Tuesday, May 31, 2011

“America has baked Iraq like a cake, and given it to Iran to eat.”

Those words were spoken to journalist/blogger Matt Duss by an Iraqi interlocutor more than two years ago (as remembered by Ben Armbruster at Wonk Room a few days ago).  Evidently, as the US prepares to pull its last troops out of Iraq, both the Pentagon and the neocon set are taking those words to heart, trying to make the case for Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki to (pretty please) ask the US to stick around. 

Departing Sec Def Robert Gates, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute a few days ago, touted the benefits of a possible extended US military presence there as comforting to Gulf countries, but certainly not to Iraq.  (And by the way, for an informed critical take on Gates' DoD stewardship, see this incisive essay from Paul Pillar at The National Interest.)

And from that same AEI comes a meant-to-frighten report, authored by mega-hawk Fred Kagan (and heartily seconded as a must-read by Max Boot at Commentary) - a "threat assessment" of Iraq that paints the grimmest of pictures:
The Iraqi Security Forces will not be able to defend Iraq’s sovereignty, maintain its independence from Iran, or ensure Iraq’s internal stability without American assistance, including some ground forces in Iraq, for a number of years. The absence of a US strategic partnership with and military presence in Iraq will weaken the Iraqi military and could lead to the breakdown of internal security and political gains, which in turn could cause renewed communal conflict and the reemergence of militant Islamist groups. Iran’s use of proxy military groups poses the most immediate and serious threat to Iraqi security. Combined with Iran’s conventional, particularly missile, threat, the current military balance pitting Iraq by itself against Iran gives Tehran military dominance at every level of escalation.

Say they, Iraq has no chance against Iran unless the US sticks around.  Problem is, as Armbruster notes, Iran's not going anywhere, ever - which means that the US might be needed for a long time, as in, indefinitely.  It's difficult to see how the American public will buy into that, no matter how much the Israelis might like to see the US stay as an insurance policy against Iran.

In the minds of the Iraqi government, though, Iran's intentions may seem like smallish potatoes, given the other troubles heaped on its plate:
  • The Kuwaiti government is playing hardball with the Iraqis over control of Gulf trade (as it moves ahead with its new Mubarak port on Bubiyan Island), and over the issue of unpaid reparations from Saddam's occupation of Kuwait in 1990.  Kuwait has seized the assets of Iraq's airline in Jordan to force payment, and Iraq is also going to become even more vulnerable to reparations claims when the fund that the US established to help pay for reconstruction is terminated in July, at which time the US's shielding of Iraq's revenues from such claims will end.
  • Iraq is entering yet another long summer with woefully inadequate electricity-generator capacity for people to run air-conditioners and weather the heat.  As a stop-gap against public anger bubbling over uncontrollably, the government has taken action, declaring that it "will provide free fuel to power generators nationwide throughout the scorching summer. . . to try to head off another wave of protests over poor electricity supplies.  A government spokesman said $400 million had been allocated for the scheme, but officials admitted that no reliable estimates existed for how much oil would be required, and a study would have to be carried out to provide such data."  The study will be conducted, how soon?  This has failure written all over it.
  • Perhaps to put some distance between his reputation and this looming failure, Iraqi vice-president Adel Abdul Mahdi, reputed to be one of Iraq's more respected politicians, has announced his resignation.  It's perhaps important to note here that he was affiliated with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), a Shii religious party that has been a long-time rival of al-Maliki's party, the Shii religious party Da'wa.  But whatever Mr. Mahdi's motives, his resignation certainly accentuates the continuing disorganized, incomplete character of Maliki's government, which, several months after coming to power, still has no permanently appointed heads for its major security ministries.  (Mr. Maliki still holds them.)
Meanwhile, bombings and assassinations are rife, as are Arab-Kurd tensions in the north and around Kirkuk.  And the division and allocation of oil revenues have yet to be worked out.

Nonetheless, the Kagans, Boots, McCains, Liebermans, and Grahams of the US establishment are almost desperate to somehow cajole Maliki into asking the US to stay beyond 2011.  In the days ahead, be ready to hear more cant about the dangers of the US losing Iraq, squandering victory, rendering vain the US's sacrifices of blood and treasure. 

But to fortify yourself, and as we usher out yet another Memorial Day weekend, during which we take time to honor America's war dead, heed these comments from Paul Pillar (again, at The National Interest):
there is a much-repeated pattern of entire populations at war treating past losses as an investment that must be stuck to in a dead-shall-not-have-died-in-vain way. This is a matter of collective psychology and reduction of national dissonance, not sober pursuit of national interests. In fact, all that “investment” consists of sunk costs. Nothing that happens in Iraq from this day forward will bring back to life the more than 4400 U.S. service members who have died there, or make whole the many thousands more who are permanently disabled either physically or emotionally, or repay the hundreds of billions of dollars that the United States has spent on the war. The proper policy perspective is to weigh whatever incremental benefit is to be gained against the additional costs—human, material, and political—from staying in Iraq.

At this juncture of Iraq's history, the incremental benefits for the US of staying in Iraq would be paltry, at best.  But at this juncture of the US's history - with roads and bridges crumbling, schools failing, medical costs skyrocketing, millions jobless or homeless - we can ill afford to sustain any additional costs whatsoever from a war that has already cost too much, and inflicted too much pain and human misery.

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