2006 December 09 Saturday
Iraq Study Group Ignored Advice Of Military Advisors

Michael Gordon of the New York Times reports that the retired military officers who advised the Iraqi Study Group does not think the ISG's plan for US forces in Iraq can work.

Ever since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States has struggled in vain to tamp down the violence in Iraq and to build up the capacity of Iraq’s security forces. Now the study group is positing that the United States can accomplish in little more than one year what it has failed to carry out in three.

Most of the US soldiers in Iraq are supposed to be shifted into advisory and training capacities attached to Iraqi units. But the greater wilingness of insurgent and militia groups to fight demonstrates the main problem with the Iraqi military is the lack of motivation that Iraqi soldiers feel to fight for the central government.

One retired general who advised the ISG says the report says more about the lack of will in Washington DC than about how to prosecute the war in Iraq.

“By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq,” the study group says.

Jack Keane, the retired acting Army chief of staff who served on the group’s panel of military advisers, described that goal as entirely impractical. “Based on where we are now we can’t get there,” General Keane said in an interview, adding that the report’s conclusions say more about “the absence of political will in Washington than the harsh realities in Iraq.”

The faction that does not want to admit defeat is not a big enough to win huge resources (on the order of hundreds of billions of dollars per year and hundreds of thousands of drafted soldiers) needed to win the war. At the same time the faction that favors withdrawal is not yet big enough to force US troops to leave. We are stuck in a political stalemate in Washington DC.

It will take further decay in Iraq to break the stalemate in Washington. I'm confident the Iraqis can and will escalate the sectarian and factional fighting and force partition through ethnic cleansing. They'll continue to use rival government ministries as bases from which to attack each other's factions. They'll continue to run death squads and drive the middle class out of the country while religious factions flee from proximity with each other. The de facto partition will continue.

The officers who advised the ISG were cut out of the process of making military recommendations. Obviously the politicos did not want their political calculations constrained by what is possible to accomplish.

The group’s final military recommendations were not discussed with the retired officers who serve on the group’s Military Senior Adviser Panel before publication, several of those officers said.

Will Bush be able to block a reduction in US forces throughout 2007? If he doesn't then as US forces withdraw the Shias will feel much more emboldened to carry out attacks against the Sunnis. The ultimate outcome of the Iraq civil war is going to depend most of all on how hard and well the Shias fight to put down the Sunni rebellion against Shia majority rule.

If the Shias won't fight far from home then the southern Iraqi Shias won't be able to prevent the creation of an independent Sunni state in the Sunni Triangle.

The Iraq Study Group's report demonstrates that official Washington is not ready to face the hard ugly facts on Iraq. The Bush Administration and Congress matter less in Iraq than the Iraqis do. Well, the Iraqis are busy trying beat each other down so that one faction comes out on top and forces all other factions to submit. I do not expect that battle for absolute dominance to stop. The Iraqis do not understand equality. They see relationships in terms of dominance and submission.

The US attempt to train the Iraqi soldiers amounts to training factional fighters. Iraq has no center but only battling clans held together by consanguineous marriage and the genetic loyalties that result.

Update: The Bush Administration is developing other options for Iraq that are not on the ISG's list of possible policy choices. This press report once again mentions the idea of leaning more heavily toward the Shias and I think the Bushies are going to do that.

The major alternatives include a short-term surge of 15,000 to 30,000 additional U.S. troops to secure Baghdad and accelerate the training of Iraqi forces. Another strategy would redirect the U.S. military away from the internal strife to focus mainly on hunting terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda. And the third would concentrate political attention on supporting the majority Shiites and abandon U.S. efforts to reach out to Sunni insurgents.

American even-handedness between the Shias and Sunnis has become an unaffordable luxury. Siding with the Shias makes sense for supporters of simple majoritarian democracy because the Shias are the majority. Also, the old regime was Sunni and one objective is to make sure the old regime doesn't return to power.

Shifting more responsibility onto the Shias also makes sense for the American domestic political scene. When the Shias fail to measure up the Bush Administration can point to the Shias and say "It is the fault of the Shias that Iraq is not a better place and therefore it is not the fault of the Bush Administration.

But the growing undercurrent of discussions within the administration is shifting responsibility for Iraq's problems to Iraqis. Sources familiar with the deliberations describe fatigue, frustration and a growing desire to disengage from Iraq.

In a way what is happening now is that the Bushies are running down though the list of all the things that they could try so as to exhaust that list. The faster they do that the sooner we can move on to withdrawal. US forces in Iraq still serve a useful purpose: The attacks on them serve to educate the American public on what results from trying to convert Arabs to liberal democracy.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 December 09 11:00 AM  Mideast Iraq Exit Debate


Comments
Borat said at December 9, 2006 5:44 PM:

"The only useful purpose US forces now serve in Iraq is as a source of education to the American public who can watch on TV what results from trying to convert Arabs to liberal democracy."

I would say that you can not "convert" anyone to democracy. It comes from the bottom up, it has never been stable when enforced from the top down, unless (as in the case of Japan during the Meiji Reformation) the people are so unified behind one figure they just change their ideology in mass (in this case the Emporer and those close to him decided to form a constiutional democracy based on Bizmarkian Germany and there was a minority of resistance with some Samurai but for the most part everyone fell in line behind the Emporer, who was considered a god).

If Arab nations and the various subcultures every adopt the idea of political pluralism this will be the biggest indication of the start of a true civil society that can lead to democracy. If it ever does come about, as in the West, just as in South Korea, just as in Japan, just as in Taiwan, it will only come about over a long period of time and by bloodshed...just as it has everywhere else. Bush was an idiot if he thought he could transform a culture in less than 5 years.

The thing that worries me is the more pluralistic, secular, educated...the Muslims who are most likely to help to form a democratic society either emmigrate or stay silent. It seems radicals are willing to die for their beliefs. The moderate Muslims might even speak out against the radicalism they see, but they are not willing to die for thier beliefs. If this is the case, the radicals will always win...even if they are a minority.

John S Bolton said at December 10, 2006 1:45 AM:

The administration told us that Iraq could become a democratic nation like Germany and Japan, and anyone who said otherwise was just expressing racial feeling.
Germany and Japan were real nations, Japan from its long isolation, and Germany from educational and militarization programs going back well into the 19th century.
Iraq is still not a nation, and U.S. policy by identifying the central government with foreign
patronage, is every day taking further mighty hammer blows to its chances of developing any such loyalties.
Nation building with a hammer makes powder, it is anything but a hothouse for larger loyalties.
The administration cannot see this since they do not have loyalties to fellow citizens, clearly superior to hostile foreigners, and cannot conceive how such an absence is an obstacle.
Iraqis would have to fight a war against a common enemy, and through their central government, but their government in Baghdad appears to dangle helplessly on the puppet strings of a foreign occupying force.
Divide Iraq, and make as many little sovereign polities as are needed for stranded populations.
Give the Sunni polity of Baghdad the greater part of the Rumaila oilfield, and desert land to connect it to the center.
Accept that American nation-building interventions are as a matter of strategy, to be assumed extremely likely to fail monstrously, unless proof is offered otherwise, that a viable nation exists which can resume its functions right away.

Bob Badour said at December 10, 2006 8:15 AM:
They see relationships in terms of dominance and submission.

We would all do well to contemplate the true meaning of "Islam". "Islam" does not mean peace.


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