Friday, December 09, 2005

Iraq: win or leave

First, a couple of indisputable facts that every discussion of the Iraq war must be based on. 1. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. 2. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction (WMD - biological, chemical, or nuclear), 3. U.S. occupation of Iraq infuriates many ordinary Arabs, 4. Infuriated Arabs have a tendency to become al Qaeda terrorists. Now for the meat of this article.

By now it's pretty clear that Bush and the Republicans have got us into a real mess in Iraq. There appear to be no good outcomes. Even if the insurgency was defeated, a very unlikely prospect, the elected government is aligning itself with Iran -- our most bitter enemy in the region.

There are three options:

1. Continue with the current policy leading to one of several bad outcomes.

2. Get out and accept the consequencies of our mistakes.

3. Do what it takes for military victory and a complete rebuilding of Iraq. This will probably require a couple of million U.S. soldiers and trillions of tax dollars. That means the draft, very large tax increases, and very large spending cuts.

Let's take a look at the options.

Continue with the current policy: ~150,000 troops, ~$2 billion a year, "stay the couse". Possible outcomes include:

1. Unlikely: military defeat. The insurgency appears to be getting stronger and it is becoming increasingly diffiult to supply U.S. troops. For example, essentially all supply trucks in the Sunni Triangle must now be armored. If the insurgency can shut down resupply, the U.S. will have no choice but to withdraw or die of thirst.

2. Most likely: more of the same. The US army has admitted that they cannot win militarily. The Republicans have repeatedly claimed that political progress in the future will improve things, but Saddam's capture, transfer of 'sovereignty,' and elections have failed to weaken the insurgency at all. The insurgents can't beat the U.S. in battle, so you get a stalemate. Lot's of folks get killed, things get blown up, America hangs on to military bases in Iraq, and the quagmire deepens. The longer the quagmire continues, the more terrorists al Qaeda can recruit. It's very likely that recruitment vastly exceeds the number of terrorist killed, meaning we're very likely losing the war with al Qaeda.

3. Least likely: military victory. The insurgents are defeated and the democratically elected, Shia dominated government gains control of the country. The Shia leadership, however, are very closely tied to Iran. They share religious beliefs and many spent the Saddam years there. Iran is a bitter enemy of the U.S. Worse, they have good reason to hate us. The Eisenhower administration overthrew their democratically elected government in 1953, America supported the subsequent dictatorship of the Shah, Reagan supported Saddam in his war of agression against Iran in the 1980's, and a U.S. naval ship shot down a civilian 747 taking off from Tehran's airport killing almost 300 innocent people. Newsflash: an alliance between Iraq and Iran is not in the U.S.'s interests.

There is one ray of hope. Wes Clark wrote an excellent article suggesting a way forward [see article]. He suggests applying the lessons learned in previous conflicts, recruiting 10,000 Arab-Americans with language skills so the troops can talk to the Iraqi people, a realistic diplomatic course shorn of grandious aims to transform the region, longer tours for civilian reconstruction personel, and other approaches.

This might conceivably work if implemented very soon and applied for a long time, but the Bush administration will run the show for the next three years and has shown unbelievable incompetence so far. Without regime change in the U.S. (not recommended) there is little hope of such a sensible approach. It probably won't work anyway because the Iraqis must be awful sick of Americans who can't speak the language, don't understand the culture, who shoot the wrong Iraqis, blow up the wrong homes, arrest the wrong people, occasionally torture Iraqis, and generally make a mess of things.

Leave: A new government is supposed to be elected in December. Give them a year to get their act together before leaving, but start a minimal withdraw now. This hands victory to the insurgents; and al Qaeda is sure to claim responsibility. However, the insurgency is almost certainly driven by the presence of a foreign, infidel, occupying army (the U.S.). After all, if an Iraqi army were occupying America I would either be killing Iraqi soldiers or feeling like a coward. I imagine Iraqis feel pretty much the same about U.S. soldiers. If the insurgents are convinced the U.S. will leave soon, most will probably decide risking their lives for something that will happen anyway is a little silly. Once Iraqis are convinced the U.S. is leaving the insurgency will probably fade fairly quickly.

The Shias that dominate the elected government control powerful militias and will have U.S. and Iranian support. The government might very well survive, leaving a more-or-less democratic, Saddam-free Iraq, albeit allied with Iran. Alternatively, the country could collapse into civil war, possibly leading to a general Sunni vs. Shia war in the Gulf.

Do what it takes for military victory: millions of U.S. soldiers, trillions in aid, the draft, lots of taxes, much less other spending. To win the war outright requires, at a minimum, sealing the borders and disarming the country (except government forces). Without sealing the borders foreign fighters will continue to pour in. Iraq has very long, open borders. I wouldn't be surprised if it takes a million U.S. troops to close them. That leaves the second military problem: the country is armed to the teeth. Remove the arms and you cripple the insurgency. Just after the invasion Ak47s (a Russian designed assult rifle) could be bought in any bazar for about $25. As a result, essentially every Iraqis household has one (the NRAs dream :-). Assuming a household size of 5, and a population of 25 million, that suggests at least 5 million assult rifles are out there, not counting militia ams. To find and destroy these, along with other weapons, could easily require another million U.S. soldiers, probably more.

If you think this estimate is inflated, consider that George Bush Sr. had an army of 575,000 in Iraq and didn't think it was enough to conquer the country. Depose the government, yes, but as we've seen, deposing a weak government is much easier than controlling a country.

There is no way to attract two million additional soldiers into the volunteer army, so we need the draft. The present U.S. army of ~150,000 costs about $2 billion a week to support. An army over ten times the current size will probably cost at least $20 billion a week, or about $1 trillion a year. This doesn't count develoment aid. This sum cannot be borrowed on the international markets without sending interest rates through the roof. A spending reduction of that size would cut the non-military U.S. government in half, requiring very large cuts in Social Securty and near elimination of non-essential spending. A trillion dollars in taxes requires over $3,000 for every man, woman and child in America -- or $12,000 additional taxes for a family of four. However, a lot of people simply don't have that much money, so the middle class could expect a tax increase of a few tens of thousands of dollars per family.

So here's the choices: quagmire, leave, or real sacrifice by everybody, not just the soldiers (for example, Bush's daughters might get drafted and sent to Iraq). The conservative Republicans that control the U.S. government aren't very big on sacrifice. For example, they've cut their own taxes, their children haven't signing up to fight in Iraq, and hardly any of them even fought in Vietnam.

As we found in Vietnam, the only thing worse than fighting a war is losing a war. However, there is no way the U.S. is going to institute the draft, increase taxes by hundreds of billions of dollars, and cut spending by more hundreds of billions. Any political party doing that will lose every election for the next twenty years. It looks like quagmire or leave. Every day of quagmire sends recruits flocking to al Qaeda. It's time to leave.

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