2005 January 07 Friday
Will Iraq Election Aftermath Be Like Tet Offensive?

The Viet Cong Tet Offensive in Vietnam was a strategic success for the communists because it greatly undermined the credibility of US officers and the Johnson Administration. At the time the US government had been painting an excessively optimstic picture about how much damage had been done to the enemy before the Tet Offensive kicked off. The Tet attack showed the US government to be either mendacious or incompetent in its evaluation of the enemy (my take after reading a lot of history books on Vietnam is that it was a mixture of both). LBJ should have been painting a less rosy picture of progress and emphasizing the potential of the enemy to conduct attacks. Then the sudden large scale offensive by the VC would not have been such a shock and disappointment to the American people. In fact, Johnson should have been saying all along was that the VC might decide to coordinate their attacks in a massive push which the US hoped for since it would be a great opportunity for the US to damage an more exposed VC. Such a pitch in advance of the offensive would have allowed Johnson to spin a more favorable twist to the US response. In fact, the VC did suffer huge losses from the Tet Offensive and only the response of the US public to the unexpected nature of the offensive turned the Tet Offensive into a victory for North Vietnam.

Watching Bush trying to continuously spin conditions in Iraq as being more promising than they really are I'm constantly reminded of LBJ's big strategic mistake. In both cases an emphasis on presenting a positive face in order to achieve short-term political goals has worked against being able to sell the policy in the longer run. An excessively optimistic official position also makes it more politically costly to back away and settle for a less successful outcome that minmizes losses. Well, Bush is at it again in responding to comments made by Bush Sr's former National Security Council chief Brent Scowcroft. Here are two profoundly different predictions on the effects of the upcoming Iraq elections.

"The Iraqi elections, rather than turning out to be a promising turning point, have the great potential for deepening the conflict," Scowcroft said at the New America Foundation luncheon, expressing a view increasing shared by both Democratic and Republican foreign policy specialists.

Asked if he shares Scowcroft's concerns, Bush told reporters today, "Quite the opposite. I think elections will be such a incredibly hopeful experience for the Iraqi people."

Bush is setting himself up for being discredited in the minds of a larger number of people who are now looking at US involvement in Iraq more skeptically. The war camp is hurting their cause by continuing to offer Panglossian interpretations on Iraq.

Scowcroft is obviously putting his loyalty to America ahead of his loyalty to the Bush clan. One has to wonder what Bush Sr. thinks of this. Maybe he thinks his son is causing such damage that Scowcroft's public statements are necessary. Surely Bush Sr. has to appreciate the extent of the damage being done to US interests by the Iraq fiasco.

Zbiggy thinks the US would need a half million troops to properly occupy Iraq.

With the Iraqi election less than a month away, top former officials and other foreign policy analysts are increasingly skeptical in public about Iraq. Scowcroft shared the podium with Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser. "I do not think we can stay in Iraq in the fashion we're in now," Brzezinski said. "If it cannot be changed drastically, it should be terminated." He said it would take 500,000 troops, $500 billion and resumption of the military draft to ensure adequate security in Iraq.

Of course a half million troops are not in the cards. George W. Bush's fans can proclaim all they want that the man is determined to prevail in Iraq. But Bush is not determined enough to go to Congress and ask the million man increase in the US Army that would be needed to maintain a half million soldiers in Iraq.

Zbiggy's number of needed troops for Iraq matches with Rand Corp analyst James James Dobbins' half million estimate and similar numbers based on Rand researcher James Quinliven's calculations. Note the formulas for how many soldiers needed for a population were around before the Iraq war and the larger estimates for how many soldiers were needed to occupy Iraq were not just pulled out of the air.

You can listen to the remarks by Scowcroft and Brzezinski on Iraq in a few different media formats

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says only the Iraqis can defeat the insurgents.

He warned against allowing the Iraqis to become too dependent on the U.S. military. More independence is what’s needed, he said.

“That’s the only way,” Rumsfeld said during a meeting with top U.S. commanders in Tikrit, at the northern tip of the so-called Sunni Triangle that had been deposed President Saddam Hussein’s bedrock of support. He called it the key to eventually getting the 151,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq.

Let me translate that: The US is not going to institute a draft to build a force large enough to defeat the insurgents. The political and economic costs in the US for Bush would be too great. So he won't try to do that. Therefore only a civil war between the Shias and Sunnis can lead to the defeat of the Sunni insurgents. But the Shias so far have shown themselves unwilling to put down the Sunnis. Interesting spin by Rumsfeld though. From there it is a short step toward saying that if democracy in Iraq fails then the Iraqis just weren't willing to try hard enough to make it work. But Bush, firm in his faith in both God and the universal appeal of democracy, is not willing to entertain such a notion.

The commander of the US Army Reserve says his force is degenerating.

The US Army Reserve is 'degenerating into a 'broken' force' due to current deployment policies relating to the Iraq war, said Lt. General James Helmly, 'I do not wish to sound alarmist. I do wish to send a clear, distinctive signal of deepening concern.'

Helmly thinks his bosses are not adjusting to reality.

In the memo, dated Dec. 20, Lt. Gen. James R. "Ron" Helmly lashed out at what he said were outdated and "dysfunctional" policies on mobilizing and managing the force. He complained that his repeated requests to adjust the policies to current realities have been rebuffed by Pentagon authorities.

It is obvious that the regular Army is not big enough for the tasks currently assigned to it. Reserves will make up about half of the troops now being sent to Iraq.

About 40 percent of the 150,000 troops now in Iraq have come from reserve ranks. That number will grow to 50 percent in the fresh group of forces deploying at the moment -- the third rotation of troops since the invasion in the spring of 2003. But with this rotation, the official said, the Army will have used all of the National Guard's main combat brigades.

But in the fourth cycle of deployment there are not enough reserves to maintain that high level of deployment for reserve units. So how will 150,000 troops be maintained in Iraq come the summer of 2005 and beyond?

The election will be held. The violence will not abate. The Pentagon will pull out more stops to try to keep 150,000 troops in Iraq for months and years to come. Hundreds and perhaps even thousands of more American soldiers will die. But illusions will die and some part of reality will sink through eventually.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 January 07 04:45 PM  Mideast Iraq

Stephen said at January 7, 2005 6:59 PM:

Will the viewers in the United States be expecting a US style election night prediction? If so, I think they'll be disappointed, and I can see the headlines in the US the next day drawing the simplistic conclusion that because there isn't a clear winner the elections were a failure.

My guess is that irrespective of the size of the turnout on polling day, none of the parties are going to be able to claim an overall majority. If so, then a coalition will have to be negotiated - perhaps even a government of national unity. Such negotiations can take weeks and lots of unpleasant trades / concessions will need to be made. Then again, that's democracy.

Here's a scenario. Elections have been held, no party can claim an overall majority and its Day 1 in parliament. The first item of business is a vote calling for all occupying forces to leave the country. The vote succeeds by a small majority - maybe with a lot of abstentions.

What is George to do? Irrespective of the broader strategic imperatives, he has a real problem claiming a legitimate presence; indeed, if he stays he might have to fight the Iraqi army as well as the various local militia. So he will have to leave (probably secretly relieved to be invited to leave rather than having to retreat). George puts hand on heart and says, "We have done our job, bringing self determination to the proud Iraqi people."

Occupying forces leave in good order. Lots of big military parades for the returning troops in order to wean the media off of Iraq as a place.

Soon after, all hell breaks out in Iraq - civil war etc. George puts hand on heart and says, "Well, we gave 'em a chance at democracy." Iraq gradually leaves the front pages for want of any western media being willing to set foot in Iraq unless they're embedded.

Because of the civil war, Iran intervenes in the south. Iraq returns to the front pages.

FriendlyFire said at January 7, 2005 11:22 PM:

Isnt it strange how before the election anyone even contemplating a withdrawel of US troops was seen as "Enbolding" the terrorist and "demorolizing" the moral of the troops (Both US and ING)

The US declaring a nation wide state of martial law (about time) Has made any kind of democratic election campiagn virtually impossible. By doing this they hope to "fracture" the voteing majority thus prevent an Isamic theoracy from comming into power. In the long term this would seem to be a good idea had the INC been effective. Instead well see the same inept, corrupt and uneffective INC take power.

The Iraq occupation will dragg on for another four years

Stephen said at January 8, 2005 3:52 AM:

I don't think there has been a voting majority in Iraq since the occupation - irrespective of whether the majority could have potentially been secular or theocratic.

Historically, (well at least over the last 50 years) the only political movement that could unite the arabs in a secular fashion has been the Baathists. Oh, or a monarchy - monarchies can work in the region because they stand above petty tribal/provincial politics and provide the local tribes/mayors etc someone to complain to. That said, monarchies are always under challenge from Baathist 'modernisers'.

Stephen said at January 8, 2005 3:56 AM:

Re the first para of my 3:52 response, I think I was wrong - there probably was a secular and pro-American majority for a month or so, but once the Iraqi resistance gained legitimacy that brief window was closed.

FriendlyFire said at January 8, 2005 4:14 AM:

Bush Administration really messed up with there selection of Chabbi. The infighting and self serving nature of many selected members of INC is now clear for all to see.

Invisible Scientist said at January 8, 2005 4:48 AM:

A few months ago, an important meeting of oil producers, covered the following paradoxical topic:
the oil producers were worried that if the price of oil goes much higher and stays there for a long
time, then new alternative energies will be developed systematically, and that in the long run this
would be bad for the oil producers... I do not remember where I have read the latter article, but I am sure
this makes a lot of sense... If the US does withdraw from the Middle East and the price of oil goes much higher,
then alternative energies will be developed in the world. Although the advances in chemistry and engineering
turn out to be less glamorous than the internet and multimedia, there are still substantial innovations.

Stephen said at January 8, 2005 6:37 PM:

Invisible, I agree that oil dependency is a bad thing, but the fact is that oil prices would need to rise significantly *and* permanently before any country is going to go to the massive expense of reengineering its national energy consumption.

Lets say that the US made the investment and came up with an alternative energy system that had the same kWh price as oil (sure, I'm being generous, the new system is almost certainly going to be more expensive). The US mandates that its industries invest in the massive changeover. US demand for oil drops as industry reinvests, the international price of oil therefore drops to match the lower demand. Rest of world gets benefit of cheaper oil while US industry gets lumbered with the now comparitively more expensive new energy source plus also having to pay for all that reengineering. US economy becomes less competitive internationally - exports slide. Hello recession. Dollar devalues. Foreign reserves of US dollars are transferred to Euros. Dollar collapses. Hello depression.

And as they say, when the US sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold.

That said, a lot can be done at the margins to reduce energy consumption - simple things like encouraging use of energy efficient lighting, discouraging SUV purchasing, encouraging mixed energy vehicles, encouraging public transport etc.

gcochran said at January 9, 2005 12:23 AM:

Stephens'a economic analysis is unfortunately quite correct. You need to find soemthing that is actually cheaper than Mideast oil, and that's hard. Although, if we count the cost of Iraq war, which is approaching ~100 billion a year, it may be possible.

Invisible Scientist said at January 10, 2005 1:39 PM:

Stephen and GCochran:
If I understood what is written above, Stephen is saying that if the US massively invests
in alternative energies that are at the same price of oil, then
the price of oil will drop dramatically for foreign countries who have not made the same investment,
in such a way that the US will be stuck with more expensive energy,leading to economic trouble.
Actually, the demand for energy abroad, is also increasing quite dramatically, and China will very
soon equal the United States in its apetite for oil. Hence even if the US massively switches to an
alternative source of energy, I do not think this will reduce the price of oil too much, and the price
of oil would still stay above the previous average of $25 to $30 per barrel. Thus the US shift to alternative
energy will not give a significant competitive advantage to foreigners.

Stephen said at January 10, 2005 6:22 PM:

Invisible, good point - we ignore China at our peril. I agree that China's growing economy is going to have a major effect on oil prices. On the other hand, China is just starting its 'economic miracle' so it has to invest in new capacity anyway. Therefore, wouldn't it be logical for China to invest in that new energy source instead of oil? The situation is different in the US, where the investment would be in duplicate capacity - ie the US has a huge legacy infrastructure problem, China doesn't.

That said, I would dearly like to see an alternative to oil. But at the consumer level that old internal combustion engine is so very convenient. Ironically, China's command economy is in a better position than a demand economy to force uneconomic changes on the populous.

Stephen said at January 10, 2005 6:52 PM:

Here's something that I like the sound of - 30% efficient paint-on solar cells which works in the infrared as well. ( http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1105319242587_49?hub=SciTech -- I found it on slashdot).

Imagine every roof and every car painted with this stuff. Goodbye electricity grid.

Invisible Scientist said at January 11, 2005 4:52 AM:

Stephen wrote:
" Ironically, China's command economy is in a better position than a demand economy to force uneconomic changes on the populous."

But sadly, "China's command economy" is making giant investments for importing oil from
Brazil, Canada, Venezuela ( this is in addition to Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran. ) Note that many of
these oil deals are from South America and Canada, which happen to be the American sphere of influence.

Dario Mattos said at January 27, 2005 2:49 AM:

Has someone observed another fact that is very similar between the Tet offensive and the Iraqian elections? I remember that the impact of the Tet offensive in the vietnamese population was as big or even bigger then the impact in US public opinion. Has one imagined that the Tet offensive undermined both US public opinion put more dangerously, vietnamese public opinion. What will happen if and probably for sure, iraqi insurgents runs a bloodbath in these elections. How will iraqi cope with that. Will they see it as a confirmation that the coalition can´t handle the situation? Will it deriorate as fast as the situation deriorated after the Tet offensive? Only time will tell.

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