Saturday, May 08, 2004

"To Win the Peace, We Must 'Lose' the War"

An interesting approach to cleaning up the MESS triggered by Bushites when they dragged our nation into an UNprovoked war:

"America does not have the extra hundred thousand ground troops for a security regime that could last a decade. Worse, the very presence of American troops, especially troops cooperating with certain Iraqis against others, deepens the already deep cleavages in Iraqi society. As long as heavily armed American soldiers have the ultimate say, Iraqis will never develop the sense of unity and responsibility necessary to a viable state. And without that unity America is trapped in Iraq by the specter of civil war."

Wash Post - Sunday, May 9, 2004

A Sorry State
To Win the Peace, We Must 'Lose' the War -
Find a Credible Iraqi Leader, and Hand Him Victory By John Brady Kiesling

The deadliest illusion about warfare is that the aim of war is military victory. The true aim of war is to accomplish the political, economic or security goals for which it was fought. In a war competently waged for rational ends, one could rationally expect that America's aims would best be achieved through dominance on the battlefield followed by the dignified establishment of a new and better order. But in a war like the one in Iraq, which is based on assumptions since proven false, we cannot win by being victorious.

Any selfish motives aside, America's war aim remains the creation of a viable Iraqi state. Ideally, that state would serve as a democratic model to its repressive neighbors, but at a minimum American interests require that the new Iraqi state not harbor terrorists or pose a threat to its neighbors; that it renounce nuclear weapons, long-range missiles and nerve gas; and that it exercise an effective monopoly on violence within its own territory.

My resignation from the U.S. Foreign Service in February 2003 was driven by my conviction that this minimum aim was unachievable. I was certain that the Iraq of 2004 would bear no resemblance to the Germany or Japan of 1946. Long before the publication of the awful photos from Abu Ghraib, we Americans lacked the legitimacy in the eyes of the Islamic world to be accepted as liberators rather than occupiers. Nor did we possess any magic toolbox of democracy-building to substitute for the slow, bloody evolution of democracies elsewhere. There was no external enemy -- no Red Army at the gates -- to validate us as the lesser of two evils. Iraq's internal schisms were too deep for quick fixes, and the highly touted Iraqi George Washingtons who trailed behind our tanks were irrelevant or fraudulent.

But now we seem stuck. If we hand over power to an Iraqi government on June 30, we doom it from the outset. Legitimacy is the missing link -- that moral/social capital that causes a population to obey authority by instinct rather than compulsion. America's democratic legitimacy stops at our borders. We cannot bestow legitimacy, nor can the United Nations, acting on our behalf. Iraq's own sources of legitimacy will not suffice. Elections have always been rigged in Iraq. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's divine mantle does not cover the Sunnis or Kurds, or even all Shiites. Iraq's hereditary rulers long ago lost their hold. Tribal authority is precisely that. And there is no outside threat to rally Iraqi nationalism.

If America declares victory and brings its troops home, it leaves behind a government whose orders will not be obeyed. Instead a disparate group of chieftains draws legitimacy from a well of violence that may never run dry. Either Iraq will become like Afghanistan, a perilous mosaic of rival tribal principalities, a permanent refuge and breeding ground for terror, or else Sunni-Shiite unity will be forged in a brutal civil war. America was ultimately the better for its own civil war, but we did not enjoy the experience. Even before the blood dried, the displaced and angry losers of Iraq's civil war would be cannon fodder for a new jihad against the America that betrayed them.

And yet, is President Bush's decision to stay the course really the only alternative to marching out? L. Paul Bremer, administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, calculates that a U.N.-brokered Iraqi government that ensures enough security and prosperity will be tolerated by the population. If America puts enough troops on the ground, perhaps twice the number we have now, with better intelligence and more restraint, we can impose a basic level of security. With huge cash subsidies, we can sustain prosperity. But the new government's authority will be challenged, somewhere. The Iraqi forces we have trained will remain unwilling to shoot fellow Iraqis. The moment American forces intervene, the new government will be written off as illegitimate. It will share the failure of its failed predecessor, the Governing Council -- a weak, disunited group permanently dependent on U.S. protection.

America does not have the extra hundred thousand ground troops for a security regime that could last a decade. Worse, the very presence of American troops, especially troops cooperating with certain Iraqis against others, deepens the already deep cleavages in Iraqi society. As long as heavily armed American soldiers have the ultimate say, Iraqis will never develop the sense of unity and responsibility necessary to a viable state. And without that unity America is trapped in Iraq by the specter of civil war.

Is this situation hopeless? Not quite. The uprising of radical Shiite Moqtada Sadr and his militia, an uprising that briefly unified Sunni and Shiite insurgencies in opposition to the United States, points the way forward. Our goal is a legitimate Iraqi state. Resistance to the United States turned Sadr from a scruffy mediocrity into a national figure. The struggle against foreign occupation can generate the legitimacy needed to hold Iraq together. A leader who drives the Americans out can claim the loyalty of enough of the Iraqi people to govern Iraq by methods more acceptable than Saddam Hussein's.

To achieve its vital war aims, in other words, America must abandon its dream of victory and accept the appearance of defeat. What does this mean in practice? Quite simply, the United States must take a cold, analytical look at the forces arrayed against us in Iraq and decide which leader should be allowed the glorious destiny of redeeming his country from foreign occupation. Once the United States has fixed on a credible resistance leader, our goal should be to cede him tactical, positional victories while denying them to his competitors. The U.S. military might be able to find and disable any resistance large enough to be a military threat, but this leader's movement we should allow to grow. We should open a communications channel, and enforce a set of rules to limit the battlefield and minimize casualties.

Success breeds success. Iraqis will quickly rally to any leader associated with our retreat. We should strive to become invisible, while our foe takes on responsibility for the security Iraqis have learned to value more than freedom. When the time comes, we will pull out completely, and an Iraqi leader will enter Baghdad in triumph, greeted with the flowers our troops never received. He will be the one to invite in the U.N. reconstruction effort. He will be able to guarantee the security to reconstruction teams that the U.S. military could not.

There are plenty of difficulties with this scenario: The president may not be brave enough to admit defeat, even a nominal defeat that ensures our key aims and stanches the hemorrhage of lives and treasure. Moreover, the Kurds will not be impressed by any savior from outside Kurdistan, so Turkish threats and U.S. promises will be needed to keep the Kurds within a federal Iraqi state. And no U.S. Congress would willingly appropriate reconstruction money for a country that defeated us, no matter what we promised the Iraqi people.

Accepting this leader will be a bitter pill for us to swallow. We may hit upon a dynamic nonsectarian figure to lead Iraq, a genuine Iraqi patriot, but we cannot hope that he will be pro-Western. Perhaps there is indeed a budding George Washington who will refuse the kingship a grateful Iraqi people would offer. More likely we will end up with a reasonably popular despot. But we cannot dictate a system, only promote a leader. If we prefer not to choose, the choice will be made by our foes.

The alternative to virtual defeat is real defeat. The stakes for the various Iraqi factions are much higher than they are for us, and they will wait us out. Once we leave, whether tomorrow or in 10 years, the resulting failed Iraqi state will be not simply a reproach to American competence, but a danger to the whole planet. And Iraq will fail unless we validate a credible leadership and a new national myth.

The good news is that America is strong enough and rich enough that we do not have to insist on victory at all costs. The "domino effect" is a myth that Vietnam debunked. Though America's good sense and good intentions are fiercely debated around the world, American power is not in any doubt. By acknowledging the obvious -- that we are not absolutely omnipotent -- we actually make ourselves safer. We encourage our partners to increase their share of the burden, and we wean the Middle East and other repressive regions away from the psychopathology of blaming the United States for their own stagnation.

Victory imposes on the victors an obligation of magnanimity. A victorious and confident Iraqi state will find it far easier to welcome the role of the United Nations and even the United States in rebuilding the country. A victorious state -- Vietnam after 1975, for example -- has no interest in exporting terrorism. A defeated state is far more dangerous in its resentment.

America's reluctance to make difficult policy decisions will probably doom us to a decade of pointless losses in Iraq. There is an alternative: Not to cut and run, but to fight with honorable cunning and to lose. Let us see whether President Bush is brave enough to finish what he started, in the only way that might, ultimately, leave America a little safer than before he took office.

John Brady Kiesling is a visiting lecturer at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School and Hellenic Studies Program. He spent 20 years in the U.S. Foreign Service before resigning in protest on the eve of the war in Iraq.


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