Another Flawed 'National Strategy'


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Since President Bush's speech outlining his "National Strategy for Victory" -- largely a restatement of established strategy -- numerous op/ed pieces have been written describing the progress being made in Iraq, and the increasing chances for a positive outcome. Conservatives point to the large-scale training of Iraqi military forces as a sign of progress, and estimate that US troops will begin to withdraw as soon as Iraqis are able to take over for US forces.

Granting that some notable progress is being made in training these forces -- though many do admit that only one out of 80 battalions is capable of independent operation -- this strategy for "victory" represents a significant lowering of standards. Without raising very many eyebrows, Bush has managed to change the conditions for victory in Iraq from the creation of a stable and thriving democracy to merely transferring responsibility for the war to the Iraqi people.

This strategy is of course better than attempting to stamp out all violence through brute force, since the removal of US troops from the country will do a great deal to weaken the insurgency. What this ignores, however, is the numerous sectarian and religious divisions plaguing the country, and the effects of these divisions on Iraqi society upon departure of US forces. This strategy merely glosses over the deep-seated problems with making a democracy out of Iraq , and seeks to impose order and unity through military strength -- a strategy that is bound to lose.

In the worst case, such an approach could lead to civil war as warring factions (split between the Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites) vie for control of Iraq 's oil (or even independence in the case of the Kurds) in the absence of US forces. The best case is a tenuous unity enforced by whoever controls the strongest militias or the majority of the newly-trained Iraqi army. What is certain, though, is that large portions of the Kurdish and Sunni Iraqi population will resist any strong, centralized Shiite control. Neither situation will provide any freedom to the people of Iraq , and both make the ascension of a dictatorial regime more than a remote possibility.

As the abstraction of its former British colonizers, the territory of Iraq has no shared cultural or ethnic identity and more than enough differences to make a monolithic, thriving Iraqi democracy all but impossible without a dictator such as Saddam to impose such unity. The new constitution will be only as powerful as those who choose to back it, and unless large concessions are made to the minority populations in Iraq , the nation could easily split along sectarian lines.

The wild optimism that has characterized supporters of the war lately will no doubt be cast aside in the near future as it meets the difficulties of reality. Despite the happy-go-lucky rhetoric of Republicans, the insurgency has showed no signs of weakness and little sign of slowing any time soon. There has been hopeful success in training Iraqi forces to work against the insurgency. However, the same problems that have plagued Iraqi forces (defections, insurgent infiltration, ineptitude) will not disappear just because they are not acknowledged by opinion writers. Also, as American forces have learned well, having superior numbers does little to ensure victory against guerrilla insurgents.

The bad news is that there is little America can do to alleviate the significant rifts in Iraqi society. The good news is that much of the violence currently plaguing the nation very well may disappear once US troops are removed from the equation. The real hope for Iraq is to withdraw American troops as quickly as possible so as to remove the driving force for the insurgency, and then to encourage inclusive political institutions to work against the alienation of the minority groups who are feeding the insurgency. No matter how massive the Iraqi army becomes before America 's departure, it will be incapable of crushing the insurgency -- just as the vastly superior American forces have been -- if the underlying causes are not addressed.

It remains to be seen if the insurgency will dissolve immediately upon withdrawal of American forces, or if sectarian tensions will continue to feed the violence. If the insurgency does in fact remain strong, and if the elements of the population who support the insurgency see no political alternative to violence, they will continue to fight against what they view as control by an American puppet regime, a situation little better than occupation by American forces. If the insurgency falls apart in the absence of the American occupying force, however, the Iraqi army will have been unnecessary and may even prove to be destablizing, depending on who comes to control it.

The building up of a massive Iraqi force is nothing more than a ploy by Bush to save face: the new Iraqi army will either be unnecessary as the insurgency dissolves or will prove just as ineffective as America 's forces in fighting a guerrilla war. All this strategy will achieve is to disguise the withdrawal of US forces as a "transfer" to Iraqi forces so that any resultant stability can be touted by Bush and any failures blamed on the people of Iraq . America would better serve the interests of Iraqis by pulling out before more damage is done and letting the people of Iraq work for peace independent of the deadly machinations of Bush's out-of-control administration.

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Dan Olson's picture
Columns on STR: 5

Dan Olson is a student of philosophy and political science in New York City, originally from the Midwest. He is an avid reader of everything from Rothbard to Debord to Nietzsche, and his political views can be readily summed up (to steal a fellow libertarian's catch-phrase) as "anti-state, anti-war, and pro-market."