Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The American Catastrophe, part 1

I listened to almost all of General Petraeus’ and Ambassador Crocker’s testimony before the House, and a fair amount of their Senate testimony. What can be said, other than that they both confirmed that the U.S, military still fights effectively, and that the political situation in Iraq remains a disaster? It’s fine but irrelevant that some Iraqi forces are becoming more competent. So long as Iraqi political forces are sectarian, and focused almost exclusively on grabbing power, stealing wealth, and oppressing other groups, more competent military forces are a problem, not a solution. During the hearings, Stephen K. Biddle (CFR Defense Policy Fellow, former Army War College Professor, and apparently an advisor to General Petraeus) stated the current plan outlined by Petraeus and Crocker is the best we can do, and then gave it a 10 to 20 percent chance of success, with, I gather a full blown Iraqi civil war and enormous boost to perceptions that al Qaeda won should the plan fail.

I certainly hope Petraeus and Crocker are successful. I don’t believe they will be, because the political situation isn’t going to be fixed. I suspect most Iraqis do not want civil war, but a sufficiently large minority is dead set on fighting for dominance, and they’re well-armed and won’t be going away. The current government is terribly corrupt and partisan, and I doubt it will be able to fix anything.

The U.S. “surge” (how did this word become a noun, and especially one that describes a military strategy?) does seem to “work,” in that the U.S. military can perform almost any military task set before it. But the solution to the Iraqi problem is social engineering and nation building. No one in the world knows how to do that, and there are good reasons to believe that these tasks are not humanly possible. We cannot fix our own institutional and political problems, never mind constructing an entirely new system from whole cloth in a foreign “nation” that is no nation at all, but a foreign-designed concoction that has always been held together by force alone.

Hence the American Catastrophe: Once the “surge” has run its course, the situation in Iraq will be no better. Faced with an exhausted military, an angry public, and a worsening economic situation (American Catastrophe part 2), the United States will withdraw from Iraq. As the Iraqi situation degenerates into full blown civil war, the Kurds will declare official independence. Turkey will immediately launch an invasion against independent Kurdistan. What will Iran do? Join Turkey? Oppose it? Fight? Use the Mahdi Army as its proxy? What will the Saudis do when they see Shiite and Iranian ascendancy? I won’t try to guess, but the prospect that everyone will suddenly “sober up” and realize that in this power vacuum they must all restrain themselves and try to get along seems terribly unlikely.

I wouldn’t expect al Qaeda to become strong; none of these players will have any sympathy for the crazy dream of a new caliphate. But elsewhere (Pakistan, perhaps?) the perception that Muslims finally defeated the Western colonial-crusader oppressors will give al Qaeda its own surge…in popularity.

This is all “I told you so.” Nothing is surprising about this. Dick Cheney predicted all of it when he defended the 1991 decision of George H.W. Bush to not depose Saddam Hussein. Mission impossible really was, and is, impossible. The insane insistence of neoconservatives that the United States find a country to invade to prove our superpower status to the world has, as predicted by non-neocons, resulted in catastrophe: Iran empowered, and part of a growing anti-western bloc that includes China and Russia. The United States military exhausted, the U.S. budget badly unbalanced, U.S. moral authority and soft power essentially gone, U.S. prestige at an all time low, and the Middle East potentially on the verge of real war.

It’s very scary. It’s not fun to think about. And I hate writing things that have no positive conclusion. But as one Israeli military officer put it, after listening to General Petraeus’ presentation, everyone in the Middle East should be preparing for what comes after the U.S. withdraws with mission unaccomplished – and from everyone’s standpoint, it will be ugly.

In part 2, I’ll comment on the worsening economic situation in the U.S., which I attribute first of all to U.S. government fiscal policy, another aspect of the Bush legacy. And while some time ago I forswore further comment on the Bush Administration, I have something new to say regarding neoconservatism and Bush policy. All this and more is forthcoming.

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