Friday, August 10, 2007

how to get out of Iraq with the highest probability of short-term and long-term success

In last week's NY Times article by Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, "A War We Just Might Win", they conclude their intro by saying: "We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms."

Independent of potential problems with their credibility, let's wrestle with their optimism...

What does it mean to be "finally getting somewhere"? What are the goals? What would constitute "victory"? O'Hanlon and Pollack are frying different (albeit important) fish, so they don't address those vital questions. These questions are addressed, however, in a cogent piece by William Lind in The American Conservative entitled "How to Win in Iraq".

One of Lind's premises: "
The starting point, despite the disastrous course of the war to date, is to realize that the only possibilities for victory lie at the strategic level, not the tactical level. In part this is because we have botched the tactical level beyond redemption. While the efforts of General Petraeus and the Marines in Anbar province to apply classic counter-insurgency doctrine and protect the population instead of brutalizing it are laudatory, they come too late."

And thus, Lind argues that "To devise a successful strategy, we must begin by defining what we mean by winning. The Bush administration, consistent with its record of military incompetence, continues to pursue the folly of maximalist objectives. It still defines victory as it did at the war’s outset: an Iraq that is an American satellite, friendly to Israel, happy to provide the U.S. with a limitless supply of oil and vast military bases from which American forces can dominate the region. None of these objectives are now attainable. None were ever attainable, no matter what our troops did. And as long as those objectives define victory, we are doomed to defeat."

Lind continues by saying that the greatest threat to us is Iraq as a non-State rather than Iraq as a certain kind of State. A non-State has no ability to deal with terrorists; most States (and neighboring States) will have an incentive to deal with terrorists. In this, Lind says we should work toward "seeing" the re-creation of an Iraqi state-- rather than aiming to "re-create" that State. (This points to the common but important distinction between goals and by-products.) Lind sees "aiming to re-create" as an impossible goal, given the ways in which we've botched the military aspects of the War, but more importantly, our almost necessary lack of (perceived) legitimacy.

As a foreign, Christian invader and occupier, we cannot create any legitimate institutions in Iraq. Quite the contrary: we have the reverse Midas touch. Any institution we create, or merely approve of and support, loses its legitimacy.

Lind continues by comparing this "indirect approach" to Nixon's rapprochement with China and among other things, recommends a withdrawal of American forces "as rapidly as possible, which means within 12-18 months". In Lind's view, this is not "cut-and-run", but rather a "strategic withdrawal" for exiting Iraq while giving the greatest probability of allowing a competent State to be established in Iraq and dealing with Al-Queda long-term.


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