December 26, 2004

It's All About Iraq

Don't miss Reuel Marc Gerecht's article "The Struggle for the Middle East". He looks at our strategy in Iraq, our options for dealing with Iran, and the issues in the broader Middle East including the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and recommends a course for U.S. foreign policy in all three situations.

I'm not put at ease by reading Gerecht's evaluations and suggestions, because the picture he paints is anything but rosy. But I always come away from his writing better informed and impressed with his command of the issues. At bottom, he says it all comes down to winning in Iraq, because if we let Iraq descend into chaos, we lose the whole ballgame. In order to get it right in Iraq, Gerecht says we must immediately recognize and remedy two glaring problems:

Senior officials, particularly within the Pentagon, ought now to be waking up each morning and telling themselves that the United States may well lose in Iraq in the next 6 to 12 months unless serious course corrections are made...

...The Bush administration ought to admit to itself two obvious facts. First, we are losing the "war of the roads" in Iraq. If the Sunni insurgency controls the principal arteries in and out of Baghdad and can kill with ease on major thoroughfares elsewhere, there is no way the United States and its Iraqi allies can win a counterinsurgency campaign in the country's heartland.

...Clearing the roads adequately, which means suppressing the occasional bombings, brigandage, and assassinations, really has nothing to do with "standing up" Iraqi security forces. If there is one kind of military operation that does not require much local knowledge, it's undertaking roadblocks, observation posts, and ground and air patrols. The military personnel required to perform this function 24/7 isn't small, but it is certainly within the capabilities of forces already present in Iraq if the Pentagon so chose to allocate these resources. It beggars the mind to believe that the U.S. military cannot deploy sufficient forces to secure the highway between Baghdad and the capital's international airport.

...Second obvious fact: The government of Ayad Allawi has failed. It is possible that Allawi and his list of candidates will do well enough in the January 30 elections to remain a force in Iraqi politics. The power of incumbency--the qa'id factor of Arab politics--is real, even in Iraq where the status quo isn't an electoral strength. The United States will, however, be enormously fortunate--even though many within the American government, particularly within the State Department and the Clandestine Service of the CIA, strenuously argue the opposite--if Allawi flames out in the elections, and the "Shiite list" backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's preeminent divine, the rabble-rouser Moktada al-Sadr, and Ahmad Chalabi proves overwhelmingly triumphant.

Posted by dan at December 26, 2004 11:41 PM