Uncertainty In Iraq

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.

and continues:

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.

and:

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.

10 thoughts on “Uncertainty In Iraq”

  1. Surprised you left out the bottom line of the CSIS Report, as they see it:

    “The following nine factors will determine the outcome:

    –The course of the present violence and low intensity conflict: The “war after the war.”
    — The efficiency of the CPA and US political efforts in nation building.
    — The nature of the transition from the Governing Council to a Constitutional convention and election.
    — The level of confessional and ethnic conflict and/or cooperation
    — The quality and impact of the US and international aid effort
    — The ability to rehabilitate, modernize and reform the Iraqi economy
    — The information battle for hearts and minds
    — The role of neighboring states.
    — The nature of the US transition to Iraqi rule and the effectiveness of the Iraqi regime that follows.

    The US can lose the “peace” because of a failure to deal effectively with any one of these factors, and any US victory is almost certain to be relative. Iraq will not suddenly emerge as a model to the Arab world, and its regional impact on change and modernization will at best be far more limited than many American neoconservatives hoped. At the same time, the US can also “win,” in achieving more modest and realistic goals and more importantly so can the Iraqi people.”

  2. You also left out

    – The bitter Afghanistan winter
    – The brutal Iraqi summer
    – The Iraqis won’t surrender
    – The Arab street will rise up
    – We could, but the world will hate us

    “The sooner the Administration prepares the American people and its allies for a long period of low intensity conflict and continuing casualties, the better.”

    Excuse me, but has Bush been saying in every speech since 9/11?

    “I don’t know how long this war will go on, but I do know this: However long it takes, this nation will prevail. ” G.W. Bush

    There are many ways we could fail, but people have always been willing to sacrifice everything for freedom. The odds are in our, and the Iraqis, favor.

    What countries has the United States ever attacked that are not democracies today? Vietnam. Too bad we lost that one the home front. Let’s not make that mistake again.

  3. Joe C,

    When I see young members of elite families signing on to Federal service (military or diplomatic), and joining “the global war on terror,” then I will believe the Administration is sincere in its “long, hard slog” rhetoric. To this date, however, I have not seen a single member of the younger Bush-family generation (grandchildren of GHWB) sign up to defend this great nation in the wake of 11 Sept (nor few others from elite families in both parties). Yet, I continue to read about young men and women who are among those “continuing casualties” AND did sign up to defend America in her time of need. (http://www.detnews.com/2003/metro/0311/25/b01-334845.htm)
    It seems since the dawning of the “Consciousness Revolution,” American elites have routinely failed to ensure that some of their best and brightest are among those citizens who go forward to defend their nation. Indeed, one of the standard explanations for the end of Selective Service drafts was the unfair ability of upper- (and later middle-) class young men to escape service while lower, working class were left to fill the rolls of citizen-soldiers needed to bear the brunt of military action in defense of national interest.
    Heck, since the end of the draft, it has become increasingly difficult to find the sons and daughters of America’s elites in *any* part of the Federal Service (unless of course you count the nepotistic behavior of politicians who ensure political appointments to high offices are given to priviledged children). Instead, most of the elite children have abandoned government service altogether in search of fulfillment in the business, fashion, academic (and leisure) sectors. Is it any wonder then that increasing numbers of Americans from all walks of life have less interest in their nation, participate less in its governance and elections, and even lower level of knowledge about even basic civic values? They are only following the lead of those at the top!
    Government service is hard, anonymous work with little monetary reward (and mortal danger during war). At one time, our elites understood that it was their DUTY to be part of government and saw to it that their young participated in such service. Sadly, DUTY is now a four letter word among the most powerful, and as a result, it has also come into disrepute among most of our fellow citizens.
    It is nice that the Administration has termed this period of conflict a “long, hard slog” that will surely entail “a long period of low intensity conflict and continuing casualties.” A belated recognition of a real “war” perhaps. But, until I see the young children of America’s elite joining up to fight alongside those already in the trenches (and some of them coming home without arms, legs, hands, and feet), these words will continue to ring hollow and hypocritical to me.
    –SP

  4. Serving Patriot –

    Please accept my deep gratitude for your service. I think it is still a bit early to see sons and daughters of the elite in harms way in this war. I would expect you might find many are in the first 2 years of ROTC though. If for no better reason than to avoid the future embarrassment that Clinton and Dean should feel. (I think Bush is being treated unfairly in that, as I understand it, his was an active National Guard unit.)

    Part of the problem is that value that our culture places on military service. Prior to 9/11 the threat was widely regarded as a low level nuisance of what might happen if we let our guard down. That maintenance level did not demand participation by the elite. Children of the elite already in college may be relunctant to shift gears. Those entering college since 9/11 may be more flexible and respond to the current mood of the country.

    A.L. – Thanks for the links. I would say that in that discussion there was a lot of blame laid on Bush and very little on the media. You can claim that Bush didn’t say the magic words that would cause the media to pass his message along, but it is our responsibility to make sure the media know what our expectations are. I would ask you to consider that angle in your efforts.

    I overreacted because some of the phrases in your post today started to look like the so-called “support” that the troops are getting from the Democrats these days. For example, the title “Iraw, Too Uncertain to Call” hardly shows confidence in our troops. However, after reading the background you pointed me too, you are not one that I have an issue with.

  5. Well, Serving Patriot, I know *just what you mean*…the reaction in my circle of friends to my son’s enlistment – even just in ROTC, with the clear understanding that he’ll get his degree – has universally been of the ‘jaw agape’ variety.

    BTW, he’s been in for five months now, and next month he signs the ‘real’ papers. I’ll try and be back there to watch him.

    A.L.

  6. Joe, that’s exactly what I am saying on my own blog, but that you discounted.

    “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.

    The weakness of the Governing Council.

    A failure to convince the Iraqis that the US is committed to a true and early end to occupation.

    A failure to communicate the scale and future impact of the US aid effort.

    Any effort to “spin” these unpleasant realities out of existence is going to broaden the credibility problem the Administration has developed by underplaying the risk.”

    You know that I support our efforts abroad… but all these things are true today.

    I get the idea that you dont like prognostication, or the attempt thereof. But I find thinking about the future import, as important as judging the past and living in the present.

    We are making choices everyday that effect the future. The administration is making the wrong choices, I feel, and so I feel duty bound to warn people about the likely future outcome…

    which is looking pretty dark.

    http://seanlafreniere.blogspot.com/2003_11_23_seanlafreniere_archive.html#106974468288740183

  7. Sean,

    The difference is between “could lose, but could also be positive, and we’re adjusting (CSIS)” and “I’m calling it now, we’ve lost in Iraq (you).” In view of the stage we’re at and the potential complicating factors in any war, CSIS analysis is a much better way to approach it.

    And note that this isn’t about “the brutal Iraqi summer” or other canards. All they’ve done is list what they see as the key variables for success. They believe it’s achievable, and make specific recommendations to that end.

    FYI, the Canadian intelligence service is also “CSIS”. Though given its legislative restrictions and refusal to operate abroad, we’d probably be better off just hiring the American think tank.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>