Monday, December 18, 2006

Iraq: Constructive Chaos
I was out of the loop for most of the weekend due to Christmas shopping and several hours of hanging new artwork in my apartment.

When I did pull my head up for some air (and some news) I discovered that the current talk in foreign policy circles is for a plan to send another 30,000 troops to Iraq to turn the tide. That seems to be overly optimistic and somewhat irrational thinking to me.

If we are going to persist in trying to stabilize the country, then we either need to triple the number of troops (impossible with only American forces) or at the very least, change the rules of engagement as Mr. Hanson suggests.

I do not however, think either option will work. I continue to believe that the only achievable option in America's national security interests is to get regional powers such as Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia engaged in Iraq.

However, unlike John Kerry, by getting them engaged, I do not mean that we should show up in Tehran on our knees and promise to ease sanctions and rhetoric if they help stabilize the country. Instead, I would allow those nations to engage each other as Iraq becomes the central battlefield in a region-wide conflict to establish a new Caliphate.

Some have argued (including myself) that Iran and Syria know that a chaotic Iraq is not in their long-term interests. Mr. Hanson disagrees:

Iran's own military commanders praise the present violence there for tying down American forces, and presumably giving them a pass to continue their bomb-making, whether nuclear or IEDs.
While this makes sense, the conclusion that I would draw, is that Iran will find the chaos in Iraq troublesome if it is no longer "tying down American forces."

At this point, a civil war in the country seems nearly inevitable, and we can not allow our troops to get caught in the middle. Therefore, we should:

1) Withdraw troops from Iraqi cities.
2) Station them at fewer but highly defensible bases in the desert.
3) Protect oil infrastructure against terrorist attacks.
4) Strengthen our quick reaction force capabilities and use them to hunt Al Qaeda and foreign terrorists.

These suggestions are not new, in fact they echo policy options in Rumsfeld's now famous memo.

The main objection to a policy of this nature is that without US forces securing the cities, Shiite death squads will eradicate any Sunnis in their paths.

I am less and less concerned that this will be a problem. Based on recent reports, I believe that the Saudi's will make good on their threat/promise and begin arming and funding the Sunnis in Iraq:
One hopes [President Bush] won't make the same mistake again by ignoring the counsel of Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who said in a speech last month that "since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited." If it does, one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis.
Mr. Obaid is trying to make this sound ominous, but I view it as promising.

Saudi Arabia knows that a nuclear-armed Iran with hegemeny over the Middle East will be very dangerous for them. They will fight tooth and nail to make sure that does not happen.

This war will draw in many of the surrounding counties. Jihadists will flood into the conflict to fight for the honor and glory of their tribes. They will forget, at least temporarily, their hatred for West and focus on annihilating other Arabs.

We can capitalize on their distraction as long as we A) make sure our troops have been withdrawn from the middle of the conflict and B) ensure that all sides know that anyone who uses the chaos as an opportunity to attack Israel will have a difficult time pumping their oil through the glass.


Dave said...

I think this is a horrible idea.

Leaving asside the morality of it, it seems clear to me that lawless regions will present a clear danger to the U.S. This relates to both Iraq in the near term, and other areas that may become instable in the future.

Nation building is ugly, difficult, and thankless, but in an increasingly globalized world where technology is increasingly improving the ability of small groups to cause destruction it is absolutely necessary. We either learned this on 9/11 (something that is looking increasingly unlikely) or we will have to learn it again with an even tougher lesson in the future. Needless to say, abonding Iraq now will make future nation building dramatically more difficult.

I think that the suggestions in the Rumsfeld memo are indeed sensible, but in total they are not at all the scenario you describe. Unlike what you propose, they are a different way to achieve a successful democratic Iraq than what has already been tried rather than an admission of failure and a desire to encourage a regional conflict. I don't know that they would work, but we have to keep trying things until we figure out what does.

It is also fairly obvious that if Iraq devolves into a regional conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia would lose handily. It is unlikely that terrorist tactics would be nearly as effective against the Iranians as they are against us, and that is the only weapon the Saudi's could really employ.

Even that ignores the fact that even if we decided to sit this one out, other world powers simply would not and could not (I don't think we could either.) A hot war, rather than a low level proxy war as we currently see, would cut off all oil from the Persian Gulf. There is no slack to make up for that input in other oil producing regions, resulting in global economic chaos. Other nations would be forced to intervene in an attempt to reduce this instability, and make sure that their 'friends' came out on top.

Avoiding a world war at that point seems unlikely.

Jenn of the Jungle said...

"change the rules of engagement" is really the only option. But in truth, I thiknk our window for success ended a while back. We needed to do it right there in the beginning.