Monday, November 15, 2004

Rock and a Hard Place

Well, the Fallujah campaign is winding down. TNR's Iraq'd blog has the post-mortum. On the one hand, the US job is far from done. Fallujah may have been a step in the right direction, but it has also enflamed anti-US sentiment amongst the Sunnis. And our anti-insurgent strategy is rapidly starting to resemble whack-a-mole, bringing the bludgeon of US power down on the insurgents in Fallujah, only to watch them pop up in Mosul, then Sadr City...oy vey. Iraq'd notes:
"According to the Los Angeles Times, the U.S. military command met yesterday in Baghdad "to craft a strategy for using the momentum from a seemingly successful anti-insurgent battle in Fallouja to pacify other embattled Iraqi cities"; already air strikes have begun in Baquba. It may very well be that strikes at other insurgent bases can tamp down the insurgency during the two months before elections, but it is unlikely to destroy it: First, while the U.S. had months to prepare the invasion of Falluja, the inflammation of other cities, including once-a-model-of-success Mosul, appears to have caught the U.S. military somewhat off guard and will subsequently prompt a more ad hoc tactical strategy to reclaim those cities, if such operations occur. Second, it's unclear whether the 140,000 U.S. troops can sustain an operations tempo comparable to what seizing Falluja required. Third, reconstructing Falluja is a massive undertaking of a sort that the U.S. has proven unable to handle over 20 months of occupation, and to expand those needs around the country at this late hour represents a serious strain on resources. And finally, the elections themselves are extremely likely to represent a new level of Sunni disaffection with a now-formally Shia government, which risks replenishing the ranks of the insurgency."

So the US has to stay in Iraq to work out all of these problems, right? Well, yes, and no. While Allawi's government isn't really strong enough to stand on its own two feet yet, and certainly isn't competent enough to solve these problems on its own, it also isn't strong enough to continue to have a US presence. Iraq'd continues:
"With an insurgency on its doorstep, its long-deferred-and-now-realized aspirations for ruling Iraq at risk, and the feebleness of the Iraqi security forces on display, the Shia will have to decide what their relationship to the U.S. occupation is. Can it afford to ask the U.S. to leave--or to restrict missions against the insurgency in some fashion, or to set a date for ultimate withdrawal? Can it afford not to ask the U.S. to leave? There's good reason to believe that Dong's warning of woe unto the government that risks becoming a U.S. proxy won't apply so much to an elected Shia leadership: Unlike Ngo Dinh Diem or Iyad Allawi, the slate of candidates organized and blessed by Sistani will carry true legitimacy among the Shia who vote them in. But the longer the U.S. stays, the greater the risks that the average anti-occupation Shia will view the second interim government as too closely allied with the United States. And it can also become a rallying cry for the insurgency: Shia and American infidels have conspired to destroy Iraq, etc. Unless the Shia are prepared to wage and sustain (and presumably defeat) a civil war against the Sunni insurgents, they will have to figure out a way to cleave at least some Sunnis from the insurgency politically at a time when their very political ascendancy is most inflammatory to the Sunnis. (One way of doing this--pointing to Shia condemnation of the invasion of Falluja as an indicator of good faith--appears to be a foreclosed option now.) In terms of accomplishing that task, the U.S. presence in Iraq looks like a liability."

So let me get this straight. If we leave Iraq, then the insurgents re-entrenchment in Mosul, Hawijah, Sammara, and other cities will give them a strong base of attack against the Allawi government. Continuing Sunni resentment will prevent even an elected government from having legitimacy, so a civil war results. US interventionism is thus discredited, and chaos ensues. If we stay in Iraq, resentment towards US presence undercuts the legitimacy of the Allawi regime and pushes anti-occupation Shiites away from the government. At the same time, enraged Sunnis will also continue to press the attack, crippling the weakened Iraqi state. US interventionism is still discredited, and chaos still ensues.

Freedom is on the march...

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