Saturday, July 21, 2007

A March Up Country?

In 401 BC the Cyrus the Younger hired a large army of Greek mercenaries to take the Persian throne. Though they the won at the battle of Cunaxa, near modern Baghdad in Iraq, Cyrus was killed in the battle. This left the Greeks stranded in hostile territory and having to fight their way home. Xenophon, one of the senior leaders of the expedition, recorded their story in one of the classics of ancient literature Anabasis (The March Up Country) often subtitled Xenophon and the 10,000

Since we are talking about Iraq.


I was very ambivalent about the war to begin with. There was a stable balance of power in the region, but stable balance of powers can protect genocidal governments for years. Sadam was accused of following what Hans Morgantahau called an anti-status quo policy, I thought it was a prestige policy, but the two are often difficult to tell apart, and he had invaded two counties. Saddam got more from the prestige of having (or having people think he had) WMD’s than he could ever get from using them outside Iraq, but what ever you think chemical weapons do to people it is much worse, and he did use them ine past. My pre-blog comments have long since disappeared off the net. Paul Cella expressed what I was thinking then and said it better than I did.

Whatever one thinks of the war the Secretary of Defense had very misguided ideas on how to run a Defense Department and fight a war.

And despite all that, owing more to the troops on the ground and the Iraqis, the military situation in Iraq, while difficult, is nowhere near as bad as the press reports would have you believe.

The original insurgency of pro-Saddam Baathists has been effectively defeated since the end of 2005. Of course like all insurgencies some idiots will be throwing bombs for years, but it is really an Iraqi police problem at this point. Al Quida is on the run, its policy of trying to get Iraqi support by killing Iraqis, only got Iraqis mad. They may be more than a strict police problem at this point, but AQ is not likely to overthrow an Iraqi government of any type. Since about the beginning of 2006 a number of armed groups that had been sitting out the original insurrengency decided it was time to use force to get a better bargaining position for the final settlement, maybe even settle old scores, and get rid of some competitors. This is a very different dynamic than previously, which could be analyzed in the framework of standard guerilla warfare. Now we have groups that purport to represent major portions of Iraqi society, though if they weren’t armed and willing to kill people it is doubtful how much support they would have. When commentators in the last year or so have been worried that Iraq was slipping into a civil war they are expressing a concern that these groups may be able to pull whole sections of Iraqi society in to combat with other sections. Some of these groups have better outside forign connections than the Baathists which is why we are seeing more foreign (especially Iranian) weapons and other support than the Baathists received

The role of military action is limited but critical. They have to keep all the non-government factions from getting into a military position where they can dictate their terms, hurt them enough that a peaceful settlement will get them more than they have the ability to take by force. This has to be done without alienating the larger groups the militants claim to represent. Basically this is protecting the Iraqi Governments efforts to reach a peaceful settlement. The war will not be won by a straight military victory in the field, but also it can’t be done without military operations. The war can be lost militarily.

This does not sit well with the traditional American: ”If you want it done right do it yourself” attitude - forging the peace must be done by the Iraqis themselves. It is going to take time. The famous American impatience is getting thin. Insurgencies lose in the long run almost all the time, usually only winning when the other side loses confidence or gets tired.

And speaking of American Impatience.

Major political leaders in the US are demanding the withdrawal of American forces.

With all the discussion on the possibility of a withdrawal it seems that most of the discussion is an Americentric approach to US domestic politics. Some even give the impression that they see the issue is about George Bush, what happens to Iraq, neighboring countries, US ability to conduct international relations in the future, or even US troops in Iraq is unimportant or a distraction. Yes, one can have differences of opinion about Bush's policies, I do, but harming our country and others for what ultimately amounts to patronage and contacts is just plain stupid.

A refreshing voice comes from Austin Bay who asks:

What happens if the United States and coalition forces withdraw rapidly from Iraq? The U.S. and the Iraqi governments have their own scenarios. Iran, al-Qaida, Syria and Turkey have also analyzed potential outcomes.
. . .
Here are seven "scenarios" sketching "potential outcomes" of a quick withdrawal from Iraq. These scenarios are not mutually exclusive. You will find bits and pieces in all seven:

1)Three New Countries
. . .
2) Regional Shia-Sunni War: [extending well beyond the borders of Iraq] . . .The War Over Mesopotamia could last for weeks, or it could grind on for years.

3) Turkey Expands: Turkey takes control of northern Iraq to the city of Kirkuk. .. . . Turkey would pay a huge political price, however. It would lose all chance of joining the European Union. As ties with the West deteriorate, Turkey might become less secular and more Islamic in both identity and in political orientation.

4) Shia Dictatorship:

5) "Gang Up": . . . Rwanda in the desert. Shia Arabs and Kurds launch a coordinated campaign to eliminate Iraq's Sunni Arab community…. . .

6) Chaos: Iraq shatters into ethnic enclaves, . . .
the kind of disaster that allows al-Qaida to build training facilities and base camps for operations throughout the Middle East and Europe.

7) The Iraqi Center Holds: The democratic government proves to be resilient. The assumption behind this scenario is that Iraq's government is just responsive enough and its security forces are just strong enough to withstand attacks by extremists and give Iran pause. After several months of brutal warfare, the Iraqi Army destroys insurgent groups.

Out of seven "rapid withdrawal" scenarios only one -- number seven -- clearly benefits the majority of Iraqis.

Of course any of options one to six could have far reaching results that are good for no one.

Also Robert Kagan’s interesting article End of Dreams, Return of History in the latest issue of Policy Review makes the same point in a larger context.

Conflicts are more likely to erupt if the United States withdraws from its positions of regional dominance. . . . It is also optimistic to imagine that a retrenchment of the American position in the Middle East and the assumption of a more passive, “offshore” role would lead to greater stability there. . . . An American withdrawal from Iraq will not return things to “normal” or to a new kind of stability in the region. It will produce a new instability, one likely to draw the United States back in again.
HT” The Duck of Minerva

I sometimes sarcastically think that the President should sign one of the withdrawal bills then he and Chaney resign, now the fun part: watching the now President Pelosi try to get the law repealed, declared unconstitutional, or just telling congress she's going to ignore it “so impeach me!” I assume that she realizes how stupid the idea is and is only trying to force a veto for leverage in the general election. If she were to have any effectivness as president she could not start with a meltdown in Iraq, especilly as a result of her actions. But even if she didn't every country in the Middle East and Europe will explain it to her - the US broke it, the US fixes it.

But there is another scenario to be considered. When the withdrawl announcement is made, for an Iraqi survive in Iraq he will need to be more radical than the radicals. Intelligence sources will dry up. Any thing that depends on employing Iraqi’s will stop. Iraqi Army and Police units will follow their own agendas. While they might not attack US units they will have no incentive to cooperate. Many as a means to get equipment, revenge, or prestige will atack any US activity that is practical. Many, possibly millions, will want to be evacuated with US forces. In the the worst case US forces could very likely be stranded like Xenophon with no way home except to march against opposition to a coast where the Navy can pick them up. I suspect the better cases will not be much better.

Will the members of Congress who created the problem put legal obstacles in the way of allowing the troops to get home, allowing the Navy to pick them up, and allow entrance for the refugees? I don’t know. The political backlash might force them to support a fighting withdrawal, but this same wing of this same political party forced the abandonment of the Vietnamese boat people.

Since The March Up Country II - Petraeus and the 100.000 has no potential literary merit as a sequel, it is time to take US domestic politics out of the discussion and bring in some common sense by all parties.


all my Iraq posts

NOTE 08/14/2009: This post was published about a month before General Petreaus make his report to Congress requesting the troops for what became the “The Surge”


Dymphna said...

This is an excellent post. I have a response almost ready to go up at Gates as a post in itself.

My darn injury keeps getting in the way of being more timely in my responses, though.

Anyway, look for it soon. I wrote 80% of it at 9:00 am and then my shoulder started acting up. Hard to type. Hard to think!

hank_F_M said...

Dymhna posted her responseRawanda in the Desert on her blog which is always good reading.

El Jefe Maximo said...

This is indeed an excellent post. I don't see any way of getting what the Democrats say they want, in the short run. Of course, I think the Lefties would think a new Anabasis -- a defeat for us no matter how you look at it -- would be just Jim Crackin Dandy. Before it was over, it wouldn't be just the Iraqis proving they were more rebel than the rebels jumping on the anti-US bandwagon.

I don't think it will come to that. . .but unless we can change the political calculus, or our enemies do so for us, I think we're stuck in a festering conflict the Left will see to it that we can't win. Over time, that may have results other than those our leftie friends anticipate.

hank_F_M said...

El Jefe

Thanks for the comments.

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