Thursday, August 24, 2006

Least Worst Options

Joe Biden's Plan to Hold Iraq Together starts out by dividing it into three zones based on ethnic lines. The Center for American Progress' Strategic Redeployment, which they had foreseen implementing starting January 2006, would have called for the withdrawal of 80,000 troops by December of 2006 (in which case, by now we would be quite far along in the process of withdrawal by August 2006) and is looking increasingly antiquated given recent events in Lebanon and Tehran.

Strategic Redeployment has been criticized in the past for its cynical nature: U.S. forces are to be used to secure oil fields while Iraq is left to settle its sectarian and ethnic scores via civil war. The bulk of U.S. forces get "redeployed" home; the next largest contingent (14,000) goes to Afghanistan, and token forces are sent to East Africa and Southeast Asia. This proposal was a target-rich environment for criticism, but I won't belabor my objections other than to suggest it would have contributed to instability by removing the final check to Iranian territorial designs (the previous check was the Hussein regime, the current one is U.S. forces in combination with a fledgling Iraqi security force), would not have appreciably enhanced our capabilities in Afghanistan which appear more than adequate at this time, and probably would have been inadequate to influence events in the Horn of Africa.

I find portions of Biden & Gelb's plan with which I agree; where I think it fails is it does not adequately accommodate a foreseeable civil war widening into a regional conflict and the attendant refugee problems. Furthermore, although Biden & Gelb are trying to distinguish and differentiate their plan from current Bush policy, a lot of it is already implemented or manifesting spontaneously. For example, binding "the Sunnis to the deal by guaranteeing them a proportionate share of oil revenue" is not exactly a novel idea, and Sunni Arabs have in many cases realized they are a minority in Iraq and need a strong central government to protect them from the majority Shia.

Over all of these deliberations looms the threat of Iran's designs on the region. Khamenei has been characterized, by Kenneth Pollack and others, as a doctrinaire Khomeinist; almost overcompensatingly so, given his earlier reputation of caution and indolence. Khomeini had articulated the goals of securing Najaf and Karbala as one set of goals (as these are Shia holy sites) and the elimination of the Great Satan and all the Little Satans. The questions that need to be answered are "when?" and "in what sequence?".

It is not much of a stretch to imagine the mullahs see the goal of securing Najaf and Karbala as something imminently possible and evidence exists that they are emplacing forces and capabilities as we speak, according to General John Abizaid. Heartened by their successful Hezbollah pawn gambit against the Israeli knight (my kid tells me Israel's not a bishop because "it doesn't move diagonally"), they are probably anticipating huge windfall profits from oil sales as the price skyrockets in reaction to the regional instability they foment. Tehran probably looks at Peak Oil theories and factors this into their long-term planning as well. One thing that seems to be a blind spot in their grand strategic designs is they have not factored in the unpredictability of civil wars, and may indeed experience some adverse blowback. Another blind spot is they must flawlessly pursue their ends in a way that continues to exploit their cagey understanding of domestic politics in Europe and the Anglosphere, without doing anything that alarms their appeaser fifth column allies on the left and in the press. They might not be able to sustain their current string of successes.

Biden & Gelb end, "Those who reject this plan out of hand must answer one simple question: What is your alternative?" In this challenge, please note that rejecting their plan "out of hand" would reject also a lot of current Bush policy, as there is considerable overlap. Unless criticizing an individual component of their plan constitutes rejection of the whole thing, I think Biden ends with a false choice.


Blogger Dave Schuler said...

Once we seriously start removing forces from Iraq they will be gone for good. The notion that we'll remove 50,000 or 80,000 from Iraq to return them 6 months or a year later is absurd. No president would ever propose such thing.

The only reason we have any say in Iraq is the 150,000 troops we've got there. Remove them and we'll have lost our vote.

I genuinely wish that someone would explain to me how removing our forces from Iraq serves U. S. interest.

9/06/2006 08:59:00 PM  

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