Averting Defeat in Iraq
Although President Bush, in his most recent press conference, provided a more somber assessment about the horrifying situation in Iraq, he still insisted that the United States can win in Iraq by remaining committed to staying the course, albeit with some tactical changes. With the civilian carnage escalating and American casualties mounting, it is time this administration accepts the bitter reality that U.S. forces cannot control the violence and stabilize the country, no matter what tactics are employed and how often they are adjusted. There is no military solution. What is needed is a radically new strategy that promotes a political solution that provides the United States with a face-saving way out while saving the Iraqis from complete disaster.
There are several reasons why Iraq has become unwinable, mainly:
First, the Bush Administration has lost the initiative; it can neither reign in the insurgents nor bring an end to the sectarian killing. Here at home, the administration can no longer mobilize public support for increasing the U.S. troop level to the more than 100,000 that is estimated will be needed to change the dynamic of the situation. Three and a half years of appallingly misguided policy have broken Iraq into pieces and plunged the country into civil war. The current chaos has made it impossible for the Iraqis to govern themselves, and certainly not through the western-style democracy, a concept alien to them in the first place. Moreover, the American public's lack of confidence in the President's stewardship, and especially in his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his management of the military campaign, has made the President's goal of victory untenable.
Second, America is seen as an occupying rather than a liberating power. An overwhelming number of Iraqis want the U.S. military out. The administration's efforts to stamp down the resistance entrenched the American presence, which in turn provoked only greater resistance by the nationalist Shiites and Saddamist insurgents. The situation has been further aggravated by the Bush administration helping establish early on an electoral system that gave recognition to sectarian-defined parts of the population, not a common aspect of the Iraqi identity. This, in itself, polarized Iraqis along religious lines, which laid the groundwork for the now-raging civil war.
Third, regardless of how well the Iraqi internal security forces are trained and how much their numbers grow, they cannot be expected to reign in the sectarian fighting. The militias that provide the power base for the main political parties, including the Dawa and Sciri parties, have fully penetrated the various security apparatuses. The security forces, including the military, are themselves partisans in the civil war; that is, they take sides. Therefore, as long as the militias are armed and the Iraqi government is neither willing nor able to disarm them, there will be no unified Iraq and the destruction and chaos will continue, denying the United States even a semblance of victory. This is why what is needed are not new tactics but a new strategy, which by dealing with the root-causes of the escalating violence, will help extricate America from the Iraqi morass.
The way forward is first to replace those who refuse to fundamentally change their policy, chief among them Mr. Rumsfeld, who never told the American people the truth for fear of loosing support for the war. Without a change in the leadership at the Pentagon, including the top commander in Iraq General Abizaid, who must bear the responsibility for acquiescing to a flawed military strategy, future changes will be only tactical and simply result in more American casualties.
The Bush administration must also give up the idea of a united democratic Iraq and instead promote the partitioning, of Iraq (which the Iraqi constitution allows) into three independent, self-ruled entities–a Sunni part, a Shiite part, and a Kurdish part–the Kurdish entity already exists–a kind of loose federal system that would allows each of the three groups to run its own affairs. Without such a partitioning, the Sunnis' fears for their existence under a Shiite majority rule, will continue to feed into the insurgency, which will not end until they are able to govern themselves while also having a guaranteed equitable share of the nation's oil supplies.
The administration must also dramatically change its policy toward Iran and Syria — two critical neighbors of Iraq whose cooperation is essential to any long-term solution. The zealous efforts to chastise Iran, isolate Syria, and seek regime change in both nations have proven to be not only shortsighted but most damaging to U.S. attempts to stabilize Iraq. A change of policy toward Iran could also pave the way toward a resolution of Tehran's nuclear program, which has created tremendous concern throughout the region.
The Bush administration must also involve the international community, especially the European Union, the United Nations, Russia, and China as well as other Arab states; notably Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan in any future plan for Iraq. It is presumptuous to think that at this stage the Bush administration can still go it alone. Any chance of finding a solution that may endure will have to be based on multilateral efforts.
Finally, only within the context of this new approach can the administration develop an exist strategy that ends the occupation. The timetable for the final withdrawal of all U.S. military forces will of necessity be in accordance with the progress made in these areas. This will not represent a victory for America, but then it will not be a defeat either.