Why We Can't Win Militarily in Iraq

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 by Larry C Johnson

The Bush surge is not about "Mission Creep", it is "Mission Leap".  Every justification for going to war in Iraq has been exhausted  and repudiated.  Finally, with the execution of Saddam Hussein, we have jumped the shark.  Yes we have deposed Saddam and his regime, we have certified that there are no WMD's in Iraq, and have helped the Iraqi Shia create a fledgling Shia-led government.  Go get that "Mission Accomplished" banner and let's start the celebration.  It is time to send our combat forces home.

That does not mean we will leave Iraq in peace.  Far from it.  A sectarian civil war is underway and will probably worsen.  But this is a war we cannot win.  We might have a chance if we were fighting one insurgency — let's say Zarqawi's Al Qaeda.  But we are not.  We are in the middle of a hydra headed civil war.  We have helped create a lethal version of an Animal House food fight.  There are no clear discernible sides.  There are multiple Sunni insurgent groups and there are multiple Shia insurgent groups.  The most extreme Sunni groups believe their ultimate mission is to kill Shia.  Some Shia groups are willing to collaborate with some Sunnis.  There is only thing these groups agree on — all see the United States as an intruder and want it expelled. 

There is not much we can do to quell the violence in Iraq.  In the face of our conventional military force the various insurgent groups refuse to stand and fight and melt into the populace.  They hide out until we go away and then filter back in.   We can surround the various Baghdad neighborhoods and embed our troops with Iraq police.  And our troops will search fruitlessly for the insurgents as we invade homes and, more often than not, roust unsuspecting Iraqis.  God help us if we do a Fallujah style clear and hold.  It will be a human tidal wave spilling out of the city.

And when all is said and done these tactics simply antagonize the Iraqi populace — sunni and shia — and spur recruits for the various insurgents. Until we come to grips with this reality we will continue to fail to get a handle on the Iraq of our dreams.  Lawrence of Arabia described this frustration as trying to eat soup with a knife.   

The United States needs to redefine its mission and goals in Iraq.  Like it or not we have created a Shia majority country that is favorably disposed towards Iran.  We also have created regions of the former Iraq that are defacto independent regions — one Kurdish and one Sunni.  We lack the power and the resources to impose our will on the region.  We cannot make the Iraqis nor the Iranians nor the Syrians nor the Saudis act like we want them to act.  If we persist in that madness we will destroy ourselves as a great power.

So, if everything is coming up lemons we need to consider making lemonade.  What should we do?

1.  Negotiate an immediate agreement with the Maliki Government for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.  This agreement should include permission for the United States to maintain a joint military/law enforcement base in Iraq dedicated to combating terrorist threats.  We should also be willing to offer to commit to a long-term program for training and equipping the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi National Police.  But this will require employing U.S. personnel who speak Arabic and will accept long-term assignments in Iraq.  And we should not be surprised if our offer is rejected.

2.  Working through the Arab League, recruit and deploy a genuine multi-national peacekeeping force to police Baghdad.

3.  There is a lot of diplomatic work to do on the periphery of Iraq.  We have damaged our credibility with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Turkey.  We have all but declared war on Syria and Iran.  We need to cool things down and work towards some broad-based agreements.  The  Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group offers an excellent guide in this regard.

We need to step back and refocus on the issues that are important, not only to us, but to all countries in the region.  We must combat religious extremism and ensure that all countermeasures possible are employed to detect and defeat terrorist threats from these various groups.  We must prevent nuclear proliferation.  We found a way to live with Pakistan, who has been the biggest proliferator in the world, surely we can find a way to contain Iran. 

The neo-cons continue to try to foist their vision of terror on the people of the United States.  They insist we must stay and fight in Iraq or else the Islamofascists — militant Muslims keen on building a worldwide Caliphate (think of International Communism with God at the center) — will take over.  A scary vision but it is nonsense.   Ignore for a moment the gulf separating the aspiring Sunni Caliphs from the aspiring Shia Caliphs, there are 800 million Muslims who have not bought into this craziness.  We need to stop acting out of fear and concentrate on what is in our national interest.  That's where the debate needs to be.  But one thing is clear — continuing to kill Iraqis with U.S. troops is not in our interest or theirs.  Accepting that fact is the first step on the road towards peace.

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