Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Looking Into the Abyss? (Part II)

Bush (still!) has us boxed in with fear of the unknown.

If tunnel vision got us into Bush's un-provoked, unnecessary, largely unilateral invasion and unplanned occupation of Iraq (UULUIUOI), I guarantee you it won't get us out.

This is an update of my Looking Into the Abyss (Part I).

With thanks to Carolyn Lochhead, of the San Francisco Chronicle 's Washington Bureau and her excellent excellent article,
Doubt Cast on Dire Exit Scenarios.
Ms. Lochhead has been the San Francisco Chronicle’s Washington corresondent since 1991.
Prior to the Chronicle, she wrote for Insight Magazine,
as well as newspapers in California and Louisiana. Lochhead holds a B.A. from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

Lochhead begins by making an honest and clear-eyed assessment of where the Anglo-American coalition is now and going forward.

Things are bad now.
  • Refugee flows are large and growing -- nearly 4 million Iraqis have either been internally displaced or have fled abroad.
  • Ethnic cleansing is altering the makeup of Baghdad.
  • A civil war is underway.
  • Populations have become radicalized.
  • Al Qaeda terrorists have established a base in Anbar province.
  • Iran is intervening, aiding Shiite militias.
  • Syria is allowing militants over its border.
  • American standing is damaged.
Can things get worse?
  • Sectarian war in Iraq spreads across the Middle East?
  • Neighboring regimes are destabilized, and populations radicalized?
  • A humanitarian catastrophe of refugees and ethnic cleansing follows?
  • Iranian influence rises?
  • Regional war erupts?
  • Oil supplies are disrupted?
  • Al Qaeda claims victory, gains recruits and money and is emboldened to strike again?
  • American credibility is damaged?
Regional war is the scariest of the scenarios, with the assumption that it would be accompanied by an oil shock. That assumes all the neighboring countries would look into the abyss, and jump in. Yet it is not clear why they would do so.

Retired Gen. William Nash, U.S. commander in Bosnia from 1995 to 1997:
If we get run off, there's no reason to say it would be a positive thing, OK? But just think of the dire predictions that were made in 1975 when the helicopters were leaving the embassy grounds of Saigon and everybody thinking that the dominoes would begin to fall. Lo and behold, the dominoes not only didn't fall, but a number of the regional actors started taking some responsibilities for some things.
Rand Beers, a former national security official through the last four administrations, including the current Bush administration:
When you go through the analysis -- even though I am prepared to concede that there can be dark scenarios coming out of a withdrawal from Iraq -- it's not at all clear to me that they are any worse than staying.

How do you get the violence outside of the country? Iraqis are not going to invade another country. Scenarios are that Iran might march in to protect the Shias, that Turkey might march in because the Kurds are destabilizing Turkey. The Saudis might at least be prepared to arm the Sunnis. Those are all adding fuel to the fire in Iraq -- not expanding conflict outside of Iraq.
Bruce Riedel, a former Bush national security official now at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy:
When you sit down and scrub that carefully, it's not a certainty by any means. . . . Iran has very close ties to every single Shia and Kurdish politician, militia and political group in Iraq. They're already in there. They have a huge intelligence presence inside of Iraq. It's hard for me to see why, after we left, they would need to put in ground troops. They've already got their influence there, and their side of the civil war, the Shia, is likely to prevail in the long run.

The reality is that none of them have the military capability to do anything serious. Saudi Arabia doesn't have an army that can advance into Anbar province. It just doesn't have that military capability, nor does Jordan, nor does Kuwait. These are countries that can barely defend themselves, let alone project military power.
They can provide arms, money and volunteers, but Sunni insurgents already have ample supplies of those.
That leaves the Turks. Turkey is seen as the state most likely to enter Iraq if it breaks up and a new, independent Kurdistan emerges. Turkey has for decades been battling a Kurdish resistance in its eastern provinces that border Iraq.

Turkey also wants to join the European Union. Kurdish northern Iraq also is a notoriously difficult area to control.

Edward Walker, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates:
If the United States is insistent, I think Turkey would stand back. I don't think the Turks are interested in breaking their links to the U.S. or to Europeans just to get themselves into the middle of a civil war.
Riedel again:
I think when Turkey looks hard at this problem, it's very unlikely that what the Turkish military is going to want to do is occupy a very difficult-to-control area and just expand the number of Kurds that are shooting at Turkish soldiers. I don't dismiss it. There is a risk of regional conflict. But I think that a skillful policy of containment and diplomatic action could minimize it after we go, and it does not become a rationale for young American men and women to give down their lives indefinitely.
John Mueller, chairman of national security studies at Ohio State University says in Iraq,
The most likely scenario, and it's still a fairly bad one, is that the other countries would contain Iraq and there would be a civil war that would gradually work its way out. The idea of it spreading throughout the Middle East and all over the world strikes me as a considerable stretch. Not that it's impossible. But the best analogy would be the long civil war in Lebanon. Other countries meddled in various ways, but they also kept it there, as much as possible.
Michael Mandelbaum, head of the foreign policy program at Johns Hopkins University's School for Advanced International Studies says a regional war would be terrible:
But as cynical, as cold-blooded as it may sound, we have to ask what interests of ours would be jeopardized. ... It seems to me it's worth taking a look at our options and not assuming that all options are worse than this one."

People might draw back from the brink or it may be that the civil war has to play itself out.

In any event, if the United States withdrew or drew back, at least our troops wouldn't be getting killed and surely the first obligation of the American government is to the people of the United States, and that includes the U.S. armed forces.
Kurt Campbell, a former national security official in the Clinton administration, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies:
It's remarkable how little time people have spent examining the assumptions. . . . They're going to follow us home no matter what, so the idea that if we prevail in Iraq that suddenly our situation at home in the United States is going to improve dramatically, I think is a very questionable proposition. That does not mean that I don't and everyone else doesn't want to win in Iraq. But I think that the more logical consequences of failure are really not so much in potential terrorist threats at home. That's something we're going to live with for decades.
The burden of proof or persuasion is on those who would escalate and prolong our illegitimate and poorly conceived occupation: how do they convince us (or themselves) that we won't find the abyss by following Bush even deeper into his personal apocalypse?