Saturday, January 27, 2007


Does John Burns have a deeper insight on the "surge"?

I have finally spent an hour watching Charlie Rose interviewing John Burns. The one element Burns adds, really, to what has been said specifically about Iraq is his version of the domino theory, which has been much emphasized by Bush supporters. The evidence is simply far from compelling, that the war would widen much more than it already has, specifically, that Abdullah of Jordan would be significantly undermined (after all, he and his father used to have to placate Saddam, and did so) and all the rest follows from that. Saudi Arabia can send money, but if the US withdraws we can certainly send money where we will as well. (The US military has been unwilling to give most Iraqi troops effective weapons because they could turn around and use them against Americans, and have; with Americans out, that danger does not lurk.)

Nothing was said about the complex influence of Turkey. Little or nothing about the overall regional balance between Shi'ites and Sunnis would change if the US withdraws. Burns mentioned the Shi'ite majority in Bahrain, but it is already exercising increasing electoral power. He did not mention the Shi'ite minority in the oil-rich provinces of Saudi Arabia, which will limit the Sunni government's willingness to take on Shi'ite Arabs elsewhere.

Most importantly, Burns did not say that the surge would work. He repeatedly said said just the opposite, that it probalby won't. How long do you continue with unfavorabble odds? He failed to discuss how American presence allows irresponsible actions by the Shi'ite militias, who would have to be far more careful if the US leaves. He touched on, but underempahsized the obvious point that the US is not planning to and cannot send enough troops to police the whole country simultaneously, and that the insurgents and militias have many oportunites to slip out of Baghdad and focus their efforts in other communities, while still managing to be able to sabotage as much as they please supplies such as electricity , water and even food headed towards Baghdad . Thus, the surge will only shake up where the fighting takes place and who is most affected by it. Meanwhile, American troops would sustain much higher casualties — certainly higher than a volunteer army can well accept. The end is sure to come — better sooner, rather than later.

The real question is whether there is any leverage against the Bush surge now. I think what will play out is that he will get the surge, with reluctant Democrats on board to the very minimal extent possible. The surge will clearly have failed after a few months. Then what? I think the momentum for a rapid but somehwat strategic withdrawal, with some effort to have talks — more or less behind Bush's back — with Iran and Syria will have to go forward. The Kurds deserve protection and so does the general independence of Shi'ites in the south. That can be handled with no-fly zones for a period.

More on Iraq

It is far too late to avoid a bloodbath in Baghdad, with or without American troops, unless we send hundreds of thousands, and they know Arabic and the local culture. That number of troops does not exist, nor are they anywhere near likely to have the proper knowledge.

Recall that opponents of pulling out of Vietnam prophesied a bloodbath if the US withdrew; there certainly was one, especially in Cambodia. There will be one in Iraq too, just as there was when Britain pulled out of the Indian sub-continent after 250 years, as there has been in Algeria after the French pulled out, as there has been in Sudan almost ever since the British left, and on and on. We can try to mitigate the effects after we pull out; we can offer refugeee status, we can offer aid, we can offer various kinds of carrots for good behavior, but we do not know how to keep the bloodbath from happening. Should we have stayed forever in Vietnam and Cambodia? Wouldn't our staying have been predicated on a continuing bloodbath?

Isn't the lesson that has to be brought home very insistently that we should both get out now and make very sure that we cease to believe we can impose our values and will by force on the rest of the planet? That will not end world violence, but it might well lessen it. To me, killing more in the hopes that others will not kill more would be a tragic mistake.

Friday, January 26, 2007


Why I strongly oppose the "surge" in Iraq

I am writing this in response to a friend’s wondering whether the veteran Iraq reporter for the NY Times, John Burns, might possibly be right in backing President Bush’s plans for a small escalation of the conflict by adding more American troops — his so-called “surge.”

So far, the longer US troops have stayed, the worse the civil strife. There is no reason to think that a small increment of US troops with a slightly different set of rules would do anything other than make things still worse. What the US did by invading was unleash ethnic tensions that had been building, possibly for centuries (exactly as many, myself included, predicted). As long as the US stays, the actual Iraqi government, being dependent on the US, will hardly be able to be strong enough or seem genuinely representative enough to forge any real end to the violence.

One could say the invasion freed up Iraqis to kill each other, and our presence just exacerbates such desires. Despite that, they — various Iraqis and groups of them are making the choice to kill and to support killing; it is in their power to make other choices. So why American troops— who after all volunteered to defend the US, not to pacify the world — should be sacrificed to step in between them I just don't see. Nor is there any real likelihood that the surge will do more than be the prelude for a bigger surge, etc., etc., etc., until we finally pull out, leaving Iraq a still bigger graveyard. We have no reason to suppose that pulling out will instantly create calm or anything approaching it. Still, only after an American pullout can the conditions for eventual healing — perhaps far in the future — begin to emerge.

It is conceivable that eventually, once some peace agreement between the various sides begins to emerge, that an international peace-keeping force might be of some help. Whether any country will be willing to supply its troops to such an effort should depend on the degree to which the warring parties are really willing to settle their differences peacefully. That in turn depends on the emergence of a common set of underlying understandings that peace is a better solution than war. The international community can certainly help play a role in helping make that clear, but we know that this is a very long-term, difficult process. We know because of such examples as the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir; the long set of wars between the more-or-less secular, more-or-less progressive side in Afghanistan vs. reactionary Sunni fundamentalism there; the Sinhalese–Tamil dispute in Sri Lanka; the long war between northern and southern Sudan, continuing conflicts in Congo and Uganda, the Tutsi-Hutu rivalries in Rwanda and Burundi; lengthy conflicts in Mexico between indigenous groups and the governing parties; similar conflicts in various central and south American countries; as well as the very long history of violence between various sides in Europe.

The effort to promote internatinal peace and understanding should not only go on. It should intensify. But “peace through war,” is as absurd a notion as George Orwell thought when he first articulated it.

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