12 Nov 2006

Where A New Direction on Iraq Would Lead

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Anticipating the conclusions of the report of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Survey Group, Daniel Henniger identifies the likely significance of that “new direction.”

after routing Saddam’s army in the south, President George H.W. Bush urged the Iraqi generals and people to “take matters into their own hands” against Saddam. Then on Feb. 27 came the White House order to Gen. Schwarzkopf to stand down and thus forgo the destruction of Saddam’s tank army. The Bush 41 team expected Saddam’s Baathist generals to finish him off and “stabilize” Iraq. That was realism. The secretary of state was Jim Baker and the deputy national security advisor to Brent Scowcroft was Robert Gates. Shortly, Saddam’s systematic, tank-led slaughter began of the Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north. In April, U.N. Resolution 688 said the attacks “threaten international peace and security in the region.” Mr. Gates acknowledged the miscalculation in the New Yorker last year.

The opinion of the American people matters, and this week’s election reflected fatigue with Iraq. We may be seeking a “way out,” but if the Iraq Survey Group proposes a solution with the merest whiff of selling out Iraq’s popularly elected Shiites, expect crudely realistic leaders in Russia, China, Nigeria, Venezuela, Bolivia, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere to conclude they too can downgrade, or obliterate, their own U.S.-oriented democratic groups. Then we can roll back the real end to notions of democratic possibility to the end of World War II. And with Democratic Party assent.

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Dominique R. Poirier

Doubtless, there is at home a strong desire to withdraw from Iraq. Who likes war as solution to diplomatic or strategic problem? Sun Tzu himself, in the Art of War, recommends avoiding war and casualties as much as possible. All wars are of course mistakes in the sense that they represent the failure of more desirable ways of carrying on international relations. Diplomacy is the art of the possible, but “war is the continuation of politics,” as said Clausewitz, when all peaceful solutions and compromises have proven to be unsuccessful.

Waging war abroad claims the support of the people at home. Initially, and in the wake of September 11, this support existed, indeed. But years went on since then. Not so many years, but long enough to see this support fading. Commoners have difficulties in grasping long term strategic goals and national interest, and they are not expected to understand it. Thus, and as I said in a previous comment, the situation and the public feeling about the issue at hand is nearly the same that occurred in 1940. Many Americans do not understand where in the hell is the need to send troops in so remote locations, while everything seem to go well at home. But, most regretfully, some American politicians, media, and lobbyists, have chosen to put at stake the U.S. national interest to satisfy shortsighted personal ambition. What I say is no direct allusion to Democrats in particular, since some Republicans question the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq too.

However absurd it may seem, few Americans, today, noticed that Muslim terrorism at home vanished as soon as U.S. troops were sent to Afghanistan and Iraq. That is an unmistakable victory that many seem unable to notice. Silence and peacefulness is less likely to justify repeated breaking news while a noisy explosion is, regretfully in that circumstance.
In supposing one minute that terrorist actions against U.S. interests and persons, at home or abroad, would follow a U.S. withdrawal (which is more than likely) those very same people who are asking for an end to a U.S. presence in Iraq would be the first to support a subsequent strike back. Wouldn’t they?

So, one of the trickiest problems today is to maintain democracy in listening to the will of the American people and, at the same time, to protect and to serve long termed national interest.

There is something akin to cold war underlying all those events. Since some times, this “something”, though still more elusive than the cold war we used to know, is however visible each time a security issue arises at the Security Council of the U.N.O., but few are willing to pay attention and acknowledge about it. Better saying “everything’s fine,” of course.

But, while taking a more careful look at matters such as economics, energy, industry, and media, one may feel anytime, or guess at least, this unmistakable tension and this ominous readiness for a fight that overwhelms, by far, and too often, fair competition. Actually, it looks more like a “war of nerves” than a cold war in the conventional sense of the term.
As soon as a critical issue is solved somewhere in the world, it rematerializes itself elsewhere. Usual economics issues and warmongering attitudes are increasingly connected.
For some time, George Bush dared to point a finger at some responsible of the most aggressive and disputable attitudes in giving them a common identity he necknamed “Axis of Evil.” But, since such religious terminology was perhaps a bit ill-chosen and likely to lead toward greater troubles on the long run, we went back to this trickier-to-grasp and much more anonymous notion of “War Against Terrorism,” so that people physically involved in terrorist activities were still aimed at while those whose role limit itself to financing and logistic support were no longer questioned.

While affording the worst case scenario, “technically”, you can start a cold war and sustain it as the centerpiece of relations for decades under only one condition: that people believe in the existence of a fearsome enemy and, if possible, a repulsive one. The fear of the enemy has to be great enough for people to be willing to spend exorbitantly to continue an arms race or conflicts such as those happening in the Greater Middle East, to risk war at a greater scale, even to waive their rights to an independent policy and their national sovereignty in the case of a small country. In the West the popular saying “Better dead than red” expressed the fear rampant at the time.

Pledging in favor of such painful extremities is that you cannot make your own policies on the most vital securities issues dependant on internal events in another country, or sacrifice your own interest for their sake. You cannot do this because you cannot forecast such event accurately, let alone control them. Nor can you foresee their consequences. This rule, at least, fully justified U.S. intervention in Iraq, which was originally relevant, I think, to considerations different of those which prevail in the case of Afghanistan.

Now, the risks in withdrawing from Iraq are several. Such initiative would immediately, and implicitly, question the credibility of the United States in the Greater Middle East in particular, and in other parts of the world in general; and it would arouse doubt in the collective mind of the/some U.S. allies. By the same token, it would arouse greater confidence in the collective mind of the U.S.’s rivals and provide them greater support of their public opinion. A last fact, which, in turn, is likely to fuel remote controlled political and ideological negative influence on the U.S. soil. Another consequence which, surprisingly I find, has been ignored until then, is that a withdrawal from Iraq would be almost immediately followed by a rise of tensions in Afghanistan, which would be obviously fuelled by the same who are supporting troubles in Iraq today. Such tensions would be soon and inescapably followed by a questioning, from the American people and at the U.S. Congress, of the presence of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. If such second withdrawal happened, other critical issues would probably arise then in Azerbaijan and Georgia, thus putting at stake in this region the interests of some U.S. allies.

I am very sorry to say that, but, to my benighted point of view, in the light of all the aforesaid risks, not to say certainties, I think indeed, that the daily cost of the U.S. presence in Iraq and in Afghanistan doesn’t seem that expensive, after all. I assume that, at some point, the Democrats, however they may feel Republicans’ rivals and may challenge George Bush’s policy abroad, have no interest in putting at stake the fate of what is, above all other considerations, their own country, which still is, and as far at what appearances suggest, the United States of America.
I think, there is no need to order a report from the Rand Corporation to get confirmation of what is likely to happen if U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq. I strongly believe that Democrats and Republican would be wiser in rallying under the same banner for a while, and to accept the idea that in continuing to focus on their divergence of opinion both will serve the interests of America’s enemies. For, it is common knowledge that dividing rulers and people of one’s opponent is one of the best ways to defeat it.



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