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Iraq ­ How To Win
Without A Victory

Terrell E. Arnold
The counsels of despair are on a rampage; and no matter which sides of the Iraq landscape they scan from, they come out in the same place: We are stuck there; we cannot leave without dire consequences. The consequences of leaving are more dire, they say, than the consequences of staying.
One draws that map in the sands of one's own confusion. No one can draw it in the spaces between the Bush team's so far undefined goals and the illegal war that our forces now fight without either battlefield or game plan.
Bush and his strategists concocted the "Surge" to make it sound as if the US had a clearly defined plan to bring the struggle to a proper military close, meaning victory. Thus, they planned to add 30,000 men and women of undefined military skills and technical support to fight a battle in an undefined place with an enemy who is unlikely to announce either when or where, or for that matter, how, he will strike.  That enemy also is one who seems unpersuaded that he is losing.
Pat Buchanan predicts (July 20: This is How the Empire Ends) that if we accept the futility of the military situation and leave, the result will be a disaster. That, indeed, is the verdict of all who insist that we should stay the course, no matter how we eventually define the course. If we leave, so goes the dire scenario, the present government will fall, and the situation will descend into chaos. The fact that "the government" is not in charge of much of anything anyway does not seem to matter in this calculus. Moreover, most of the sloppy warfare on the Iraqi landscape occurs between various Iraqi dissidents and Coalition forces, but that does not seem to matter much either.
Keeping the Iraqi government from falling-whoever runs it-is not the challenge. Keeping Iraqis from killing each other and US forces in the midst of an American occupation is the problem. Iraq now is ungovernable except at the tribal, religious and ethnic levels that work to keep the factions intact.
The asserted risk that this mayhem will spread if we are not there to contain it is a self-serving piece of fear mongering. If that risk were real, the region would already be in flames, because US forces are obviously too occupied to prevent it, and there are no others prepared to undertake such a witless mission. Moreover, the "stay the course" option says that we can continue to drop hell from the Iraqi skies and play havoc on Iraqi ground, but the chaos is not our fault.
It is time to face reality. We have met the enemy, as Pogo said, and he is us.  It is an arrogant trick to: (1) go into a country uninvited, (2) take down its leadership, (3) destroy its economic and political infrastructure, (4) set up permanent military bases on its soil, (5) wreck its historic sites, (6) turn a soft minority of its people into collaborators,  (7) rig an arrangement to steal its principal resource, (8) imprison or kill the people who fight back, (9) create a diplomatic infrastructure to make it into a vassal state, and (10) expect to make no enemies.
Popular logic on what will happen if we leave is blinding. Pat Buchanan cites all the American bugaboos in his piece: The list of results we have to avoid includes: (a) prevent the Middle East from becoming a safe-haven for terrorists; (b) prevent "sectarian" war from spreading in the Middle East; (c) prevent Iranian regional domination; and (d) limit loss of US credibility. Let us examine the cases.
Prevent the Middle East from becoming a safe-haven for terrorists.  Middle Eastern terrorist groups have existed for decades, but the region does not contain a single country where terrorist/insurgents who show any signs of opposition to their country's oligarchic leadership are safe. The terrorism problem of concern to the US and Israel stems from the fact that various regional governments have supported and protected Palestinian insurgents, or those governments have supported the Palestinian cause. No government has tolerated dissidents who opposed it, and any notion that regional governments will change that posture is unrealistic. Unless the Israelis wake up and stop stealing Palestine from its people, while treating Palestinian spaces as prison camps, some regional pattern of Palestinian terrorism or support for it is likely to continue. Nothing that happens in Iraq is likely to change this situation.
Prevent "sectarian" war from spreading in the Middle East.  The notion here seems to be that by sticking around the United States can hammer the Iraqis into abandoning religious, tribal and ethnic differences that have endured for centuries, while keeping the rest of the Islamic world from falling into that quagmire. This rationale is simply a fiction. The most serious sectarian disturbances in the region right now are products of the United States invasion of Iraq. Meanwhile Israel's 2006 invasion of Lebanon, as unsuccessful as it was, may have ripped a hole in the sectarian peace the Lebanese had achieved after years of fighting. That is unlikely to repair itself because the US continues to occupy Iraq. Other sectarian struggles reflect the slow processes of change in Middle Eastern cultures. The bogeyman of "Islamo-fascism" (invented by the neocons) is at best a propaganda reading of Iraqi resistance to the US occupation. At worst, it is an attempt to ignite a power struggle between east and west to give present US militarism a long term global mission. The United States can abate such risks if it stops picking on Muslims, withdraws from Iraq, and keeps a firm lid on Israel's monopolistic regional power ambitions.
Prevent Iranian regional domination.  This is the worst fiction of the lot. Iran and Iraq for centuries have represented the main centers of Shia Islam, comprising roughly three quarters of the world's Shia Muslims. Two of the most revered Shia shrines, Najaf and Karbala, are in Iraq. Coalition forces and insurgents have brutally pounded them in this war. Minority Shia communities exist in virtually all Muslim countries. Even the leadership of largely Sunni Syria is a Shia sect, the Alawites, who take their name from Mohammed's son-in-law Ali.  The Shia and Sunni segments of Lebanon's population roughly balance each other and collectively form a political plurality. Nothing the West does is likely to disrupt the spiritual roles that Iran and Iraq play in this picture. The major problems the Shia face in most countries are that national elites and governments treat them as underprivileged minorities. Indonesia's rebellious Aceh region is a worst-case example of such problems. How those situations play out country by country is not a matter that either the United States or Iran can direct, nor is it evident that Iran has any desire to undertake it. It is hard to prove that the veneration of Shia for their sacred places poses any more risks to humankind than the veneration of the Vatican by the world's Catholics.
Limit the loss of US credibility.  The credibility of American policies and actions in the Middle East is virtually nil because the United States is out of touch with core regional and global realities. Start with Palestine. Only a blinded fool is unable to see what the Israelis are doing and have done to the Palestinian people, but only a blinder fool can fail to see the effects of totally unbending US support for Israel and relentless US treatment of the Palestinians as subhuman. Move to Iraq where the United States has conducted an unnecessary war, forced five or more permanent US military bases down Iraqi throats, and now plans to rule over a vassal state from the world's largest diplomatic mission. Move to energy resources where the United States behaves as if it must control oil and gas resources, but everybody else must compete in the marketplace for leftovers. Finally look at regional military maneuvers that the US cannot carry out without global consequences; those include rekindling of a global arms race. The rest of the world sensibly treats such moves as signs of the loss of American sanity.
The process of extracting itself from this mess is not nearly as difficult as the neocons and even their Democratic opponents have made out. The first step is to face the truth: The Iraq war is the worst foreign policy mistake the United States has made in its history. Not only has that action changed the world's view of the United States, it may well have destroyed the opportunity presented by the end of the Cold War to end unilateral nation state uses of military force. In the meantime, the world's needs have been changing. World population has passed 6.5 billion people, and it will reach, by conservative counts, 9-10 billion by 2050. We need either to find ways to fairly feed, clothe and house that number or arrive at ways to limit it. Not only are total world resources shrinking, their availability per capita is plummeting. The need for alternative energy resources grows exponentially if we apply any concept of fair use to global consumption habits. Global warming is happening, and it can change the way we are able to live, even if it is not our fault, and even if it only endures for a few generations. In sum, the global quality of life is under increasing stress.
The Iraq war, any war in this climate, only makes the tasks more difficult. Terminating that war and refusing to start any new ones is vital to the future well being of the planet. The uses of weapons of mass destruction in the Iraq war-including depleted uranium and chemical weapons such as phosphorus-have left the Iraqi landscape with multi-millennial recovery problems. US and Israeli threats to use nuclear weapons against Iran can put Iran itself and much of the Middle East and Europe under a cloud of fallout. Such attacks can disrupt or damage the lives of half a billion people.
There is no military victory here. The remedies are a clear list of attainable parts.  (1) Arrange with the United Nations and bolster its capacity to take over the oversight of Iraqi recovery from occupation. (2) Withdraw US and other Coalition forces from Iraq as soon as possible, and that means immediately taking US forces out of Iraq's civil war. (3) Remove actual and nascent US bases from Iraq. (4) Scale the American Embassy colossus back to required norms for the 44th largest country. (5) Start treating the Palestinian people as human beings and implement their historic rights to live peaceably in Palestine. (6) Turn the war on terrorism into a UN-led economic development and law enforcement program to eliminate the distress of minorities in more than a hundred countries. (7) Engage the world community on global warming. (8) Implement existing international agreements on reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons. (8) Begin immediate work on cooperative global systems for allocating access to world resources and for mitigating the impact of scarcity.
Merely announcing serious intent to lead toward achievement of all of these things will cool the global situation. It will announce to the world that the United States has regained its sanity, its self-respect, and its respect for others. That will lower the recruitment prospects of terrorist groups and reduce the creation of new ones. Despite dire opinions to the contrary, such action will sharply cool the situation in Iraq, because it will reduce the pressures exerted on dissident groups to resist the American occupation. The suggested moves involve both creation of a visible tunnel and putting a light at the end of it. That would not be, as some pejoratively put it, "cutting and running." It would be recasting the problem while proposing a workable way out of it.
Such a plan would be a win for everyone involved. It is not a military victory. But in a world where weapons of mass destruction invite worldwide human suicide, a simple win is all we really can afford.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter-Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at <mailto:wecanstopit@charter.net>wecanstopit@charter.net



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