Saturday, January 13, 2007

Analyzing the Bush speech

Several valuable analysis I've seen:

  • Anthony Cordesman senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington in the New York Times. This is an interactive analysis. Scroll through Bush's speech, click on the highlighted sections, and read Cordesman's comments.
  • Martin Thomas of the UK's left-wing Alliance for Worker's Liberty "Bush Blunders Towards More Bloodshed in Iraq"

George W Bush's "new policy" in Iraq is a recipe for more bloodshed on the lines of the assault on Fallujah in November 2004 - but also, so it seems more and more, a botched compromise which makes no sense from any angle at all.

Bush's basic line - a "surge" of 20,000 more US troops into Iraq, raising the numbers there to the highest level since 2003 - comes from right-wing wonks Jack Keane and Fred Kagan, the sort of people who believe that the USA could have won the Vietnam war with "one more push".

But Keane and Kagan have written: "Bringing security to Baghdad - the essential precondition for political compromise, national reconciliation and economic development - is possible only with a surge of at least 30,000 combat troops lasting 18 months or so. Any other option is likely to fail..." - in fact, in their view, to make things worse. (Washington Post, 27 December 2006).

What Keane and Kagan see as needing at least 30,000 more combat troops - a nearly 50% increase on the 70,000 combat troops (140,000 total) currently in Iraq - is much more limited than Bush's stated objectives with his smaller "surge".

...using US withdrawal as a threat to make Maliki shape up is stupid, and not only because Bush obviously has no intention of carrying out the threat. The collapse of the Maliki government would trouble the government ministers much less than it would trouble the USA. The government ministers would mostly flee back to London, or some other city of exile, or retreat to an area of Iraq securely under their (Shia or Kurdish) control. The USA would be left with one of the world's most pivotal regions, the oil-rich Gulf, convulsed in all-out war and chaos.

And the workers and the peoples of Iraq? They lose out either way. Their only hope is the emergence of a secular and democratic pole within Iraqi politics, led by the labour movement, which can fight both the US/UK and the sectarian militias. Our duty is solidarity with the much-harassed Iraqi labour movement trying to do that.

Far from making the United States stronger, Bush’s policies have dissipated American power. In his speech, the president suggested that if the United States failed in Iraq, Iran would be emboldened. But Iran has obviously already been emboldened because its leaders believe that an America mired in Iraq can make only empty threats.
To use power ineffectually is to destroy it.
  • Paul Rogers (Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University and is openDemocracy’s International Security Editor)

the continuing presence of 140,000 US troops (and now, after Bush's speech of 10 January, quite probably 20,000-30,000 more) for years to come is an unbelievable "gift" to the al-Qaida movement, presenting the far enemy to them on what is, to a large extent, home territory (see Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, "The dividends of asymmetry: al-Qaida's evolving strategy", 18 December 2006).

Iraq is already providing a first-rate jihadi combat training-zone and, from an al-Qaida perspective, this is without any risk of changing. They (and many western analysts) simply do not believe that the United States can win in Iraq. Therefore, the longer it loses the better. In light of the fact that al-Qaida deals in decades, it has the prospect of decades of training for jihadi cohorts.

The latest US "strategy" for Iraq, a small increase in manpower focused on controlling sections of Baghdad, has generated substantial debate/commentary in the US. The reason for this has vastly more to do with domestic political issues than anything substantive in the military sphere. To wit, almost nothing in the current plan -- from troops to tactics -- has changed in any meaningful way. Further, the general situation of country-wide chaos will not change due to any efforts to pacify select Baghdad neighborhoods ...

Of course, the failure of these periodic efforts may be due to an inability to revisit a key assumption upon which the present US effort is based: that strong states tend to form naturally if provided the right minimalist conditions. I believe the opposite is true: that states, once broken, tend to remain hollow and in perpetual failure. The reason is that in the current environment minimalist conditions yield social disintegration.
The Power and Interest News Report

With U.S. President George W. Bush's new Iraq strategy unveiled, it is clear that the administration is running out of options. The "surge" policy that will now be implemented is an attempt to somewhat stabilize the situation in Baghdad. This is the most that the new policy can hope for -- temporary stabilization -- because a surge in troops does little to address the issues that are fomenting the insurgency. Once the surplus soldiers are called back, or once the insurgents adapt to the increased numbers, attacks will escalate again and Washington will be in the same position that it is in now.

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