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Friday, September 30, 2005

the United States, Iraq, and the post-oil Middle East: Part 2

I began the first part of this essay invoking the memory of Sergio de Mello, the United Nations diplomat killed on August 19th, 2003 in Iraq. His death symbolized in many ways the end of internationalist hopes for constructing a peaceful and equitable resolution to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. To start this essay, which due to its length will have to be Part 2 of a now three part series, let's revisit August of 2003.

August 14th, 2003 saw this article by Steven R. Weisman and Felicity Barringer in the New York Times document the diplomatic conditions that made de Mello's death so disheartening:

"The Bush administration has abandoned the idea of giving the United Nations more of a role in the occupation of Iraq as sought by France, India and other countries as a condition for their participation in peacekeeping there, administration officials said today.

Instead, the officials said, the United States would widen its effort to enlist other countries to assist the occupation forces in Iraq, which are dominated by the 139,000 United States troops there..[snip]

"The administration is not willing to confront going to the Security Council and saying, 'We really need to make Iraq an international operation,' " said an administration official. "You can make a case that it would be better to do that, but right now the situation in Iraq is not that dire."


Of course, the situation, as we all know now, was more than dire. Any discussion of proposals for Iraq's future, as this essay is, must address the Bush Administration's incredibly flawed and inadequate policy there. David Reiff, a journalist with extensive experience in Iraq, wrote about this subject in an essential book review in the Nation magazine examining Larry Diamond's Squandered Victory and David L. Phillips's Losing Iraq, two books that analyze the extensive failures of the U.S. in Iraq. These are the core paragraphs in Reiff's analysis of Philips' book, documenting that even within the U.S. government, the mission in Iraq was essentially a military one, that our presence, in fact, was militarized:

“The key moment, in Phillips's view, was when President Bush signed National Security Directive 24 giving the Pentagon overall control over even the nonmilitary aspects of postwar Iraq. It established the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), which was in fact the CPA's predecessor, and placed it under the supervision of Douglas Feith, a leading neoconservative in the Defense Department and one of the leading advocates within the Administration for the ouster of Saddam. The institutional turf war, well if bitterly chronicled in Losing Iraq, was over. The Defense Department had prevailed over the State Department, even on those humanitarian issues that, through the US Agency for International Development (USAID), State had traditionally controlled. As Phillips puts it, "ORHA was formed to do the job started by the Future of Iraq Project. However, it did not avail itself of previous planning, nor did it make use of those in the State Department knowledgeable about Iraq."

For Phillips, once that decision was made the stage was set for the cascade of errors committed by Bremer and the CPA. Instead of liberation and a fairly quick handover of power to an Iraqi government, which is what Phillips says the Iraqi members of the Future of Iraq Project had assumed would happen after the Baathist regime was defeated, Iraq got an occupation. For Phillips, it was only when the CPA was dissolved and sovereignty returned to Iraqis that what he rather too romantically calls Iraqis' "dreams of democracy" was even salvageable again. That is where the central narrative of his book ends: with the hope that it is not too late.”


From the litany of Pentagon failures and human rights violations we've witnessed these last two-and-one-half years, hope is not exactly a word on anyone's lips right now. Reiff uses his analysis of Larry Diamond's book to make a point that everyone trying to understand Iraq must come to grips with as fundamental, the invasion of Iraq, at its core, was essentially a political event. U.S. strategy in Iraq had nothing to do with pragmatism and everything to do with ideology. Reiff's second paragraph below, with its hard kernal of truth, is one of the best things yet written about the U.S. invasion of Iraq:

"the CPA relied heavily," as Diamond puts it, "on a revolving door of diplomats and other personnel who would leave just as they had begun to develop local knowledge and ties, and on a cadre of eager neophytes--some arrogant and others reflective, some idealistic and others driven mainly by political ambition."

Here, Diamond is being unnecessarily discreet. He really should have been much more severe with regard to these people he calls "eager neophytes"--in reality, disproportionately young men and women who worked in low-level positions within the Bush Administration, the Washington right-wing think-tank orbit, the Congressional Republican Party or the national Republican Party. A few, notably the CPA's senior adviser, Dan Senor (now a contributor to Fox News), cut their institutional teeth in AIPAC, the powerful American-Israeli Political Action Committee. It was commonplace to talk to young people in the Green Zone--the heavily fortified palace complex where the CPA was headquartered and from which most CPA employees rarely ventured except under heavy military escort--and find them fully up to speed on the Bush Administration's revolutionary project (a favorite word of theirs) for democratizing the Middle East but with only the haziest knowledge of Iraq, let alone of Arab, Persian or Islamic history. A favorite joke among these kids--and they were kids--at the time was, "anyone can go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran." Thus did neoconservative dreams, hatched within the Beltway, flourish for a time along the Tigris”


Our 'progress' from the initial military 'victory' to the current Administration juggling of Iraqi progress towards a constitution with continuing failure on the ground is marked by the grim reality that the Bush Administration's shortcomings are clear for the world to see. This state of affairs has put most left commentators in a quandary. Hendrik Hertzberg, in an excellent essay from the New Yorker, highlights some of the ambivalence on the left with the very instability and danger of the situation on the ground in Iraq:

"In Iraq, the strategic rationales for war—terrorism and “weapons of mass destruction”—have turned out to be as phony as the Gulf of Tonkin incident. With scores of thousands of Iraqis dead, an Islamist theocracy in prospect for part, if not the whole, of the country, and the possibility of civil war growing, even the humanitarian rationale has begun to wither. And the hubristic dream of Iraq (in the words of Fouad Ajami, in an essay included in a new anthology entitled “The Right War? The Conservative Debate on Iraq”) as “a beacon from which to spread democracy and reason throughout the Arab world . . . has clearly been set aside.” Even so: this is a different type of war. The enemy in Iraq possesses nothing like the monopoly on indigenous sources of legitimacy that was the Vietnamese Communists’ decisive advantage. Saddam Hussein’s regime was worse than Ho Chi Minh’s. Iraq-based terrorism, once a negligible threat, is now a serious one.

Last week, even as Bush was taking a break from his vacation to denounce “immediate withdrawal of our troops in Iraq or the broader Middle East” as a step that “would only embolden the terrorists,” the Financial Times was reporting details of the Pentagon’s plans “to pull significant numbers of troops out of Iraq in the next twelve months.” The chilling truth is that no one really knows what to do. No one knows whether the consequences of withdrawal, quick or slow, would be worse or better—for Iraq and for the “war on terror” of which, willy-nilly, it has become a part—than the consequences of “staying the course.”


If your head is spinning at the illogic of the situation Hertzberg spells out above. It should be. The situation in Iraq, where United States' military and diplomatic failures have been used as a justification for a policy of more of the same has created a kind of hyper-Catch-22 in Iraq, a Catch-22 squared, where even the best proposals simply call for more intervention on some level or another. This was exactly the Bush Administration's intended result: in a politically-motivated war writ large upon the very center of the world's oil and gas reserves there is only one solution, for better or for worse, that most any U.S. politician would ever be able to call for...more U.S. intervention.

A survey of three of the main voices proposing solutions from 'the Democratic side' in the United States makes this very clear. Lawrence Korb and Brian Katulis from the Center for American Progress have written a policy proposal entitled Strategic Redeployment [pdf] A Progressive Plan for Iraq and the Struggle Against Violent Extremists. This is how they lay out their analysis:

"Despite the growing opposition to President Bush’s “stay the course” strategy, no alternatives have emerged in government or among the foreign policy elites. The Bush administration’s numerous mistakes– sending in too few troops and not providing proper guidance or equipment as well as its frequent changes in the strategy for Iraq ’s political transition and reconstruction – have left us with no good options. The status quo is untenable, eroding American power and weakening our ability to keep America secure. But simply shifting gears into reverse and implementing a hasty withdrawal from Iraq is not the answer.
In the absence of fresh ideas, the American public has had to settle for a simplistic debate centered on a false choice – should U..S.forces “stay the course ” in Iraq or “cut and run”? These extreme positions avoid the fundamental question the country should debate: Is our government using all its powers effectively to defeat our country ’s enemies? The answer to that question is a resounding no. The key is focusing on Iraq in the broader context of the global security threats the United States faces."


With their emphasis on "our country's enemies" and defeating "violent extremists" with military force, this is clearly a Democratic hawk point of view. That does not mean Korb and Katulis don't have a critique of how the ongoing engagement in Iraq might very well "break" the United States military:

“...if we still have 140,000 ground troops in Iraq a year from now, we will destroy the all-volunteer Army. Keeping such a large contingent of troops there will require the Pentagon to send many units back to Iraq for a third time and to activate Reserve and Guard forces a second or third time.”


In response, Korb and Katulis propose the concept of 'Strategic Redeployment':

"[Strategic Redeployment]...means re-engaging our allies, building a platform for multilateral cooperation that counters the terrorist threats we face, rather than relying on ad-hoc “coalitions of the willing.”

Strategic Redeployment has four main components: military realignment that restores a realistic deployment policy for our active and reserve forces and moves troops to other hot spots in the struggle against global terrorist networks or brings them home to rebuild; a global communications campaign to counter misinformation and hateful ideologies; new regional diplomatic initiatives; and smarter support for Iraq’s renewal and reconstruction.”


What this means in terms of a military timetable is this:

"The redeployment of U.S.forces should take place in two phases.Phase one would take place in 2006, with the drawdown of 80,000 troops by the end of the year, leaving 60,000 U.S.troops in Iraq by December 31,2006. Phase two would take place in 2007,with most of the U.S.forces departing by the end of 2007.

United States troops would immediately and completely redeploy from urban areas, with Iraqi police, troops, and militias, like the Kurdish pesh merga, taking responsibility for security in these areas.This redeployment from urban areas – which has already begun in places like Najaf – will actually decrease the number of insurgents since many of them are probably motivated by the US occupation.It will also free up the remaining U.S.forces in Iraq to dedicate their efforts in 2007 to high-priority tasks related to our core mission.[snip]

The 80,000 troops coming out of Iraq in 2006 should be redistributed as follows: All Guard and Reserve troops would be demobilized and would immediately return to the United States.This would allow the Guard and Reserve to return to their policies of troops not spending more than one year out of five on active duty and let the Guard focus on shoring up gaps in homeland security.

Up to two active brigades – approximately 20,000 troops – would be sent to bolster U..S.and NATO efforts in Afghanistan and support counterterrorist operations in Africa and Asia. In Afghanistan, more troops are urgently needed to beat back the resurging Taliban forces and to maintain security throughout the country.If NATO is unwilling to send more troops,the United States must pick up the load.In the Horn of Africa, countries like Somalia and Sudan remain a breeding ground for terrorists and the Philippines also continues to be plagued by a low-level insurgency."


While Korb and Katulis do write about the other aspects of their proposal in some detail, the passage cited above is its core. Strategic Redployment can best be described as a "hawk" approach to the withdrawal from Iraq embedded in a critique of how the Bush Pentagon mishandled Iraq and how the Bush Administration has presented "false choices" to the American public regarding the war. This approach most certainly validates the concept of intervention; in fact, Korb and Katulis propose further U.S. engagements in Somalia, Sudan and the Philippines.

While not proposing a similar extension of the use of force outside of Iraq, General Wesley Clark does take a version of the "hawk" point of view to our military engagement there. Clark's rhetoric is that of looking for a way to "win" or "succeed" in Iraq:

"...for the mission to succeed we will have to be the catalyst for regional cooperation, not regional conflict.

U.S. armed forces still haven't received resources, restructuring and guidance adequate for the magnitude of the task. Only in June, over two years into the mission of training Iraqi forces, did the president announce such "new steps" as partnering with Iraqi units, establishing "transition teams" to work with Iraqi units and training Iraqi ministries to conduct antiterrorist operations. But there is nothing new about any of this; it is the same nation-building doctrine that we used in Vietnam. Where are the thousands of trained linguists? Where are the flexible, well-resourced, military-led infrastructure development programs to win "hearts and minds?" Where are the smart operations and adequate numbers of forces -- U.S., coalition or Iraqi -- to strengthen control over the borders?"


General Clark is looking for ways to broaden (you could even say...to start...) the diplomatic process in Iraq that the Bush Administration has so neglected:

"The United States should form a standing conference of Iraq's neighbors, complete with committees dealing with all the regional economic and political issues, including trade, travel, cross-border infrastructure projects and, of course, cutting off the infiltration of jihadists. The United States should tone down its raw rhetoric and instead listen more carefully to the many voices within the region. In addition, a public U.S. declaration forswearing permanent bases in Iraq would be a helpful step in engaging both regional and Iraqi support as we implement our plans...[snip]

On the military side, the vast effort underway to train an army must be matched by efforts to train police and local justices. Canada, France and Germany should be engaged to assist. Neighboring states should also provide observers and technical assistance. In military terms, striking at insurgents and terrorists is necessary but insufficient. Military and security operations must return primarily to the tried-and-true methods of counterinsurgency: winning the hearts and minds of the populace through civic action, small-scale economic development and positive daily interactions. Ten thousand Arab Americans with full language proficiency should be recruited to assist as interpreters. A better effort must be made to control jihadist infiltration into the country by a combination of outposts, patrols and reaction forces reinforced by high technology. Over time U.S. forces should be pulled back into reserve roles and phased out."


If, as many have suggested, General Clark would have been appointed to head U.S. strategy in Iraq had John Kerry been elected president, it is a reasonable guess that Clark's views expressed above reflect a majority of United States' elected Democrats. Simply put, Clark's approach is a "fix it, don't leave it" strategy that puts a renewed emphasis on regional and international cooperation while, effectively, leaving the United States fully engaged in a military intervention in Iraq even as we forswear our intentions of a permanent presence there.

To complete the trio, Ron Brownstein, of the LA Times, recently wrote this analysis of Larry Diamond's four-pronged proposal for beginning an exit in Iraq:

"Diamond has laid out four principles "for diminishing the violent resistance in Iraq." He believes the United States should "declare some sort of time frame" — but not a rigid deadline — for withdrawing troops. He thinks the United States should negotiate more with Sunni political groups connected to the insurgency, and he wants to enlist other countries as an "honest broker" in such efforts. But at the top of Diamond's list is an unambiguous, unconditional pledge from Bush not to establish permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq.

"Intense opposition to U.S. plans to establish long-term military bases in Iraq is one of the most passionate motivations behind the insurgency," Diamond wrote last week on the liberal website TPMCafe.com. "Neutralizing this anti-imperial passion — by clearly stating that we do not intend to remain in Iraq indefinitely — is essential to winding down the insurgency."


Brownstein, however, citing defense analyst John Pike, highlights some of the the pragmatic realities of any U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, namely the Iraqi goverment's ability to withstand military coups or defend itself from its neighbors:

"In May, the Washington Post reported that military planning did not envision permanent bases in Iraq but rather stationing troops in nearby Kuwait. But the report noted that the Pentagon was also planning to consolidate U.S. troops in Iraq into four large fortified bases. On the theory that concrete speaks louder than words, critics see such work as a sign the administration is planning to stay longer than it has acknowledged.

John E. Pike, a defense analyst at GlobalSecurity.org, points to another indication. Although the United States is systematically training Iraqis to fight the insurgents, he notes, the Pentagon has not taken key steps — like making plans for acquiring tanks or aircraft — to build an Iraqi military capable of defending the country against its neighbors. To Pike that means that although the United States might reduce its troop level in Iraq, the fledgling nation, like Germany or South Korea, will require the sustained presence of a large American contingent, perhaps 50,000 soldiers. "We are building the base structure to facilitate exactly [that]," he says.

Whatever Iraqi politicians say publicly, Pike believes, in private many will prefer such a long-term U.S. presence, which might also provide insurance against a potential military coup. Diamond says he takes Pike's point, but still thinks the United States would improve its leverage in Iraq by making clear that Iraqi, not American, needs will determine the circumstances of our departure.

"I don't know why," Diamond says, "we just can't say, 'It is not our goal to set up for the indefinite duration military bases in Iraq, from which we can operate in the Middle East for our own geopolitical purposes. Our goal is to help the new Iraqi state secure the country and defend itself, and once we mutually judge that goal is achieved, we will leave.' "


Essentially, what we see, from Hertzberg, to Korb and Katulis, to General Clark and Larry Diamond is a broad sense, even among those who are critical of and have opposed the war in Iraq, that there is simply no way for the United States to leave Iraq as it stands. This is the flip side of the 'Catch-22 squared' I referred to above: most proposals by critics of the war in Iraq focus on, in some ways, "fixing the war" or even doing more interventions elsewhere. That too, is part of the structural 'reality on the ground' in Iraq. The political solutions coming from inside the United States are still, by and large, framed under the duress of the dual failures of the Bush Administration: Iraq is a diplomatic and a military failure that is essentially a modern day retelling of the Humpty Dumpty fairy tale. All of Bush's horses and all of Bush's men are extremely unlikely to put Iraq back together again.

From where this essayist stands, the above proposals do not take a broad enough view of the perils of intervention and unilateralism; nor do they seek equitable partnership and investment in the Middle East consonant with a 'progressive' vision. Even the most pragmatic step among these, forswearing permanent bases, is belied by also advocating continued U.S.-led intervention.

In my first essay, I pointed out that the Bush Administration did not simply "get us into a quagmire"...they deliberately constructed this quagmire. This quagmire construction project involved overriding our allies, the United Nations, and settled U.S. policy on wars of aggression; further, the Bush Pentagon discarded not simply respect for human rights at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay but the very "Powell Doctrine" of using overwhelming force to guarantee victory. It is clear today that the Pentagon went into Iraq knowing full well we wouldn't "win"...their goal was to build a new reality...Iraq and Iraqis be damned...and that is exactly what they've done.

Our proposals in response to this state of affairs must be as comprehensive and principled as theirs were foul. We must take the long view, and put our focus on an explicitly internationalist solution that guarantees peace for the Iraqis and takes a much broader view of regional stability, U.S. energy policy, and a global commitment to development. We must invest in an equitable vision of a post-oil Middle East, and show the region a commitment to forging our own energy independence. Simply put, this is not a time to propose a better way to rebuild Humpty Dumpty...though that is exactly what many are doing.

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