Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


No Right Turn: Disengagement

Disengagement


http://norightturn.blogspot.com

There's a pair of articles in Foreign Affairs this month which advocate US withdrawal from Iraq. The first, "Iraq: Winning the Unwinnable War" by James Dobbins, is direct and to the point:

The beginning of wisdom is to recognize that the ongoing war in Iraq is not one that the United States can win. As a result of its initial miscalculations, misdirected planning, and inadequate preparation, Washington has lost the Iraqi people's confidence and consent, and it is unlikely to win them back. Every day that Americans shell Iraqi cities they lose further ground on the central front of Iraqi opinion.

The war can still be won--but only by moderate Iraqis and only if they concentrate their efforts on gaining the cooperation of neighboring states, securing the support of the broader international community, and quickly reducing their dependence on the United States.

Dobbins believes that US tactics are fundamentally counterproductive, because they are solely military and conducted with little regard for the lives of Iraqi civilians. But guerrilla wars are not won by killing insurgents, but by winning over the civilian population and thus drying up their support base. In the end, then,

the success or failure of an offensive such as the November assault on Falluja must be measured not according to body counts or footage of liberated territory, but according to Iraqi public opinion. If the Iraqi public emerges less supportive of its government, and more supportive of the insurgents, then the battle, perhaps even the war, will have been lost... Pulverizing cities to root out insurgents may restore some control to the Iraqi government, but the benefits are unlikely to last long if the damage also alienates the population.

On this measure, the US's efforts so far have been nothing less than a disaster, expanding rather than shrinking the number of people willing to passively or actively support the resistance. And they have been so great a disaster as to permanently taint any government propped up by US forces. While the Americans can counteract this to some degree by "using better-calibrated warfare tactics" - shifting the burden of risk from Iraqi civilians to US soldiers by using less indiscriminate firepower - Iraq's stability ultimately depends on their departure. And this requires the backing both of Iraq's immediate neighbours and the broader international community.

It's here that Dobbins falls down. He suggests a broad dialogue "based on the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity" - which is likely to be a hard sell in the wake of the US's blatant disregard for those very principles in the lead-up to the invasion. And it's difficult to see why Iran in particular would support such a move. As Dobbins points out,

if Iraq is not stabilized, there can be no prospect of dimming Tehran's nuclear ambitions

Which gives the present Iranian regime a hell of a reason to ensure that Iraq is not stabilised for a good few years yet. And on a broad scale, the same applies to the international community as a whole: as long as the US is tied up and bleeding in Iraq, its capacity to cause further trouble is greatly reduced.

One way of resolving this dilemma is suggested in the second article, "Iraq: The Logic of Disengagement", by Edward Luttwak (subscriber only, but most academic libraries will have an online subscription). Luttwak's piece is unashamedly US-centric, dripping with contempt for Iraqis for their ingratitude towards their occupiers who "have been unselfishly expending their own blood and treasure to help them". This US-centrism leads to a "solution" which gives no regard to the interests of Iraqis, and which turns previous dialogue on how the US can withdraw without sparking a vicious civil war on its head. According to Luttwak, the desire to avoid civil war has been the problem all along; the US has

persisted in futile combat against factions that should be confronting one another instead.

(My emphasis)

The presence of American troops has allowed Iraqis of all sects to unite against the invaders, "without calculating the consequences for themselves of a post-American Iraq". According to Luttwak, the credible threat of an imminent withdrawal will force the occupation's greatest beneficiaries - the Sh'ia - to

confront the equally imminent threat of the Baath loyalist and Sunni fighters the only Iraqis with recent combat experience, and the least likely to accept Shiite clerical rule.

In other words, Luttwak's "solution", despite his repeated protestations to the contrary, is for the US to threaten to unleash anarchy in Iraq in order to blackmail concessions from others. It's the sort of plan which only a sociopath could love - but then "sociopathic" seems to describe US foreign policy in a nutshell, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, Luttwak misses an important point. While the US purports to be concerned with avoiding civil war in Iraq for humanitarian reasons, it also has cynical, foreign policy reasons as well - namely the risk that it would result in a dramatic expansion of Iranian influence, and perhaps even turn Iraq into an Iranian client-state. And it's very difficult to see why the Iranians wouldn't react to this plan by backing a theocratic Sh'ia faction in the hope of gaining exactly that.

So, while both authors agree on the need for disengagement, neither offers a workable way of escaping the Iraq tar-baby. And given the people currently running the US administration, I can't really see them putting in the hard work of diplomacy and humbling themselves before the international community required to get a solution which works. Instead, they're likely to go for something half-arsed and sociopathic, which will leave Iraqis even worse off than when this mess started.

ENDS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>

ALSO:

Buildup:

Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>

ALSO:

Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>

ALSO:


Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news