Sunday, June 05, 2005

Winning the war?

This is one of those wars in which the measures of success are slippery. Everyone can pick some stats to support their preferred view. The truth can be complex.

The Washington Institute has as assessment. As you might imagine it's a mixed bag. It's not the "success is just around the corner" story you hear from the rose garden. But slow (yet inadequate) progress is being made.
Insurgent Accomplishments: A Balance Sheet

What progress have the insurgents made toward achieving their short-term objectives? They have:

• Succeeded, through consent or intimidation, in establishing themselves as a major—if not the dominant—force in the Sunni Triangle, shaping political values and public morals in large parts of this region.

• Deterred many residents of the Sunni Triangle from working in the new government. Many local councils in that area no longer function, and some ISF units have collapsed under pressure of threats and attacks.

• Complicated, but not undermined, the political transition. Every milestone in the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) has been met, and successful elections were held in January. Yet, the insurgent-inspired election boycott in the Sunni Triangle will significantly complicate the transition.

• Contributed to the slow pace of reconstruction in many areas and deterred foreign investors. High unemployment provides a pool of recruits for the insurgency, though it also ensures recruits for the ISF.

• Contributed to the past or upcoming departure of several coalition contingents. U.S. resolve, however, remains firm, even though public opinion polls show dissatisfaction with the war and its handling.

• Failed to make the U.S. presence intolerable for most Iraqis. Many Shiites and Sunnis still grudgingly accept the U.S. presence as necessary to stave off chaos or civil war; some tolerate it because they believe it is essential to a successful political transition.

• Failed to attract large numbers of jihadists from around the Muslim world or foment sectarian strife (though they may yet succeed in achieving this last objective).

Most significantly, the insurgents have failed to obstruct the political transition or halt efforts to recruit, train, and equip the ISF. Hence, there is reason to believe that the insurgency will be unable to prevent the Iraqi government from discharging its principal transitional responsibilities (governance, security, drafting a constitution). The insurgency remains a major force in the Sunni Triangle, however; if it can effectively play the role of spoiler, it may yet succeed in sowing chaos and thwarting the political transition. Alternatively, it may create conditions whereby oppositionist Sunni Arabs can participate in the new political order.

Measures of Strategic Success

In light of the aforementioned considerations, what analytical measures can be used to gauge the success of the insurgents in achieving their strategic objectives?

• Continued low levels of Sunni Arab participation in Iraqi government activities, alongside high levels of public support for the resistance. It would be important to ascertain whether these factors are due mainly to insurgent intimidation, popular estrangement from the government, or genuine popular support for the resistance.

• Repeated failure by the Iraqi government to meet various milestones set forth in the TAL (e.g., drafting a constitution, electing a permanent government) as a result of Sunni Arab obstructionism. Such a development could undermine confidence in the efficacy of current arrangements for governance.

• Inability of the ISF to meet recruiting goals outside mainly Sunni Arab areas; rampant absenteeism and desertion among ISF personnel; or the growth of tribal and party militias due to lack of confidence in the ISF.

• Popular disillusionment with the political process (measured by polling data), which could eventually render the coalition presence politically untenable.

• Low confidence in the effectiveness of the ISF and a lack of identification with the Iraqi government (measured by polling data), resulting in low levels of political participation and a refusal to cooperate with Iraqi authorities.

• Incidents of sectarian violence by Iraqis acting without the prompting of insurgent groups or provocateurs, deriving from conflicts over mundane, ostensibly nonpolitical matters.

For now, survival is the paramount objective of the insurgents, although their lack of success thus far in disrupting the political transition is a major setback for them. Unless the insurgents seek merely to sow death and destruction, success will likely hinge on their ability to set the conditions for the entry of Sunni Arab oppositionists into politics, to either continue the struggle via legitimate means or subvert the Iraqi government. This process of co-optation appears to have already begun, albeit on a limited scale. As for the Iraqi government, any effort to devise measures of success for the current phase of the counterinsurgency must begin by identifying the necessary and sufficient conditions for a solution that isolates diehard insurgents (so they may be hunted down and killed), neutralizes the remainder (e.g., by offers of amnesty), and co-opts pragmatic Sunni Arab oppositionists. Then, measures for gauging progress toward fulfillment of these conditions can be formulated.
In order to make things better the loyal opposition needs to articulate a clear position. It should include

1. A clear admission that as bad as Saddam was the invasion was not justified. The United States has offended the international community in general and the people of Iraq in particular.

2. A solid date for the exit of US troops. After that date Iraq will be on its own to determine its own fate. Help can be solicited from other nations if needed but we will be out. We must make it clear that we have no designs on permanent bases.

3. All American corporations will relinquish their favored economic positions in the country and all major contracts will be rebid with the legitimate Iraqi authorities with American companies on an equal footing with other competitors.

4. An appropriate system of reparations and compensation for the citizens of Iraq from the US will be set up an adjudicated by an appropriate international body such as the UN.

All kinds of scary things could happen in the vacuum left by departing American forces and influence. But no Iraqi government can merit the respect of its people as long as it is shored up by invaders and occupiers. The people of Iraq are going to have to get their act together without the US. One hopes that some non-combatant countries can step up and lend Iraq a hand.

This war was lost from the day it was launched because there was no good idea of what success entailed. The best way we can honor those who have been harmed or destroyed by it is to start doing the right thing now. Unfortunately those currently in power in this country have a strongly warped sense of what honor really is.

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