Let Iraq Dissemble

There is a new National Intelligence Estimate out. Somehow, I doubt it will change the White House strategy on the War on Terror.

The war in Iraq has become a primary recruitment vehicle for violent Islamic extremists, motivating a new generation of potential terrorists around the world whose numbers may be increasing faster than the United States and its allies can reduce the threat, U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded.

A 30-page National Intelligence Estimate completed in April cites the “centrality” of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the insurgency that has followed, as the leading inspiration for new Islamic extremist networks and cells that are united by little more than an anti-Western agenda. It concludes that, rather than contributing to eventual victory in the global counterterrorism struggle, the situation in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position, according to officials familiar with the classified document.

Perhaps we should take this latest NIE with some skepticism. After all, it is from the National Intelligence Council. These same folks concluded in 2002 that Iraq had continued its weapons of mass destruction program. In that report they also warned our senior leadership that Iraq was likely to have a nuclear program by the end of this decade.

The conclusion of this NIE though is not startling and is just common sense. It can be inferred from State Department reports that show dramatic increases in terrorist incidents worldwide over the last few years. Most of the terrorism is centered in Iraq, which we occupy. Our occupation is perceived (or at least marketed) as an occupation of a Christian force in a Muslim area of the world. We see it as bringing peace and democracy. Yet many Muslims see it as a modern manifestation of the crusades. It did not help that shortly after we liberated Iraq, Christian missionaries poured into Iraq. The toxic ingredients were in place to raise the ire of Muslims. Call them terrorists, call them insurgents, call them militias, or call them whatever you want. Most of them qualify as terrorist groups by any reasonable definition of the word.

The larger question, which presumably is not answered in this classified report, is what strategy might actually lower terrorist incidents against our allies and us. The answer through January 20, 2009 will almost certainly mean no meaningful change in our current counterproductive policy. We have a president that will stay the course no matter how unworkable, unreasonable or foolish it has proven and will continue to prove to be. Oh, we may tinker around the edges a bit. For example, our generals recently moved troops from the far western provinces of Iraq to Baghdad to deal with violence there. Nevertheless, it will not change the underlying dynamics. In fact, our mere need to move troops around from one lawless area to another underscores that we simply have insufficient forces to control Iraq. Our Iraq “strategy” has devolved into an increasing frustrating and very large-scale game of Whack-a-Mole. When we withdraw troops from one region of Iraq, it simply becomes easier for violence and terrorist elements to breed there. Moreover, as I noted not too long ago, the more we stay the course the more we exacerbate the problem.

In the unlikely event that we could put 450,000 troops on the ground in Iraq, we might succeed in bringing a rough peace to the place. It would be an unnatural peace though. Our presence would still be resented. Our troops would continue to be regularly assaulted. To secure that country in the long term would require a very high troop commitment for decades, something that we all know in our hearts would not happen.

If we just withdrew, civil war seems a sure thing. That there already is a civil war is beside the point I guess. Our withdrawal would doubtless give terrorists a “victory” to crow about. However, it is possible that our withdrawal would have the medium and long-term effects of lowering the animus at the United States, and might well reduce terrorism directed toward our country.

After we left, the civil war in Iraq would likely get worse, at least in the short term. Most of those who acknowledge the complexity of the situation, yet want to avoid “cut and run” label, suffer from the delusion that with sufficient cajoling neighboring Muslim states will step in with forces to control Iraq for us. Unfortunately, there are neither sufficient Muslim troops nor the willingness of neighboring countries to take on this task. Any choice, including maintaining the status quo, breeds more terrorism in the short term and further screws the Iraqi people. The only virtue of “stay the course” is it gives to a dwindling few the delusion that in time we can prevail against these forces. I say that at this point this thinking is insane.

The reality is that the Iraqi people are already getting screwed. Regardless of what we do or do not do, Iraqis will likely get screwed worse in the future. What we are doing now is like looking at the result of a terrible automobile accident that we helped cause. We are saying, “How can we fix the car and patch up its occupants like it never happened?” However, the car is totaled. Everyone in the front seat is dead. The kids in the back seat are hysterical. We cannot fix this mess.

Right now, we are still in denial. While denial is delusional, at least it offers us a modicum of comfort. We need to get out of denial. Iraq is a big toxic mess and will remain so for some time. Our occupation makes things worse. We had a big part is screwing up Iraq, but the fault is hardly just ours. Bad things are happening. Worse things are likely to happen to Iraq in the future. We cannot stop it.

We must face the music. We must get out of Iraq knowing a larger civil war will probably occur. However, whether we stay or leave, it was bound to happen anyhow. This is what happens when unnatural states held together by a dictator are overthrown.It is time to let the pseudo-state of Iraq die, but also time to let the people in what used to be the country of Iraq sort out their own future.

The best we can do in this crazy situation is to insist that the nascent Iraqi government decide the boundaries of future Kurdish, Sunni and Shi’ite states. We could give them a deadline, perhaps sixty days, to redraw the map of Iraq, and some financial incentives to create win-win scenarios. If they cannot redraw it then we must use our best judgment and draw the lines ourselves. Then we can give Iraqis a few months to move to the ethnic area where they want to live in. We can use our troops to try to ensure a safe migration of the population. Then we should get out.

Even if we do this, a civil war is still likely. However, it offers the possibility that the civil war will be shorter and less bloody than it would otherwise be. There is no way to know for sure.

Can we ever atone for this mistake? Perhaps in time we can make small amends. We have certainly given a large part of our national treasure and thousands of lives. We can always help fund non-governmental organizations that work in the region. Perhaps we could take in some refugees from the war. When Vietnamese boat people ended up in Thailand or Hong Kong after the collapse of South Vietnam, many of them through a special act of Congress made it to the United States. Many are now productive citizens of our country.

The sad reality is that this is about all that is within our power that might actually prove helpful.

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