situating the appreciation
I don’t think there’s any doubt that the US has its testicles in the wringer on this one in a very similar fashion to the way it did in Vietnam. To be blunt, the only fortunate difference for the people of the US is that in the absence of a massive Cold War era conscript army, the US military is going to reach the breaking point of its capability to project itself after about 3 years and ten thousand casualties (that is, deaths and injuries) instead of the Vietnam War’s 10+ years and hundreds of thousands of casualties.
So despite President Bush’s broken-record rhetoric to stay the course, I’ve no doubt the push behind the scenes in DC is growing stronger every day to figure out just how to go about getting the hell out of dodge without bringing the US (and global) economy to its knees in the event of an oil-disrupting, protracted civil war.
What went on in Vietnam aside, the US engaged in some fairly indiscriminate bombing of Cambodia between 1969 and 1973, dropping something like half a million tonnes of bombs in the final six months alone. (I’d stop and footnote here, but I’m sorry I just can’t be arsed.) Since the Cambodian government was turning a blind eye, this pushed a lot of Cambodians into the arms of the Khmer Rouge; and we all know where that ended up - fifteen more years of metastasized mayhem and genocide for the region.
The lesson for any region in the world, is that when a gigantic superpower comes to visit, the good china tends to get broken even if they’re trying to play nice. And not just yours, but your neighbours’ too. And in the case of Iraq, US policy has been one of deliberate destabilization – radical democratization – rather than the Vietnam War’s ham-handed attempts to maintain non-communist stability in the South.
There was a very brief period I was back in Canberra before the shit-storm hit in early 2003. I recall nights in late summer around balcony tables with beer, lit only by distant streetlights and the glow of cigarettes, trying to grapple with the idea that the US was going down this course and that Australia was meekly following. I always felt I could make a far less coherent projection of events than many people around me with a much greater appreciation of the problems and the region, but there was one clear thought in my mind even then: this is going to get fucked up in ways that we haven’t even dreamed about yet.
Fast forward to 2005 and despite two years of utter chaos in Iraq, that feeling remains stronger than even before. So with Vietnam, such is the problem once more of US withdrawal from Iraq. The magnitude of the mission means that a casual overstay of 10 years or so, like in Bosnia, is not possible. Therefore substantial withdrawal has to come, be it within 12 months or at most 3 years. And with this vacuum, Iraq has we know it will cease to exist.
The strongest, most coherent elements of the "Iraqi armed forces" are the Kurdish peshmerga. In the south of the country the "Iraqi armed forces" are probably divided in loyalty amongst the anti-Iranian Sistani, the more radical al-Sadr (who, incidentally, just put 100,000 people on the streets to protest against the cobbled-up constitution), and any Sunni elements of the "Iraqi armed forces" are thoroughly penetrated by the insurgency.
The only ones whose primary commitment to the continued existence nation-state of Iraq are the Baathist elements of the insurgency who think they can get back on top, and the factions of the Shi’a (ie SCIRI) who want to keep it together long enough to establish a Iranian style (and Iranian-aligned) Islamic theocracy and incidentally do over the Sunnis once and for all if they can.
At the end of the day, there is no way there is sufficient political intent, or police or military force, both powerful and inclusively nationalist enough that will slow or reverse the descent into fratricidal civil war.
With that in mind, isn't it a good thing the US is making sure that all sides are armed to the hilt before they leave?
Via Billmon, I read this Wall Street Journal article that refers to some of the metrics of the “As the Iraqis stand up, so the US will stand down” Iraqification programme:
Each month, U.S. officers in Iraq compile a five-inch thick book of data measuring the development of Iraqi security forces. With remarkable precision, commanders can say how many assault rifles (177,000), helmets (135,000) and rounds of ammunition (328 million) the Iraqis have received in the past year.
But Gen. McCaffrey also worries that the Pentagon's plan to equip Iraqi forces won't give them enough punch to survive on their own in the long term. He estimated in a post-visit report to Congress that the Iraqi Army needed 120 Black Hawk helicopters, 2,000 armored humvees and 2,000 M113 armored personnel carriers to be effective without U.S. support. "If we want to get out of there we have to make that kind of commitment," Gen. McCaffrey says.
The ethnic and religious factions in Iraq might be about to kick off one of the worst civil wars we’ve seen in a decade, but at least they’ll all be doing it with shiny new guns.
And with such instability (and likely loss of two million barrels at day to the world’s oil supply) within two to five years the US will have to be right back where it has been since 1991: with a huge military garrison presence in Saudi Arabia. To our eyes this is the ultimate guarantor of Saudi stability and with it global oil supply. To other eyes, it’s an infidel military presence in the land of two shrines that, along with the Palestinian issue, gave fuckers like Bin Laden and his associates the blinding fury to carry them across the world and into the lives and bodies of innocent people at six hundred miles an hour.
Look, I am consistently clueless about making calls on way ahead. I don’t bet on sport cos I’m the worst tipper in history. I put my feet on the desk and grinned after Australia thrashed the poms in the first test. If I say (X) is going down then the most likely result in mathematical terms is: not(X). Well we would be in a blessed world if through the actions of a sustained blog rant I could put the bloody mockers on a bloody disaster that has us staring deeper into the hellmouth with each passing day. That would be great and I would love to be wrong.
Nonetheless - or is it therefore? - to sum up all the above:
If you think shit is fucked up now, we ain’t seen nothing yet.