches to fix Iraq, the commission will do little more than provide political cover to Democrats and Republicans who will call for withdrawal arguing that either the commission's recommendations are unachievable, or will wait until the commission's recommendations are actually revealed as unworkable to call for withdrawal. I will say something about one element of the plan however, given how it's been bandied about for some time now. Making an effort to get other Middle Eastern states involved in Iraq is a good idea, and has been since we invaded Iraq. The likes of Iran and Syria have no desire to assist us in any way of course, but as this article in the Washington Post reveals, they have a compelling reason to help us keep Iraq from falling to pieces:

"We're not talking about just a full-scale civil war. This would be a failed-state situation with fighting among various groups," growing into regional conflict, Joost Hiltermann, Middle East project director for the International Crisis Group, said by telephone from Amman, Jordan."The war will be over Iraq, over its dead body," Hiltermann said."All indications point to a current state of civil war and the disintegration of the Iraqi state," Nawaf Obaid, an adjunct fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and an adviser to the Saudi government, said last week at a conference in Washington on U.S.-Arab relations.
The "various groups" that Hiltermann is referring to are not solely the Sunni and the Shiites (and to a lesser extent the Kurds) in Iraq:

In an analysis published last month by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, [adviser to the Saudi government Nawaf] Obaid said sectarian conflicts could make Iraq a battleground for the region.Obaid described widespread interference by Iranian security forces within Iraq. He urged Saudi Arabia, which is building a 560-mile wall on its border with Iraq, to warn Iran "that if these activities are not checked," Saudi Arabia "will be forced to consider a similar overt and covert program of its own."In Damascus, a Syrian analyst close to the Assad government warned that other countries would intervene if Iraq descended into full-scale civil war. "Iran will get involved, Turkey will get involved, Saudi Arabia, Syria," said the analyst, who spoke on condition he not be identified further."Regional war is very much a possibility," said Hiltermann, the analyst for the International Crisis Group. Iraq's neighbors "are hysterical about Iranian strategic advances in the region," he said.
Regional war is obviously a worst-case scenario. But it's a plausible one, and one that's realistic enough for the regional players in the Middle East to start planning to avoid it. Of course, given that we need the help so we can declare victory and leave, these same players have some leverage over us as well. One of those players is Iran, whom we are currently pressing to have sanctions instituted against as a result of their continual development of nuclear weapons. Of all the players, Iran has the least to lose in an Iraq blow-up, and so they have the least motivation to get on board with a regional peace plan unless they're getting something out of the bargain. I don't think it takes any great genius to realize that Iran will attempt link their assistance in Iraq with us taking the pressure off over their nuclear program, and given the mood of the Bush administration on Iran I see that as a major stumbling block to Iran's involvement that we may not be able to overcome. Nonetheless, the Bush administration has signaled that they are perhaps willing to talk face-to-face with Iran on Iraq, and that is a positive development (though it's required three years of disintigration in Iraq for it to happen.)

Then again, there are those who appear to be advocating an entirely new strategy, appropriately referred to in the headline as "Unleash the Shiites"(via War & Piece):
Should the U.S. abandon its efforts to act as a neutral referee in the ongoing civil war and, instead, throw its lot in with the Shiites?

This past Veterans Day weekend, according to my sources, almost the entire Bush national security team gathered for an unpublicized two-day meeting. The topic: Iraq. The purpose of the meeting was to come up with a consensus position on a new path forward.

Numerous policy options were put forward at the meeting, which revolved around a strategy paper prepared by Hadley and drawn from his recent trip to Baghdad. One was the Shiite option. Participants were asked to consider whether the U.S. could really afford to keep fighting both the Sunni insurgency and Shiite militias — or whether it should instead focus its efforts on combating the Sunni insurgency exclusively, and even help empower the Shiites against the Sunnis.

...what's the logic behind the idea of "unleashing the Shiites"? It's the path of least resistance, according to its supporters, and it could help accelerate one side actually winning Iraq's sectarian conflict, thereby shortening the conflict, while reducing some of the critical security concerns driving Shiites to mobilize their own militias in the first place.

Here's my take on that plan: No, no, no, no, no. If full-on civil war breaks out in Iraq, it will result in battles between the Sunnis and Shiite-dominated national security forces. Shiite death squads will run rampant, and ethnic cleansing will occur on a scale that will dwarf what we witnessed in the Bosnian war. And if throw in our lot with the Shiites, we would be aiding and abetting the process. We cannot resolve the conflict by backing the Shiites in the hopes of "accelerating" their victory, because the only thing it will do is stiffen the Sunni resistance against us and the Shiites, thus encouraging the hard-line Shiite elements (such as Sadr's Mahdi Army) to carry out even worse atrocities against Sunnis. What would "victory" be in such a scenario? The ethnic cleansing of Iraq; the removal of the Sunnis from Shiite dominated parts of Iraq, their confinement to Sunni-dominated areas (which would just as likely be cleansed of Shiites), a de facto divison of Iraq into three states wherein the Shiites rule the Sunnis, and a Shiite regime in Iraq that would be naturally be more hostile to our interests than a Sunni regime. This would be the victory that would allows us to leave? I think not. Instead it would add a further immoral component-aiding and abetting ethnic cleansing-to an already immoral invasion. If the Sunnis and the Shiites will war on each other regardless of what we do, let them do it on their own, without our help. I hope in the coming weeks that idea dies the death it deserves.

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