Wednesday, November 07, 2007

We Won, Now What? (In the US)

I have discussed what Iraq's future may hold, now that we have AQI on the run. The next question is, what options does the US government, i.e., the Bush Administration, have. I see four:

Option 1: Declare victory and pull out. George Bush goes on national television and declares that AQI is defeated and the troops will now be coming home. They return home to ticker tape parades. The decision to invade Iraq will be proclaimed vindicated. In fact, if we have defeated AQI and are able to wind down Iraq's civil war, that is a vindication of Bush's decision to "surge" and General Petraeus' strategy. It is not a vindication of the decision to invade in the first place. Defeating AQI and ending Iraq's sectarian war are worthy achievements, but neither AQI nor sectarian war existed in Iraq before we invaded. Creating the conditions that give rise to a threat and then defeating that threat is a dubious victory at best. But this subtle distiction will almost certainly be lost in the victory celebration. George Bush's approval ratings will soar. All his other policies will presumed vindicated by implication. Democrats will lose whatever remains of their spines and give him whatever he wants. Republicans will win the Presidency and both houses of Congress by a landslide in 2008. All Bush's policies (preemptive war, warrantless wiretaps, torture, black sites, extraordinary rendition etc) will be locked in permanently. I certainly do not with continued war or any harm to either US soldiers or Iraqi civilians. But, unpatriotic as it may be, the prospect of George Bush using victory in Iraq to vindicate his policies alarms me.

Option 2: Stay the course (sort of). Our troops remain in place but do not seek out any ambitious new mission. Casualties continue to fall. No spectacular declaration of victory, but opposition to the war fades. What follows depends on the Iraqis. (See previous post). If Iraqis are willing to work hard enough to avoid continued war, then we may yet have a constructive role prodding along the sides to some sort of accommodation (probably a soft partition, even if they don't want to admit it). This will be less spectacular than a victory homecoming parade, but a reasonably good job of salvage. If successful and well-executed, I would support this course of action. If unsuccessful, we will be exactly where we have been for the past four years.

Option 3: Take on the Madhi Army. At least some people believe that, having defeated AQI, we will (or should) turn our attention next to the Madhi Army. Some hope they can be defeated in a "Shia awakening" similar to the "Anbar awakening" that defeated AQI. My own belief is that the Madhi Army will prove to be more formidable. AQI was always an alien imposition, with a foreign leadership (though mostly Iraqis in the rank and file), no strong ties to the country, and no real agenda other than kill, kill, kill, kill, kill.

The Madhi Army is a different matter. It is led by a member of Iraq's most respected clerical family, a mass movement with strong roots in many Shia communities. Its atrocities against Sunnis are well documented, and no doubt it has alienated many potential followers with its bloody clashes with the Badr Brigades and imposition of an overly rigid Islamic code. But it has also offered security, protection and social services to numerous Shiites when no one else was able to do so. It formed a strong organization in the slums of Bagdad even under Saddam Hussein's watchful eye, and continues to have strong support there to this day. It is strongly nationalist and has the streed cred of the only organization to defy Saddam while remaining in Iraq. It also hold posts in the government and remains (more or less) on the government's official side. The Iraqi government is apt to see any attempt to suppress the Madhi Army as a general attack on Shiite domination and resist. This will place us in the awkward position of claiming to be upholding Iraq's sovereign and democratic government while actively going against the government's wishes.

In short: The Madhi Army, like AQI, has many enemies. Unlike AQI, it also has supporters. Defeating it will be a messy business.

Option 4: Start a war with Iran. If you want to start a war with the 60% of Iraqis who are Shiite, with no guarantee of support from the 20% who are Sunni Arab, this is the way to do it. I remain optimistic that the Bush Administration is not this crazy.

Future posts on Iraq will depend on what course of action our President chooses.

Update: Glenn Greenwald also argues the possible wind-down of the Iraqi civil war is not a vindication of the decision to invade in the first place, with a (truly) pungent analogy:

It's basically akin to someone sitting on their couch and chewing up food and spitting it all over the floor and the walls and the furniture month after month until it piles up and congeals and grows into mold, turning the room into a repulsive, health-threatening mess. Guests come by and run away in horror at how repugnant it all is.

Then, one day, the person decides to pick up some of the congealed food from the floor and scrapes a little bit off the walls, making it a bit less filthy. Then he starts calling his friends, announcing: "You must come over. I've completely redecorated my home and it looks beautiful now. You have to see what I've done to it."

His reasoning is sound (if unduly gross), but I wish I shared his confidence that most people will agree. Maybe he should start a new career as a speech writer for his favorite Democrat.

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