Thursday, August 9, 2007

Thoughts on the Surge

Since this is my first post on Iraq, I should probably disclose that I am a lapsed neocon. I thought the invasion was a bold, risky move that had the potential to be instantly world-changing. Like many, I became increasingly dismayed at how incompetently the occupation was prosecuted. In late 2006, I was pretty sure that US policy in Iraq was toast. I also became convinced that the US would have been better off not invading in the firs place.

However, I never thought we should withdraw. The war became a nightmare, but Iraq had to be stabilized in, if not a friendly, at least a neutral condition.

At this point let's review where we are:

  • The bulk of the big car bombings are being done by Salafist groups--let's just call them Al Qaeda as a shorthand, recognizing that the real picture is a bit more confused than that.

  • The Baathist insurgency really is "down to a few dead-enders" (3 years after Dick's Famous Inaccuracy).

  • The Surge has managed to pin Al Qaeda in place--finally!--and is making progress toward destroying or at least marginalizing it.

  • The Maliki government is on Payne Stewart's Airplane. They're still flying, but they're already dead.

  • There appears to be an extremely healthy political process at the municipal and even regional level.

  • Shiite in-fighting has progressed from lots of little factions contending with one another to a few big factions engaging in large-scale military operations agains each other.

  • Everybody's arming and positioning themselves in case the Americans leave.

Let's also remember that the US really only has two goals in the Middle East:

  1. Ensure an uninterrupted supply of oil from the Persian Gulf.

  2. Prevent terrorism from short-circuiting the emerging Global Civilization.

So: Pruning back Al Qaeda in Iraq is going well. That takes care of goal #2. However, goal #1, which is critical to the survival of the aforementioned emerging Global Civilization for the next 15 years, is threatened by the lack of political stability.

But if we can develop stable regions in Iraq with an extraordinarily weak central government, will that fulfill our strategic requirements? That seems to be the sixty-four trillion dollar question. Suppose we wound up with an Anbar/Diyala area, a weak mixed Kurdish/Arab area in Salahaddin, a Kurdish area, a Basra area, a Shiite area south of Baghdad, and Baghdad as a federal district? Would that keep the Iranians out of the areas we care about (i.e. the oil-producing areas)?

I suspect not, at least in the case of Basra. So we need to find a way of leveraging the regional progress to produce a better, slightly stronger federal government.

It's become very fashionable to point out that only the Iraqis can solve the political problem. That's no better than half right. The US is creating new facts on the ground as regional politics reemerges. The federal government can be coerced into making accomodations based on our support for those regional entities.

Maliki is starting to treat Petraeus as his mortal enemy. This is a very encouraging sign. Petraeus is Maliki's mortal enemy. Petraeus can use local politics make Maliki irrelvant, which wouldn't bode well for Maliki's life expectancy.

No comments: