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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Iraq Turning Out Pretty Much the Way You'd Expect

Official Reports of Real Bad News Weekend continues. I posted about the final word on global warming -- it's bad. Today, it's the National Intelligence Estimate dealing with Iraq -- also bad.

It's no wonder John Negroponte sat on this report for about six months. Unfortunately, it hasn't mellowed with aging.

The summary report [PDF] waffles about Iraq being in civil war, but only because "the term 'civil war' does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq..."

The Intelligence Community judges that the term "civil war" does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, al-Qa'ida and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence. Nonetheless, the term "civil war" accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements.

So it's civil war, except when it's not. I think the term they're looking for is 'total anarchy.' Who could've foreseen that? Turns out, just about everyone...

Joe Biden, The New Republic:

...many in Congress questioned the administration's plan to go into Iraq with relatively few troops in order to validate a new theory of warfare and invalidate the Powell Doctrine, which called for the use of overwhelming force in any conflict. Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki was ridiculed for suggesting it would take several hundred thousand troops to secure Iraq. He looks prescient today. The failure to heed such warnings made it difficult to secure post-Saddam Iraq and produced a power vacuum that was filled by militias, insurgents, and criminals.

Regardless of whether or not going into Iraq was right or wrong (the consensus is that it was a stupid decision), the problem we're facing is that Bush listened to the idiotic ideas of Donald Rumsfeld and went in with enough to depose, but not enough to hold. We went from town to town, dismantling power structures and replacing them with nothing -- then we'd roll off in a triumphant cloud of dust and leave the areas with no government at all. Not only didn't we do anything to guard against anarchy, in a practical sense we imposed it. Like I say, idiotic.

So Bush's troop surge idea is just what the doctor ordered, right? We've had too few troops, so we beef up our presence and problem solved, right?

No. The time to send more troops was day one, not year three going on four. Bush is calling for more buckets after the house has burned down. The militias and insurgencies, local strong men and gang leaders, have replaced the power structures we destroyed. It had to happen -- the people we left in ruins wouldn't have survived otherwise. We've taken a nation and reduced it to a collection of city states. Iraq is a failed state.

In fact, sending in more troops will probably result in a worsening of the situation. As we increase our presence, the militias grow as well. And all they have to do is wait.

McClatchy Newspapers:

Amid recurring reports that al-Sadr is telling his militia leaders to stash their arms and, in some cases, leave their neighborhoods during the American push, U.S. soldiers worry that the latest plan could end up handing over those areas to units that are close to al-Sadr's militant Shiite group.

"All the Shiites have to do is tell everyone to lay low, wait for the Americans to leave, then when they leave you have a target list and within a day they'll kill every Sunni leader in the country. It'll be called the 'Day of Death' or something like that," said 1st Lt. Alain Etienne, 34, of Brooklyn, N.Y. "They say, 'Wait, and we will be victorious.' That's what they preach. And it will be their victory."

In the end, the problems in Iraq are almost entirely internal and, despite Bush's attempts to blame violence on Iran and Syria, the NIE shows iraqi conflict as an iraqi problem:

Iraq's neighbors influence, and are influenced by, events within Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq's internal sectarian dynamics...

The report also sees dark possibilities for Iraq's future:

-Chaos Leading to Partition. With a rapid deterioration in the capacity of Iraq's central government to function, security services and other aspects of sovereignty would collapse. Resulting widespread fighting could produce de facto partition, dividing Iraq into three mutually antagonistic parts. Collapse of this magnitude would generate fierce violence for at least several years, ranging well beyond the time frame of this Estimate, before settling into a partially stable end-state.

-Emergence of a Shia Strongman. Instead of a disintegrating central government producing partition, a security implosion could lead Iraq's potentially most powerful group, the Shia, to assert its latent strength.

-Anarchic Fragmentation of Power. The emergence of a checkered pattern of local control would represent the greatest potential for instability, mixing extreme ethno-sectarian violence with debilitating intra-group clashes.

Unfortunately, that last possibility best describes the situation today. It's hard to see how any of these would be headed off by more troops. The absolute best case scenario for the result of escalation would be to maintain the status quo. Things wouldn't get any better, but they wouldn't get any worse (other than higher body counts due to an increased number of combatants, that is).

I'll keep saying this over and over and over, but that's Bush's purpose here -- to extend the conflict, not end it. If some other president 'loses Iraq,' then Bush's legacy is a little better and maybe, just maybe, he won't be remembered as the president who threw the middle east into the dumpster.

Unfortunately for him, that ship has sailed. He's already widely considered the worst president in history and it's unlikely that he'll be viewed as any less of a screw up as time goes on.

Iraq is Bush's problem and it will remain Bush's problem. He's just leaving it to other, more responsible, less inept, and less incompetent people to clean up for him.


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