Sunday, August 15

Kaplan on iraq

No Way Out
Is there any hope of avoiding catastrophe in Iraq?
By Fred Kaplan
Posted Friday, Aug. 13, 2004, at 10:25 AM PT

No solutions in sight. This is a terribly grim thing to say, but there might be no solution to the problem of Iraq. There might be nothing we can do to build a path to a stable, secure, let alone democratic regime. And there's no way we can just pull out without plunging the country, the region, and possibly beyond into still deeper disaster.

Much as the Bush administration hoped otherwise, the fighting didn't stop—or so much as turn a corner—after sovereignty passed from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the new government of Iraq. Prime Minister Iyad Allawi made a fine speech on the occasion about dealing with the insurgency, especially the need to isolate the foreign jihadists from the homegrown rebels who simply don't like being occupied. But the distinction has turned out to be muddy, and it will remain so until Allawi demonstrates he deserves their loyalty—that is, until he proves that he's independent from his American benefactors and competent at restoring basic services.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military—the only force in Iraq remotely capable of keeping the country from falling apart—finds itself in a maddening situation where tactical victories yield strategic setbacks. The Marines could readily defeat the insurgents in Najaf, but only at the great risk of inflaming Shiites—and sparking still larger insurgencies—elsewhere. In the Sadr City section of Baghdad, as U.S. commanders acknowledge, practically every resident is an insurgent.

There are not enough U.S. and British troops now to create the conditions for order. Nor are there likely to be any time soon.

John Kerry says that, if elected president, he'd persuade our allies—the ones Bush blew off—to come help (or bail) us out. Kerry would certainly be an abler diplomat than Bush; he would repair tattered alliances, and the benefits would likely be substantial in many aspects of international politics. But it's unclear how even Kerry would lure reluctant leaders to send significant numbers of combat troops into what they see as the quagmire of Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration seems to be muddling through with neither a military strategy for beating the insurgents nor a political strategy for securing Iraq's stability.

Bush seems to have gone into this war without any notion that he was popping the lid off a Jack-in-a-box—that toppling Saddam and destroying the Baath Party (however laudable) would also uncork decades of pent-up ethnic and tribal tensions. If his advisers were better briefed, they took no steps to quell the likely postwar conflicts. They didn't send more troops to keep order (either in defiance or in ignorance of historic precedent). More to the point here, they didn't seek out the various ethnic leaders or offer them incentives to join a new political order. They didn't, for that matter, formulate a new political order. (Perhaps they thought Ahmad Chalabi had that department under control.)

Check out Slate for the full article: No Way Out - Is there any hope of avoiding catastrophe in Iraq? By Fred Kaplan


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