Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Bring It On. And On And On...

US troops raced to Mosul in northern Iraq to retake police stations overrun by insurgents last week. At least half of these troops were deployed from the cordon around Falluja, American forces’ primary focus at that time. Once the police stations are secured, the newly trained Iraqi forces will return to man them. US forces will redeploy or race (as the situation requires) to yet another hot spot to wrest control from the insurgents who attacked and rousted Iraqi security forces. And on and on and on. Whack-a-Mole–just like at the state fair but with real bullets and artillery.

Twenty months into BushCheney’s war of choice the United States faces some very difficult choices: fight it out, negotiate, ask for help or cut and run. BushCheney has pinned great hopes on the January elections but these will have no legitimacy in the face of a Sunni boycott. The Sunnis will continue to fight. So we’ll have to keep fighting them until we can field a well trained, reliable Iraqi force that’s willing and able to engage the insurgents. That will not happen soon. The US has been unable to train significant numbers of security forces. Many of its members sympathize with the insurgents, if not actually participate. Most are unwilling to kill fellow Sunnis and face their countrymen’s wrath for doing so. Make no mistake about it, if significant fighting occurs in Iraq, Americans will bear the brunt of it.

Negotiating is not an option. The insurgents’ main demand is for US forces to leave Iraq. BushCheney will not accept this demand because US forces in Iraq is a primary war aim. They want a friendly Iraq that will tolerate American bases and troops on their soil. But an Iraqi government that accepts American forces will always be suspect to its people. (Update: One analyst suggests that the Shias and the Kurds would allow US bases because it would be in their long term interest. Her views are worth considering.) The US insists that the Sunnis should pursue their aspirations at the ballot box rather than the battleground but, as an overwhelming minority, they have everything to lose in the election. The assault on Falluja provided an excellent excuse–and provocation–for the Sunnis to reject elections.

America could ask for help. But that would be tantamount to admitting a mistake (and remember, George W. doesn’t make mistakes). It could also be difficult because of the ill will the US engendered on its way to war. Other nations are loathe to risk their personnel in war torn Iraq. Even NATO, which pledged to train Iraqi security forces is still divided over that decision and how to fulfill it. All that aside, other nations could help arrange a cease fire and then reconciliation. Arab nations offer channels for communication when direct negotiation is not possible; they can help develop regional security policies that would promote stability and lessen the likelihood that any state would support or host terrorist organizations. South Africa could offer its experience in the transition from minority to majority government, creating democratic institutions and resolving a history of oppression and brutality. Such international assistance may–and I emphasize may–have sufficient credibility for success. The US has long since lost what little credibility it brought to Iraq.

BushCheney is unlikely to ask for help they cannot direct and control. They insist that they will not “cut and run”. Now we are left to fight it out. Even here, we must choose. How will we fight it out? BushCheney claims sufficient troops for the job but American forces lack the depth to hold territory once they take it. American forces will never lose any battles to the insurgents, who lack the impressive array of American weapons, equipment and training. But Americans will never actually defeat the insurgents unless we can seal off Iraq’s borders (where smuggling and illegal trading have a longstanding history) and fully occupy the Sunni Triangle (the Shia south and Kurdish north being no problem at the moment, since each of these groups stand to gain in the upcoming elections). In the process, however, we will alienate the Sunnis who see Americans more and more as killers and destroyers. Read River’s recent posts at Baghdad Burning or the BBC’s eyewitness accounts of Falluja to see how Americans are regarded these days.

American forces are stretched thin across Iraq. Over 90 percent of US Army units are either in Iraq, returning from Iraq or preparing to deploy to Iraq. Recruiting levels are down 30 to 40 percent and the Army is now recalling soldiers who have fully completed their service. The only other option for meeting Army personnel needs is conscription, which Bush promised he would not do and which would signal the failure of his grand neo-conservative foreign policy. In the end, a draft is not likely to help either. The US military has no experience with conscripts and would need to adjust training in the face of unwilling, unmotivated recruits so that the will be effective against a resourceful, determined enemy.

I wish the Sunnis would agree to participate in the election process and in crafting a new constitution for a democratic Iraq. A peaceful transition such as South Africa’s would be a boon for a region where peace and democracy have had little success. But the time and opportunity for Sunni cooperation passed in the series of blunders, omissions and economic opportunism under the CPA. The result is that the Sunnis see no advantage to participating in a process where they are guaranteed to lose.

The will continue to fight and die. So will we.