Forecasts for the American Expedition to Iraq
By Fabius Maximus
November 30, 2005
What comes next in Iraq? Here are some straight-line extrapolations. Nothing certain, but these seem like good bets.
What can we expect in Iraq after the Coalition exits?
Guesses in such matters typically depend on the historical template one uses. Consider ways in which post-US Iraq resembles post-colonial India.
The 1947 Partition of India occurred at the cost of many lives. Ethnic cleansing created 15 million refugees. Widespread rioting destroyed entire communities. Contemporaneous accounts describe “ghost trains” crossing the new border – both ways -- containing bodies of the dead. Sometimes mutilated. Sometimes containing piles of women’s breasts.
Large-scale civil war might erupt following our withdrawal from Iraq. As this threatens the interests of powerful regional religious and ethnic leaders, we can expect both internal and external pressure for a settlement. In this situation reliable predictions are impossible, no matter how many credentials drape the would-be prophet.
Here is one of the many possible scenarios, perhaps the best we can reasonably expect:
Like Germany after the Thirty Years War, local rulers might determine religious customs in their territory. Cujus Regio, ejus Religio – the Religion of the Prince is the Religion of the People -- one of the timeless political solutions to religious conflict.
What might be the consequences if these guesses prove correct?
We will have invested lives and money on an immense scale in a project that largely failed. That is, we replaced a Bathist-Sunni tyranny with a secular Kurdistan (nature yet unknown) plus some form of Islamic fundamentalist State(s) in the south.
The first is bad for our good ally Turkey. The second most benefits that Charter Member of the Axis of Evil, Iran – and threatens the Saudi Princes, whose oil mostly comes from Shiite tribal areas.
Perhaps the biggest losers: Iraq’s women. Iraq was the major secular state in the Middle East. A tyranny, but after Saddham’s death it might have evolved to become more like western States. As a result of our ill-thought-out meddling, a fundamentalist Islamic revolution has already begun in the Arab regions of Iraq.
We killed the only seed in the Middle East with potential to flower into an Islamic reformation.
Who are the big winners in this scenario?
First, our partners in the Coalition. Their willingness to follow our lead likely will be greatly reduced. Given how poorly we are managing our foreign affairs, this might be a good thing.
Second, the US people. A crusading fever has taken hold of the Center-Left and Center-Right elements of the political spectrum (Much of the extreme Right considers this idiotic. The extreme left considers it evil). Having seen the results, American public support for future expeditionary actions probably remains low for another generation.
Third, the US military. Thirty years after defeat in Vietnam, they still cannot successfully fight a fourth generation war. Our soldiers became clay pigeons, targets for enemy IEDs. All our General could do in response is boast about our Body Count.
The debate is over, and it’s back to the drawing board. Both the US and its enemy conducted a Revolution in Military Affairs. Theirs worked. Ours did not.
History suggests that our two thousand dead soldiers will not have died in vain IF we learn from this experience. This might prove cheap tuition for the US as we enter the era of Fourth Generation Warfare.
Implications of this forecast – what should we do next?
Rather than focus on what to do next, our political elites remain locked in a debate over responsibility for past mistakes.
Rome did well by avoiding these, even in the worst depths of the Punic Wars.
They executed the occasional general -- often for insufficient aggressiveness, almost never for failures (e.g. Cannae). But typically with no interruption in the process of crushing their enemies.
Perhaps we should turn for advice to those who warned against the Iraq Expedition. Some of this small group have recommended “exit strategies,” and here we encounter another anomaly: experts who advised against the Iraq Expedition, see that it has failed, but still search for a method to make it work on some level.
Perhaps it is an American characteristic to combine hope with tenacity. "Can do, Sir!"
Professor Juan Cole is a poster child for this.
Despite its repeated failure – going back to the use of strategic bombing in WWII – many Americans still love Air Power. Even so, Professor Cole’s faith that air power can “forestall tragedy” in an Iraq civil war seems especially bizarre.
William Lind's On War #138, provides another example of American tenacity.
The first two recommendations are consistent with Lind’s previous – and prescient – writing, the latter seems problematical.
The US Marines Combined Action Platoons (CAP) consisted of squads of Marine each dropped into a Vietnamese village. It proved effective in Vietnam’s large, neutral (i.e., apolitical) rural zones.
Iraq is mostly highly urbanized and highly politicized, with a far more politically "mobilized" people than Vietnam’s rural peasants circa 1960s. Dropping a squad of Marines in an Iraq village seems to me either ---
I doubt there are many intermediate situations, except for what are in effect urban war zones. Like Baghdad.
There are three reliable solutions for defeating an insurgency. In the words of Gary Brecher, The War Nerd:
As we will not use any of these three “solutions,” success will likely remain beyond our grasp. Hence we have only one remaining option, and a window in which to use it: withdraw, and quickly.
Let’s admit the obvious. In the immortal words of the Emperor Hirohito, "the war situation has developed not necessarily to our advantage."
How to Exit: important lesson from the Athenians at Syracuse
After the Athenians realized they were defeated at Syracuse and had to run, they lingered to discuss the details. This confidence – that they had ample time -- was unwarranted. Their enemies blockaded the harbor. All that remained was death in battle or capture, followed by slow death in the quarries.
We have made mistakes in Iraq on every level: strategic, tactical, and operational.
Fortunately, we still have an opportunity to exit with minimal losses. I recommend that we take it. Let’s not copy the optimistic arrogance of the Athenians at Syracuse.
Some of Professor Juan Cole’s writings on an Exit Strategy
September 23, 2005
September 25, 2005
TomDispatch, October 18, 2005
October 28, 2005