Certainly there is little to disagree with in Posen’s assessment of the current situation in Iraq, except that it is “at best a stalemate.” At best it is a disaster. Hundreds of thousands are dead, maimed, or homeless, and ordinary Iraqis are, by all concrete measures, worse off than they were under the twin oppressions of Saddam and the economic sanctions. Unsurprisingly, they are not happy even though they are “free.” More than 80 percent want the U.S. troops out immediately, and some 45 percent support the insurgency.
I was somewhat startled that Posen raises the specter of an “al Qaeda state,” which plays into Bush administration rhetoric and is a contradiction in terms. Terrorists neither build nations nor rule them; they are destroyers who act to effect change. If that change occurs, either they are shunted aside or they transform themselves into politicians—as in the state of Israel—and are no longer terrorists. Al Qaeda, though presumably influential, did not govern Afghanistan in the Taliban era. It was allowed to maintain military training camps there, much as various Aryan Nations groups were allowed to have training camps in the state of Idaho, leading to the terrorism in Oklahoma City.
Nevertheless, it is worth imagining what a state based on al Qaeda’s ideals would be like. It would be run by fundamentalists who insist on imposing their religious beliefs and practices on the entire population. It would hold prisoners without trial, torture them, and kill them by beatings or execution. It would slaughter innocents abroad in the name of promoting its ideology and attempt to overthrow secularist governments or theocracies based on other religions. It would be closely tied to the Saudis. It would threaten internal critics, place only trusted insiders in positions of highest power, devote most of its resources to the military, tightly control the media, oppose reproductive rights and the general rights of women, and legislate that religion rather than science be taught in the schools. In other words, we have seen the enemy and it is us. One can only regret that the Swiss did not send troops to the United States in 2000 in a humanitarian intervention to impose democracy and honest elections.
Posen’s arguments are couched in terms of “American interests,” as though he were trying to persuade Republicans on their own grounds. This strikes me as a futile gesture, however noble. In the undoubting group-mind of the Bush junta, the United States isn’t going anywhere. It wants the bases and it wants the oil, particularly as its think-tank cohorts, not unrealistically, see the future as a long economic, possibly even military, war with China over vanishing resources. (By the way, Posen’s statement that “the interest of the United States in oil is not to control it in order to affect price or gain profit” may be theoretically true but is inapplicable to the Bush crowd.) Even if the Rapture were to come to Washington tomorrow and Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and all the rest were to ascend to the big War Room in the sky, we’d still be left with the Democrats, among whom not a single major figure has called for an immediate end to the occupation, and all of whom seem to be auditioning for an election-year remake of Clueless.
This is an academic debate of imagined scenarios, but I don’t quite see how Posen’s “new strategy” is more realistic than any other. The idea of a loose federation of Kurdish, Sunni, and Shia semi-autonomies crashes on the rocks in Baghdad unless there is some sort of divided city on the model of Jerusalem or the former Berlin, which will only create more barriers, checkpoints, and tensions. (And what to do about Kirkuk?) It is unlikely that the Shia will allow the Sunnis to have their own army, and unlikely that the Shia will gather many recruits for the military and security forces when recruits have been precisely the targets of insurgent attacks. Moreover, the strategy envisions that these armies, after having been trained by the Americans—a dismal failure so far, but sure to succeed after “a year’s hard work”—would continue to “maintain relationships” with U.S. intelligence agencies and U.S. Special Operations Command, which in the future would somehow become more welcome than they are now. I find unconvincing the military threat from neighboring countries (excepting, of course, Turkey, if Kurdistan declares its independence) that the United States would police. The strategy tends to treat the three groups as monoliths and does not account for the many “Sushis” (mixed Sunni-Shia marriages), nor for the divisions and rivalries within each group, nor for the surprising temporary alliances between groups, such as Muqtada al-Sadr and the Sunnis in Fallujah, that are sure to occur. And Posen does not say a word about reconstruction.
We need to stop thinking about U.S. interests—in the name of which the world is being bulldozed—and start thinking about human interests. There is no possibility of stability and peace in Iraq as long as the Americans are there. (And “Americans” means not only troops, but the tens of thousands of unregulated mercenaries and the corrupt legionnaires of the corporations that are pocketing billions for doing nothing.) In an ideal world, the United States would declare an immediate cease-fire—no more missions, no more leveling of cities like Fallujah and Ramadi in the futile attempt to “flush out” insurgents—and begin to dismantle the huge wall around the Green Zone and the endless checkpoints and barricades. This would be followed by an accelerated withdrawal of all American troops and the introduction of UN peacekeeping forces in the hope of warding off open civil war. Simultaneously, the withdrawal of all American corporations, with reconstruction projects turned over to nations not associated with the Coalition of the Willing, most obviously France, Germany, and China. (Given what is happening in China now, the Chinese could probably rebuild Iraq in ten minutes.) Humanitarian interests aside, the carrot on the stick for these countries would obviously be access to the oil, and we may prevent some future tensions if we begin to share the oil, rather than attempt, as we are doing now, to keep it all for ourselves. (And needless to say, peace in Iraq is also dependent on sane domestic energy policies and practices in the United States.)
It won’t happen. What I suspect will happen is the retreat of U.S. forces into a few huge, entirely self-contained military bases, cut off from the rest of the country; a reduction of troops and a disengagement from active combat; continued pork-barrel reconstruction projects by American corporations, making their own accommodations, protected by mercenaries and cash bribes; a lot of Republican rhetoric about how we are standing down now that the Iraqis are standing up for democracy; the vanishing of Iraq from the news with the decrease in U.S. casualties, the beginning of a new election cycle, and the inevitable White Girl in Peril story; and some saber-rattling against Iran and Syria when domestic news is bad. Meanwhile, the Iraqis will be left to fend for themselves in the rubble.
What is certain is that American involvement in Iraq will change in 2006. As I write this, on November 15, 2005, the Republican Party is breaking into factions, and they are very nervous about Bush’s abysmal popularity ratings and the results of the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections and the California propositions. The news today is the demand by Republican senators for some sort of concrete plan of withdrawal. Those who are running for president in 2008 and those who merely want to be reelected must find a way to separate themselves from Bush while remaining loyal Republicans. In 2003, I predicted that Bush would be reelected and impeached in the last two years of his second term. Now that the majority of the country believes that the Iraq war was based on lies, a minority finds the president “honest and ethical,” and the Valerie Plame investigation creeps higher up the ladder, this may not be so far-fetched.