In reading up about energy, I’ve spent a bunch of time over at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (www.csis.org) – a Washington-based think tank with some apparent connections to conservative Democrats. I find their work interesting, and while I don’t know them or their biases enough to decide where I stand relative to them, I do think they are looking at the right issues.
In browsing around, I found an interesting paper on Iraq that echoes a number of my thoughts about the war, by Anthony Cordesman, called “Iraq, Too Uncertain To Call” (pdf). Here are a couple of quotes. It opens:
There is a tendency to see the situation in Iraq either in terms of inevitable victory or inevitable defeat, or to polarize an assessment on the basis of political attitudes towards the war. In practice, Iraq seems to be a remarkably fluid and dynamic situation field with uncertainties that dominate both the present and the future.
A visit to Iraq makes it clear that no one is really a current expert on this country. Too much is changing. Even if most prewar statistics had been valid, they would not be valid now. The security situation is evolving by the day. The local and provincial leadership elites are in a state of flux, and the Governing Council is deeply divided and has not yet taken hold in terms of winning popular support. The economic situation may be improving in broad terms, but the day-to-day of ordinary Iraqis varies sharply by area and by individual, and much of the aid program is just beginning to take hold.
More broadly, political, economic, social and military forces have been unleashed by the fall of Saddam Hussein that are only beginning to play out and which will take years to have their full effect. No Iraqi can credibly predict the end result, much less an outsider. In fact, trying to understand the uncertainties at work is probably far more important than trying to make assessments and predictions which cannot be based on past knowledge, current facts, or stable trends.
The US can, however, also lose for internal and political reasons, and these may prove to be as much, or more of a threat. The ways the US could lose are:
–A popular perception in the US that the war after the war is pointless, casualties and costs are too high, and nation building cannot succeed. So far, the Administration is preparing for such a defeat by underplaying the risks, issuing provocative and jingoistic speeches, and minimizing real-world costs and risks. The weakness of the Governing Council, a failure to convince the Iraqi’s that the US is committed to a true and early end to occupation, and a failure to communicate the scale and future impact of the US aid effort, currently increase the risks.
Grand strategy is the key to victory, and victory or defeat is tied as much to politics as to warfighting. This means the Bush Administration faces some hard choices. It seems very unlikely that the current level of fighting will be over before February at the earliest, and may well continue until June or longer. Some casualties and major incidents seem like to occur through the November 2004 election and may well go on as long as the US is in Iraq.
Any effort to “spin” these unpleasant realities out of existence is going to broaden the credibility problem the Administration has developed by underplaying the risks before, during, and immediately after the war. The sooner the Administration prepares the American people and its allies for a long period of low intensity conflict and continuing casualties, the better.
That’s what I’ve been trying to say for months, and that’s very much what I mean by ‘showing determination.’ Go read the whole article.