Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Two Must-Reads by Kagan on Iraq

Posting has been light the last couple of days, as I've been digesting a number of articles. Two have risen to the top (rather an unattractive image, given my previous sentence), and I very much encourage you to read them through.

The first, Why Iraq Matters, via NRO, is a point-by-point dissection of the "anti-war" crowd's cherished chestnuts about why OIF is pointless, doomed, too expensive, none of our business, and other constant canards. It is a devastating deconstruction of the Left's (and Paleoconservative Right's) dominant narratives in favor of disengagement from Iraq, revealing their strategic, economic, and moral indefensibility with Kagan's characteristic clarity and muted snark. To wit:

We will consider below just how much of a diversion of resources away from more desirable domestic priorities the Iraq war actually is, but the more important point is simply this: Unless the advocates of defeat can show, as they have not yet done, that the consequences of losing are very likely to be small not simply the day after the last American leaves Iraq, but over the next five, ten, and 50 years, then what they are really selling is short-term relief in exchange for long-term pain. As drug addicts can attest, this kind of instant-gratification temptation is very seductive — it’s what keeps drug dealers in business despite the terrible damage their products do to their customers. “Just end the pain now and deal with the future when it gets here” is as bad a strategy for a great nation as it is for a teenager.

Indeed. This is why I always place "anti-war" in quotes: the advocates for precipitous withdrawal from Iraq have consistently failed to demonstrate that our "redeployment" will do anything more than remove (temporarily!) American forces from the still-dodgy but increasingly promising landscape of Iraq. The resultant power vacuum will present an irresistible opportunity for Iran to make a play for cementing its hegemony in the region despite the very deep and fundamentally irreconcilable differences between the Najaf (Quietist Arab Iraqi) and Qom (Political Persian Iranian) schools of Shia Islam. Naturally, the neighboring Sunni nations will feel the need to escalate their deterrent forces in response. The resultant proxy wars, I think it safe to say, will not benefit from the responsible Rules Of Engagement which restrain the behaviors of Coalition Forces in-theater now. Building a stable, prosperous, peaceful, democratic Iraq will most decidedly not be high on the agendas of the actors who will flood into the niches vacated by our forces, should they be yanked from the scene before the concrete we have been so carefully (if at times unevenly) pouring has a chance to set.

Try to imagine the choice which a Democratic President will face as the hard-won gains in Iraq crumble then collapse, and the specter of total chaos looms larger in the lands bounding the Persian Gulf. As oil prices spike, vicious hot wars flare, humanitarian catastrophes mount, and former allies are systematically butchered, there really will be no option but to send forces back into a situation that will have spiraled to levels of mayhem which make Anbar Province in 2005 look like downtown Detroit...OK, bad example. "Anti-war" should be read as code for "much worse war, punted downfield." With claymores mounted on the goal-posts. And snipers in the stands.

So, then, given that the fantasies of Utopian outcomes following retreat from Iraq are (to put it very, very charitably) empty, what then should we be looking for as indications that our continued presence in Iraq is yielding the sort of fruit which will make the agonizingly costly and chronically embattled endeavor worthwhile? Kagan provides some very tangible examples in the second article to which I direct your attention, pithily entitled "How Will We Know When We've Won: A Definition of Success in Iraq" (via Iraq Status Report and The Weekly Standard). Here, Kagan's task is to go through the various metrics which have emerged to assess the degree to which OIF has been successful in Iraq, and to compare those metrics against the actual conditions on the ground. He set out to show that Iraq is on its way to becoming a stable, representative state which controls its territory, is oriented toward the West, and is an ally in the struggle against militant Islamism.

On the matter of stability, it is shown that the extent of territory currently held by insurgents and terrorists (both Sunni and Shia) has been steadily giving way to that controlled by legitimate Iraqi and Coalition forces. One of the measures of this is the drop in violence in the contested areas, which he correctly points out "tend to be peaceful both when government forces control them completely and when insurgents control them completely. Violence can drop either because the government is winning or because insurgents are consolidating their gains." Point well-taken (though I am not as confident that 'insurgent-' controlled areas would tend to be especially peaceable). Reading through Kagan's examples, however, it is hard to conclude that it is not the Iraqi Government which is progressively gaining ground against 'Anti-Iraqi Forces.'

As to the recent actions by Iraqi Security Forces in Basra and environs, one could see these as the exception that proves the rule; here, a short-term uptick in violence is the result of the long-overdue assertion of legitimate government control over areas hitherto held by assorted gangs of Shiite thugs owing various degrees of allegiance to Moqtada al-Sadr and the operatives of Tehran. Here, it must be emphasized, the predominantly Shiite government launched an offensive against Shiite militias, effectively putting the lie to accusations that Baghdad's government was evolving into a Shiite-and-Kurd-only club. This, apparently, was enough for a bloc of Sunni politicians to declare their intention to rejoin the government after walking out in protest last year, and so to pave the way toward still more meaningful political reconciliation ahead of provincial elections this Fall.

I could go on. Kagan, however, lays out his case quite clearly and convincingly enough on his own. Still, there is one point I feel I should emphasize:

An ally in the war on terror. Al Qaeda has killed many more Iraqis than Americans. Iraq has eight army divisions--around 80,000 troops--now in the fight against al Qaeda, and another three--around 45,000 troops--in the fight against Shia extremists. Tens of thousands of Iraqi police and National Police are also in the fight. Thus, there are far more Iraqis fighting al Qaeda and Shia militias in Iraq than there are American troops there. Easily ten times as many Iraqi as Pakistani troops are fighting our common enemies. At least three times as many Iraqi soldiers and police as Afghan soldiers and police are in the fight. And many times more Iraqi troops are engaged in the war on terror than those of any other American ally. In terms of manpower engaged, and sacrifice of life and limb, Iraq is already by far America's best ally in the war on terror.

I am stubbornly confident that future scholars (honest ones, anyway..... it could happen) will look back on a curious historical irony. They will marvel that the long-suffering people of Iraq, in their struggle to achieve liberty and self-determination, should turn out to have been stauncher allies by far in our war against fanatical tyrants than many members of an American political party with the temerity to call itself "Democratic."

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