Two sobering reports from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the folks Rummy sent to Iraq in July. First, from Four Wars and Counting
Almost without sensing it, America has drifted into involvement in four separate and simultaneous conflicts. The most obvious war is Iraq. Former regime loyalists and violent Islamic extremists are fighting a low intensity conflict. American and other coalition soldiers die there every day, a US-led occupation force governs it, and it has the highest media and political profile. No matter how this conflict develops, there is little prospect of a stable Iraq over the next 5-10 years, or that Iraq will serve as an example that will transform the Middle East.
In the process, the second conflict - Afghanistan - has become the "not quite forgotten" war.
The third war, the broader global "war on terrorism," continues, but in an increasingly confused form.
The fourth war does not involve direct American use of troops, but rather the Arab and Islamic perception that the US is a cobelligerent with Israel.
[T]he moment one turns from a focus on the war that has the most current visibility to a broader consideration of all four wars and the other risks at hand, the clearer it is that the US will face major domestic political problems. The image of a quick and decisive victory was always a false one, but it is still the image many Americans want. One thousand or more dead in Iraq is hardly Vietnam, but it must be justified and explained, and explained honestly - not in terms of the ephemeral slogans President Bush has used to date. America may well have to spend another one percent of its GNP on sustained combat and international intervention overseas than any American politician is willing to admit.
America faces some very hard political choices, and they are going to take exceptional leadership and courage as the US enters an election year. They require bipartisanship of a kind that has faded since the Cold War, and neither neo-conservative nor neo-liberal ideology can help. Moreover, America's think tanks and media are going to have to move beyond sound bites and simple solutions, just as much as America's politicians and military planners. Put differently, it is going to be a very tough year. In fact, it is going to be a very tough decade.
Oy, what kind of a world are my (presumed, future) kids going to be born into? When I started becoming more aware of the world around me when I was a toddler, Vietnam was the dominant crisis, and it partially informs my worldview today. In 30 years, will my kids look back at the "war on terror", or even the Iraq war, the same way I look back at Vietnam? I hope not.
A few other observations from Iraq and Asymmetric Warfare
- The US may be able to give Iraq significant new opportunities, but it will not be able to shape Iraq into a modern democracy or free market economy. The US will have to leave long before the political, economic, and energy issues in Iraq play out, and Iraq will then face years, if not a decade, of instability.
- Iraq will not become any near term example to the region of what a state should be, or of the US ability to create a democracy. There may be positives in Iraq over time, but they will be at least partially offset by negatives, while other Middle Eastern states will be driven by their own internal dynamics.
- Iraqis may tolerate the US if Iraq emerges from US and Coalition rule as a reasonably stable and secure state, but the US will not win the hearts, minds, or friendship of the Iraqi people. The war will generate as much anger as gratitude.
- The US will have removed a potential military threat to Israel, but the new post-US regime is unlikely to be any more sympathetic to Israel than any other Arab state.
- The situation in Iraq is far more likely to compound US problems with Islamic movements than reduce them, and will probably produce a significantly less secular regime over time.
Seems like the last bastion of justifications for this war--bringing peace, stability and democracy to the Middle East to enhance our security--has fallen. If only Bush had listened to the millions of people in the anti-war "focus groups" instead of his "objective" advisors.
I disagree with Howard Dean on the idea of staying in Iraq, but that seems to be par for the course when it comes to the candidates who have a realistic shot at beating Bush. At least he seems to be much more invested in returning to the community of nations as a member in good standing, which I think will help us get more allies on board. I'm still not convinced "internationalizing" the conflict with more Western troops is going to do much good--I think this is a problem for the Arab nations to work out.
Regardless, we have even greater issues that go beyond how we deal with Iraq. We've got a decade of fun ahead, and we're going to need a reasonable, thoughtful and strong leader who can work with our allies and address the root issues that allow terrorism to flourish. Bush is not that leader. Almost any of the Democrats can be (I won't cast aspersions at anyone in particular), and I think Dean is right up there.
It's going to be a long campaign leading up to next November, but that pales compared to the long campaign to bring prosperity and security to our nation and the world. Let's keep our eyes on the goal, keep the passion and energy flowing, and keep the faith as we struggle to shake off the GOP's domination of our government. We need to continue to get a substantive message out to compete with the pap coming from BushCo so Americans can make a truly informed choice and vote for realistic, compassionate and positive foreign policy, not one that's based on invoking 9/11 at ever opportunity. That's
the way to save Iraq, as well as the US.