Anthony H. Cordesman has provided some of the most comprehensive and reliable information about the Iraq War, so his latest report deserves attention.
“The Situation in Iraq: A Briefing from the Battlefield“, Anthony H. Cordesman, Center for Strategic and International Studies (13 February 2008)
Two things I find fascinating about this report:
- The US-centric perspective. Whatever happens happens because of us.
- The almost-total focus on al-Qaeda as the enemy.
The first is classic American thinking (this parochialism is one reason nation-building is not our forte), but limiting for a geopolitical analyst. The second is now the rule in American geopolitical thinking. This transformation occurred in late 2006 with almost no analysis, starting with the US government and quickly being adopted without comment by a wide range of analysts. It is psychologically comforting, since focusing on “fighting bad guys” eliminates cognitive dissonance between our actions in Iraq and our strategic needs. It also postpones discussion about the best structure for Iraq society, and who gets to decide that.
Andrew Sullivan gives an interesting perspective on Cordesman’s analysis in “The Truth, Please, About Iraq“, 26 February 2008 — Excerpt:
Cordesman loves the surge. He thinks it’s been a triumph of violence-suppression, and his data are as solid as we are likely to get (although, as he admits, sectarian violence and cleansing continue beneath the casualty headlines). But Cordesman understands – and is admirably candid about – what remains to be done. We need roughly the same amount of troops we have now through at least the next presidency, and probably through 2016 or even 2020. We need to be spending money in the country consistently for the next decade. Here’s his poignant to-do list, now we have only 2005 levels of mayhem:
- Consolidate gains against Al Qa’ida in Mesopotamia.
- Move towards stable accommodation: Change de-Baathification law, provincial powers act and elections, oil law, etc.
- Keep Shi’ite militias (Sadr forces) under control, and prevent more sectarian and ethnic cleansing in greater Baghdad area.
- Consolidate creation of tribal militias, ensure they get proper central government support, and that central government recognizes importance of Sunni Sheiks.
- Stabilize provinces that still have serious conflict – Ninewa, Salah ad Din, Diyala – and prevent Al Qa’ida in Mesopotamia forces from moving north.
- Avoid major intra-Shi’ite power struggles and conflicts in south. Limit turmoil and Iranian influence in Basra and south.
- Limit Kurd, Arab, minority fighting in North.
- Resolve the “federalism” issue through peaceful referendums.
- Develop truly capable Iraqi Army and regular forces to phase US role down to overwatch.
- Find solution to failure to develop effective approach to police force, and to dealing with local security forces, militias, and Facilities Protection Force.
- Establish effective local criminal justice system and local, provincial and national government presence.
That’s all. Yes: almost everything remains to be done. … According to Cordesman, no progress is possible without maintaining the same level of troops of the past five years for the next five years. And we have no guarantee that anything will be saner then. That’s the decision Americans need to make clearly, candidly, honestly, for the first time in this war. That’s what this election is about. Let’s put the choice on the table and collectively decide now – for empire or retreat. We won’t get an opportunity like this again.
Sullivan posts a reader’s comment on this:
I work in the computer field, where it is common to white board the process flow for a project or program to be created and, invariably, somewhere in the middle of that flow will be a critically important box that has an arrow coming into it, and another exiting. The text in that box will be akin to “something magic happens here”. I read that list and all I can comprehend is “something magic happens here”, and “something magic happens here”, and “something magic happens here”…
This is perhaps a foreshadowing of the “dreamland” described by Wolfgang Schivelbusch in The Culture of Defeat. The grim reality of future geopolitical and economic problems presses on our imaginations, the end of our hegemonic delusions of power founded on unlimited borrowing at low interest rates. In response we retreat into comfortable dreams.
… the economic buoyancy of 1919-21 was reminiscent of the military and political euphoria after the signing of the Brest-Litovsk treaty and before the beginning of the spring offensive of 1918. Both times, Germans were confronted with the spectacle of what they saw as reality — military victory, the blossoming economy — dissolving into thin air. The analogy can be taken still further since in neither case was the demise physically apparent…
The German perception of reality became unbalanced. Vertigo became the dominant sensation of and metaphor for the period of hyperinflation. … In 1939, Sebastian Haffner, looking back on the hyperinflation of 1923, wrote: “An entire German generation had a spiritual organ removed; an organ that gives human beings constancy, balance, even gravity …”
Something will shatter our dreams, probably bad news of an economic or geopolitical nature. That is the nature of dreams, that one must eventually wake from them.
Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
For more on this subject see Archive of my articles about the Iraq War.