Sunday, January 14, 2007

Playing out soon in a war theater near you (Iraq)

Even though the administration's "surge" plan is now all but a fait accompli, how it all plays out on the ground in Iraq is a completely open question. There are simply too many potential scenarios to judge which will be the likely scenario. For example, the sectarian militias could choose to temporarily recede into the woodwork and allow the surge to "succeed" and then wait for the American troops to go home before reverting to the sectarian struggle. That is possible, but I suspect it is not so likely. Alternatively, the miitias way be emboldened and feel challenged by the gauntlet of increased American troops as targets and stage dramatic confrontations with U.S. forces in an effort to stun the U.S. into backing off in the face of dramatic U.S. casualties coupled with negligible political support in the U.S. for a high-casualty escalation. Sure, that might simply cause the administration to escalate despite congressional resistance, but the militias and insurgents would only welcome such escalation. The problem is that the militias and insurgents are not massed targtes on a well-defined battlefield, but completely embedded in the local populace, making U.S. kinetic escalation quite problematic.

Although there is big talk about the surged U.S. forces going after the militias, that it truly a lost cause since the militias are actually a key part of the political landscape, are embedded in the local populace, and have broad popular support. The politicians actually need the militias and count on them as a source of power.

My suspicion is that for the next month or two the current Iraqi political leadership will play along with the ruse of a U.S. surge while the insurgents will exploit the opportunities presented by the increased availability of U.S. "targets".

Meanwhile, the Iraqi political landscape will evolve dramatically behind the scenes. If Maliki does thrive, it will be to the extent that he can talk a good story to the U.S. while distancing himself from the U.S. behind the scenes among Iraqis as well as with Syria, Iran, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. If Maliki fails to increase the perceived distance between himself and the U.S., he will be pushed aside and politicians and militia leaders and religious leaders with less inclination to toe the U.S. line will rise up to replace him. Either way, the surge is actually likely to give the Iraqi political leadership a stiffened spline, which is a good thing.

Again, exactly how this plays out will be a real crap shoot.

What if the initial surge effort fails? Most politicians in the U.S. are ready to pack up and leave Iraq, especially if this last-ditch surge effort fails, but the Neoconservatives and the rest of the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby have far too much invested in their agenda of "rollback" and pre-emptive war to simply accept a surge failure and say "Oops, sorry, we were wrong, never mind." When faced with failure they will blame everybody else (including Iran and Syria and the Democrats), find some new scapegoats (or some old ones), and simply insist on incrementally changing the strategy and tactics in Iraq and insist that "this time we have it right." With a toothless Congress, they will be able to get away with this for quite some time.

My suspicion is rather than Congress acting, it is the Iraqi politicians and religious leaders who will finally pull the plug and demand that the U.S. leave ASAP. I suspect that this could happen by June or July, if not sooner. Bad news on the surge will force it to be sooner. It may take a month or two before we get some clarity on the actual impact of the surge, but events will begin playing out quite rapidly by the April and May timeframe.

It is quite likely that the quagmire will be over (mostly) a year from now. If the adminstration does somehow drag the quagmire out into 2008, it will only ensure a massive landslide defeat of the Neoconservative agenda and most Republicans in the 2008 election. There are too many hack politicans in Congress who are absolutely unwilling to martyr themselves for the Neoconservative agenda. They may have been willing to exploit the Neoconservative agenda to gain personal power, but most of them will be all too willing to abandon the Neoconservative agenda to keep the personal power that they now enjoy.

-- Jack Krupansky


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