Thursday, June 30, 2005

What will happen next? 

When I saw the silent, staring troops at last night's speech - and watched some half-hearted handshakes and unsmiling faces in several of the officers near the stage after the speech -- I wondered what they might be thinking of what they heard.
So I looked up North Carolina's main newspaper, the Charlotte Observer, to see if they had any comments. Here is what their editorial said in Bush's dodge
Rising insurgent violence, conflicting accounts of the facts and a steady stream of American deaths have sharply heightened anxiety. That's reflected in recent polls that found eroding support for the fighting in Iraq.
Even in North Carolina, home to four major military bases with more than 10,000 troops in Iraq, a new statewide poll conducted by The News & Observer and WRAL-TV found 42 percent of active voters think the war has been worth it, but 49 percent say it has not. That's a sharp dip from January 2004. Two points in particular demand specific responses from Mr. Bush.
- Last weekend, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Americans that insurgencies often persist for 10 or 12 years. Given that, what kind of U.S. involvement will be required over that long haul?
- Gen. John Abizaid, the top Middle East commander, has said he expects Iraqi security forces to be able to lead the fight against insurgents by next summer. Will the White House begin withdrawing troops at that time?
Fort Bragg, home to the 82nd Airborne and Special Forces, would have been the ideal place for straight talk. Of the 1,740 men and women who have died in Iraq, an estimated 174 -- one in 10 -- came from North Carolina military bases. Tar Heel families have been asked to carry a heavy burden to support the war in Iraq. They have responded with courage and sacrifice. Yet, understandably, the killing and dying have worn on their resolve. North Carolinians -- like all Americans -- need to know to what to expect. What a shame their president would not level with them when he had the chance.

There is one problem with demanding truthful answers from the Bush administration. They don't have any.
They cannot describe what Americans can expect, because they don't know.
In 1968, following the Tet offensive I am not sure whether anybody in the US could envisage what failure in Vietnam would look like. In actuality, it did NOT consist of the US military losing significant battles and retreating, like the Germans did in WW2. And it did not consist of a long military stalemate and a ceasefire, like Korea ended. Instead, there was escalating bombing and escalating death tolls without any progress on the ground, followed by gradual brutalization of the troops and dissolution of the US army as an effective or respected fighting force (fragging, drug addiction, draft dodging, anti-war marches), accompanied by increasing corruption and lack of credibility in South Vietnam's government leading to the general belief that this was not a government worth supporting, and finally, the gradual turning of the South Vietnamese peasants and villages toward support for the Viet Cong, whether willingly or unwillingly.
It was only after the US pulled most of its soldiers out in 1972 and 1973 that the South Vietnamese army began losing battles and territory, to the point that the North occupied the South in 1975 and the last Americans flew out on the helicoter from the embassy roof.
Billmon today writes a lengthy post Failure is an option, which discusses some of the aspects of failure in Iraq:

. . . Bush has managed to make himself right at last: Iraq indeed has become the central front in the war against Al Qaeda (although the eastern front in Afghanistan is heating up quickly, and there's always the risk of a breakthrough on the Southern front -- Saudia Arabia -- or the Western front -- the Maghrib and/or Europe.) But saying that Iraq is now the central front in the war on terrorism is neither an argument nor a strategy. At the moment, it's pretty clear the Cheney administration and its pet military commanders don't have a strategy, other than to pin their hopes on a political process that is going nowhere slowly, and that in any case is extremely unlikely to break the insurgency's base of support -- at least, not before it breaks the American volunteer army. It's not at all clear that sending more troops to Iraq would make the situation any better . . . the U.S. military has made itself enormously unpopular in Iraq -- even among those who reluctantly accept the need for its presence. It's hard to see how putting more jittery, haji-hating American soldiers on the streets of Iraq is going to help peel away the insurgency's "soft support" or induce more Sunnis to cooperate with a government led by Shi'a fundamentalists. However, without more troops, it seems inevitable that Iraq will continue to descend into chaos and (ultimately) something close to Hobbes's war of the all against the all . . . the mindless chants of "failure is not an option" are starting to sound like the desperate prayers of the terminally ill. Failure is always an option -- particularly for morons who launch a war of choice under the impression that they can't possibly lose it. Is the war hopelessly lost? I tend to think so, although I'm realistic enough to admit that I don't have all the facts, and couldn't interpret them all correctly even if I did. I know there are some military analysts whose opinions I respect who think the war is lost . . .

Billmon goes on to discuss several sane and effective options for the US to get the troops out while protecting its flanks, though of course he notes at the end of this discussion "A sane, effective strategic response is probably impossible as long as the current gang remains in power. But you already knew that."
So what is the scenario for failure in Iraq? Here is what I think might be how failure will happen in Iraq:
- There will be a loss of 'civilization' throughout Iraq as people are forced out of the cities and into refugee camps due both to the disentegration of municipal services (water, power, sewer), the decline in living standards as the economy disappears, and the Fallujification of more cities in retaliation for insurgent attacks.
- Though the facade of a central government in Baghdad may continue, the existing government is too corrupt to be effective. Most of Iraq will be governed by religious and tribal dictators and their local militias. At some point, these militias may start fighting each other for territory or resources.
- And I think there could be a US military 'mutiny' unless Cheney and Rumsfeld start listening to the US military leadership in Iraq, who are trying to negotiate with the insurgency, to calm things down long enough to start getting their US troops out. At some point, the UN or Europe or Iraq's neighbours may also have to step in to persuade the US to get out.

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