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.
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