My "Secret Plan" to End Bush's Occupation of Iraq
I have been breaking pencils (among other things), trying to assemble a plan for Iraq. I was proceeding with multiple bullet points and graphs, when I found the following piece in my notes. It comes the closest to my thinking. I cannot believe I haven't posted part of it until now, but a global search seems to indicate that. It must have been my own ego telling me I could do better.
William S. Lind is considered a paleoconservative who has written extensively on 4th Generation Warfare. I don't have any truck with his neo-libertarian delusions about deconstruction of our Constitution. But I do think his concept for re-deployment from Iraq very close to a bull's eye.
Writing in the American Conservative, he described Bush and Cheney's endless occupation of Iraq as Totentanz:
...To devise a successful strategy, we must begin by defining what we mean by winning. The Bush administration, consistent with its record of military incompetence, continues to pursue the folly of maximalist objectives. It still defines victory as it did at the war’s outset: an Iraq that is an American satellite, friendly to Israel, happy to provide the U.S. with a limitless supply of oil and vast military bases from which American forces can dominate the region. None of these objectives are now attainable. None were ever attainable, no matter what our troops did. And as long as those objectives define victory, we are doomed to defeat.There are those who would say this plan can be mounted only over Bush's and Cheney's cold bodies. And Lind agrees, concluding that "There is no chance for the Bush administration, locked in a Totentanz with its dreams of world empire..." That is why I have always said, that regime change in Washington is the sine quo non for regime-building in Iraq.
We created the illusion of an Iraqi government in Baghdad’s Green Zone, but it is a government without a state, which is to say a Potemkin parliament. As long as Iraq remains stateless, our non-state enemies win.
Winning the warEnding the occupation in Iraq therefore means seeing the re-creation of an Iraqi state. I say “seeing,” not “re-creating,” because our strategy, if it is to have a chance of success, must proceed from a realistic understanding of the situation in Iraq. We do not now have the power to re-create a state in Iraq, if we ever did. That is due in part to military failure, but it has more to do with a problem of legitimacy. As a foreign, Christian invader and occupier, we cannot create any legitimate institutions in Iraq. Quite the contrary: we have the reverse Midas touch. Any institution we create, or merely approve of and support, loses its legitimacy.
That means our new strategy must employ what the British military theorist Basil Liddell-Hart called an “indirect approach.” This is chancy. So is war itself. You cannot guarantee events; you try instead to influence them. Again, this reflects a realistic appreciation of the situation in Iraq. Our vaunted “boots on the ground” have been fought to a stalemate by flip flops in the alleys. In this kind of war, a stalemate means we have lost tactically. A combination of good strategy and some luck may yet enable us to pull our chestnuts out of the fire, but we are in no position to dictate events. We must try, instead, to shape and ride them.
An indirect approach to winning the war in Iraq on the strategic level has three central elements. The first is the lesson of Nixon’s trip to China.
That brilliant diplomatic move of establishing a rapprochement with China in effect won the Vietnam War for the United States. The threat that drew us into a major war was not North Vietnam, a power of purely local significance. Rather, it was Mao’s doctrine of exporting wars of national liberation. (The phrase at the time was “Two, three, many Vietnams.”) The new relationship Nixon established with China ended that threat, rendering our defeat on the ground in Vietnam irrelevant.
In this strategy, our withdrawal is not that of a defeated army. It is a strategic withdrawal—a necessary part of our strategy. That distinction is a critical for our prestige in the world, for the future health of America’s Armed Forces, and for our domestic politics, which could be roiled beyond what any conservative would desire by a vast military defeat.
- In the case of the
waroccupation in Iraq, Iran is China, and the first component of a strategy to win in Iraq is to establish a rapprochement with Iran. That is, a general settlement of differences. The Iranians have offered us such a settlement—including a compromise on the nuclear issue—on generous terms. But the Bush administration, true to its hubris, refused to consider it, going so far as to upbraid the Swiss for daring to forward the overture to us. It seems, however, to remain on the table.
The reason a strategy to win in Iraq must begin with a rapprochement with Iran is that any real Iraqi state is likely to be allied to Iran. Even the quisling al-Maliki government cowering in the Green Zone is close to Iran. A legitimate Iraqi government, which is virtually certain to be dominated by Iraq’s Shi’ites, will probably be much closer.
A restored Iraqi state that is allied with Iran will quickly roll up al-Qaeda and other non-state forces in Iraq, which is the victory we most require. But the world’s perception will still be that the United States was defeated because its main regional rival, Iran, will emerge much strengthened. If Iran and America are no longer enemies, that issue becomes moot.
A rapprochement with Iran may encourage Tehran to use its influence in Iraq to promote the revival of a state, but that is in Iran’s interest in any case once it is clear American troops are withdrawing. Conversely, until it is clear that America has given up its ambitions for large, permanent military bases in Iraq, Iran must continue to promote instability in its neighbor.
- Once it becomes possible for both the U.S. and Iran to win in Iraq, we must move to the second element of our new strategy: allowing any elements that may hold the potential of restoring an Iraqi state to rise within Iraq. Consistent with an indirect approach, this means letting go.
At present, the United States works to suppress any elements that challenge the al-Maliki government. We teeter on the verge of open war with the most prominent of those elements, Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army. On the ground, al-Sadr is the leader most likely to restore an Iraqi state, and thanks to his steadfast opposition to the American occupation, he has legitimacy. While he may not have the support of a majority of Iraq’s Shi’ites, majorities do not make history. He is the leader of the Shi’ites who count, which is to say the young men willing to fight. Nor is al-Sadr merely a Shi’ite leader; he has kept open channels of communication to at least some of the Sunni insurgent groups—and perhaps channels not of communication only. Some of the Sunni insurgents clearly have benefited from Iranian support, which may have come through al-Sadr. Of late, al-Sadr has taken care to restrain his followers from revenge attacks against Sunnis, stressing Shi’ite-Sunni unity against the foreign occupier. He has had his eye on the brass ring, the supreme leadership position in a restored Iraqi state, from the beginning. Now he may see it as within reach.
Our new strategy would let him grab it. Under his leadership, or that of anyone else in Iraq with a shred of legitimacy, a restored Iraqi state will not be a friend of America. Given what we have done to that country, we can hardly expect it to be. But our new strategy has no such unattainable objective. Its objective is solely the restoration of a real state, and that al-Sadr may be able to accomplish. If he can, we will have little to complain about in terms of his toleration of al-Qaeda or other Fourth Generation elements. Nor will his close relationship with Iran be a problem, given that we will no longer regard Iran as an enemy.
There is, of course, no guarantee that al-Sadr or anyone else in Iraq can restore a state. The only sure thing is that we cannot do so, as four years of failure have amply demonstrated. The one chance of victory we have left is to get out of the way of al-Sadr and anyone else in Iraq who might be able to re-create an Iraqi state, praying fervently that they succeed. Having failed in our own efforts, it is time to give the Iraqis and Dame Fortune our place at the gaming table.
Some may object that a rapprochement with Iran coupled with allowing al-Sadr or someone like him to become the leader of a restored Iraqi state will upset the Sunni regimes in the Middle East. Indeed it may, but that is not our problem. There is little the Sunni states can do about it, given the regions’s geography. Syria is in a position to support a continued insurgency by Iraqi Sunnis, but Syria is ruled by an Alawite clique, and the Alawites are offshoots of Shi’ism. The Saudis will be both angry and terrified, but beyond supplying Iraq’s Sunni insurgents with money and volunteers, which they are already doing, they cannot intervene. Saudi Arabia’s armed forces are a joke, and overt Saudi military intervention in Iraq would quickly fail. All the other Sunni states are too far away to do anything effective.
Moreover, by accentuating the Sunni-Shi’ite rivalry within Islam, we may help fold Islamic expansionism back on itself, an essential quality of any indirect approach. . . .
If the Sunni-Shi’ite conflict became not only intense and widespread but also prolonged, perhaps as much so as the Sino-Soviet conflict during the last three decades of the Cold War, the global Islamist movement might have almost no meaning or attraction at all. In the Muslim world there might be Sunni Islamists and Shi’ite Islamists, but each might consider their greatest enemy to be not the United States, but each other.
- The third and final element of a strategy for winning in Iraq is to withdraw all American forces as rapidly as possible, which means within 12-18 months. That is the only way we can create the space necessary for al-Sadr or someone else to re-create an Iraqi state. If we remain and work against him, a dicey task becomes that much harder, undermining both him and our strategic goal. And if we work for him, he loses legitimacy, the sine qua non for re-creating a state in Iraq.
If our new strategy works and our withdrawal is followed by the restoration of a real Iraqi state, we will have learned our lesson about wars of choice, but avoided a catastrophe. If it fails and Mesopotamia remains a stateless region, Iraq is no worse off than it is now, and our troops will be safely out of the mess.
We are falling seriously behind my time-lined agenda in the upper, right-hand corner of this page. Impeachment might not be necessary, if Bush and Cheney can be shunted off to the side and some how be rendered functionally irrelevant. One way to begin this process is for Congress to insist on getting unfiltered testimony from military officers in the field as opposed to Bush's uniformed cronies.
The question is, can the world wait until 20 January 2009?
If it's not pertinent, it better be brief.