Home > World Events > The end of major combat operations

The end of major combat operations

May 1st, 2007

Mission accomplished or not, it’s time after four years to call a halt. Only after the governments of the Coalition countries admit that military power has failed, and that nothing good will be achieved by persevering can we make a serious assessment of what can be salvaged from this disaster.

The most important thing that can be done now is to help the millions of refugees who have fled the awful combination of invasion, insurgency and civil war we have unleashed upon them (noted blogger Riverbend just announced that she and her family would be joining the exodus, long after Allawi, Pachachi and others held out in the past as hopes of the nation). But clearly nothing will be done as long as policy is ruled by the delusion that victory is just a surge away.

There are plenty of other obstacles. Many of the refugees are in Syria, and any suggestion of co-operation with Syria is anathema. Even more importantly, any serious proposal to do something about refugees would involve a massive increase in the intake by members of the coalition countries, and (as I’ve found from previous discussions of the topic) the chickenhawks who pushed this war are utterly terrified by the risks this would involve, given that many of these refugees have little reason to love us. Even suggestions that we are obligated to rescue those who risked their own lives working for the coalition are much too scary for these fighting keyboardists.

The first step is saying out loud as US Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid has done, that this war is lost. This fact was obvious enough three years ago, but it’s taken this long for someone as senior as Reid to say it out loud. He copped a pasting from “Dean of the Washington Press Corps” David Broder for this, but whereas the Senate Dems might once have cowered in shock, all 50 of them wrote to the Washington Post to protest against Broder’s dishonest attack (hat-tip Glenn Greenwald.

In Australia, at least, there’s a fair chance of a change of government that would extract our troops from this mess. But (as we are routinely reminded in other contexts) we are too small for our actions to make much of a difference. In the UK, once Blair finally goes, his successor (presumably Gordon Brown) will inherit a political situation so dire that self-preservation will surely dictate an immediate review of policy on Iraq, followed by a rapid decision to declare victory and pull out. This would presumably have a significant impact on US public opinion, and on the feasibility of continued US escalation.

As regards the US, of course, there is no hope of Bush and the blogospheric wingnuts emerging from the parallel universe they’ve constructed so carefully. But surely there must be some in the press corps and the Beltway elite willing to dump High Broderism in the hope of emerging from the Bush era with some kind of credibility.

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  1. mugwump
    May 1st, 2007 at 14:12 | #1

    Do you really think the situation in Iraq will improve if the US pull out? We’re talking about an enemy so depraved that incineration of children in car bombs for them is routine.

  2. jimbirch
    May 1st, 2007 at 15:20 | #2

    Do you really think the situation in Iraq will improve if the US don’t pull out? (We’re talking about an invader so ideologically-driven that they completely failed to assess the impact of their actions.)

  3. mugwump
    May 1st, 2007 at 17:38 | #3

    I don’t know if the situation will improve if the US doesn’t pull out, but I am almost certain it will get an awful lot worse if they do.

    US ideology is one most ordinary people agree with: democracy and the rule of law. Medieval religious fanatics hate it of course, but they’re the ones blowing up children in the name of their religion, so I don’t take their views seriously.

    Iraq is a mess because of a series of political blunders post-invasion.

  4. May 1st, 2007 at 18:46 | #4

    Mugwump – wars never go as planned and this basic fact should be a factor in any plan for war. This war is lost and the US should declare victory and leave. It should have left long ago. It should never have invaded. The fact that both staying and leaving has awful implications means the calculus hinges on the cost of staying versus the cost of leaving. And the cost of staying is higher (at least for the USA). The only real question now is one of timing.

    In the republican camp I think Ron Paul is one of the few presidential contenders that has credibility and form on this issue. Even many of the democrat contenders don’t have form and voted for this war. It is too easy to simply blame Bush for leading the US astray when so many individuals in congress were so willing to follow and so unwilling to lead.

  5. observa
    May 2nd, 2007 at 07:22 | #5

    Given the overall success of our military interventions to nation build in such diverse countries as Iraq, Afghanistan, Solomons and East Timor, we must now assume that calls by rock and movie stars to nation build in Darfur are just as spurious and ill founded. Is it the case now that we have to be much more hard headed and eschew getting involved in such basket cases and simply push the combatants back across their borders to sort themselves out in their own good time, albeit with the usual motions of sympathy and general tut tutting in the UN naturally? Basically they need their space to evolve and we ceratinly shouldn’t be accomplices to any economic, ethnic or theocratic cleansing by any of the parties. Stick to ignoring the screams, with some regular gratuitous advice and the occasional shock and awe if they threaten us.

  6. snuh
    May 2nd, 2007 at 10:40 | #6

    observa, the position you’ve offered (presumably for reductio ad absurdum purposes) is actually pretty close to john howard’s view in march 2003:

    Well I would have to accept that if Iraq had genuinely disarmed, I couldn’t justify on its own a military invasion of Iraq to change the regime. I’ve never advocated that. Much in all as I despise the regime.

    i.e., he would have been content merely offering “regular gratuitous advice,” but for iraq’s purported possession of banned weapons.

  7. Andrew
    May 2nd, 2007 at 11:49 | #7

    I agree with JQ on this one…. we should exit now and write this off as a horrible mistake. We might be paying a lot more for petrol for a while but that’s a small price to pay to stop the killing (and has the upside of thinning traffic out for a while!)

    We in the West should learn that there are cultures out there that don’t share our values of freedom, democracy and individual rights…. we shouldn’t try to force them on unwilling people. I don’t know how much the adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost – many billions of dollars – how much better off would be if that money had been spent on R&D on alternative energy to oil. If we could just cut our ties to Middle Eastern oil we could leave the Muslims alone to have their Sharia state – they would be no threat to the West, they’d quickly lose touch with a modern world that continues to grow and innovate.

  8. rossco
    May 2nd, 2007 at 12:24 | #8

    The Iraqi people want foreign troops out as soon as possible. The American people want their troops out of Iraq as soon as possible. The US Congress has voted to set a timetable for withdrawal of troops. But Bush and his neo-con supporters say the US can only withdraw when democracy reigns in Iraq. Yeh sure!
    There is no doubt that there would be a period of chaos in Iraq following withdrawal but the process of resolving the internal conflict can only begin when foreign troops are out and Iraqis take responsibilty for their own future.

  9. rabee
    May 2nd, 2007 at 12:49 | #9

    It was clear before the invasion that

    a) The main strategy of Iraq’s neighbors (Syria and Iran) would be indefinite occupation of Iraq encumbered by a low intensity resistance and chaotic civil strife. Anyone who has experienced the Lebanese civil war understood this.
    b) Unless the US is willing to behave in an imperialist manner they will fail in Iraq. Unfortunately, it turns out that the US is incapable of behaving this way in a consistent and effective way. There is no doubt that the insurgency can be defeated. This, however, requires drastic measures. Few examples come to mind:
    1) the expulsion of troublesome population groups (e.g., transfer the Sunni population to refugee camps outside Iraq, prevent them from returning, move Shiite settlers into their areas).
    2) the co-opting and empowering of minorities against majorities (e.g., setup compliant Sunni strongmen to control the Shiites).
    3) hermetically seal-off population centers (e.g., build walls around Falluja, Ramadi, and Sunni suburbs in Baghdad.)
    4) use collective punishment effectively (e.g., blow up houses of extended families of suicide bombers)
    The problem is that although there are many people in the Bush administration that appreciate the kind of things that must be done to win in Iraq, I guess that there are enough idealists in the US to prevent a policy of sustained oppression.

    We have lost because we are not sufficiently and consistently imperial. That requires an elite in the US that uniformly believes in absolute superiority and both the right and obligation to bring civilization to the uncivilized. Something that I guess is antithetical to American values.

  10. May 2nd, 2007 at 13:33 | #10

    Andrew you are deluded if you think withdrawal from Iraq will stop the killing. The killing will stop when somebody wins. The point is that we gain nothing by participating in those battles. If we are to wage war in Iraq it should be a proxy war but even that offers few benefits.

    Observa – it is folly to give rock stars and movie stars much time on international policy issues. Politians at least weather some burden (ie feedback) for spending blood and treasure on folly. Movie stars that embrace the job warts and all like Arnold in California rather than pontificating from the stage are slightly more worthy. I will however credit the fella from the Boom Town Rats for doing his homework.

  11. observa
    May 2nd, 2007 at 14:02 | #11

    While it’s so obvious with the benefit of all this hindsight, Indonesian rule was the best option for East Timorese as well as our Timor Sea oil interests, we might need to look more closely behind the distant screams of the good war and that bad war further east. The US State Dept has some figures out (Country Reports on Terrorism) that measure deaths, injuries and kidnappings as a result of terrorism. These totalled 74,217 in 2005 and 74,543 in 2006 world wide which is negligible change really. However for Iraq that share was 20,685 in 2005 rising to 38,813 in 2006 whilst for Afghanistan the figures were 1,540 rising to 2,943 respectively while the rest of the world fell from 51,992 to 32,787. Now it might be that the rest of the world thinks this sort of outcome is a pretty fair thing, particularly if Saddam and the Taliban were probably bumping off, injuring or unfairly incarcerating (kidnapping?)Iraqis and Afghanis respectively in such numbers anyway. I guess it depends on simple vested interest or some screams being more equal than others, which I believe has some particular appeal in certain quarters. However, if it’s the absolute percentage rise in the level of victims in Iraq and Afghanistan that is really the worry, then of course you’d want to pull out of both theatres as fast as you can, presumably like John Quiggin, et al for the reasons he gives above? Of course it remains to be seen if it’s wise that we should really take the word of Iranian mullahs that they are enriching uranium for peaceful purposes only, just like Saddam was once. You know, the same sort of cautious, considered approach we should always take in these matters, like we all agree upon with threats like global warming.

  12. observa
    May 2nd, 2007 at 14:39 | #12

    “Observa – it is folly to give rock stars and movie stars much time on international policy issues.”
    Aw I dunno. They could make themselves useful as human shields between the Janjaweed and the refugee camps, gays and the scantily clad to the rear of course, so as not to be overtly provocative.

  13. Hal9000
    May 2nd, 2007 at 16:58 | #13

    Rosco: ‘But Bush and his neo-con supporters say the US can only withdraw when democracy reigns in Iraq.’

    As the Palestinians could tell you, Rosco, democracy has nothing to do with it. Only a pro-US regime will do, and the Iraqi public isn’t likely to elect one any time this century.

  14. Andrew
    May 2nd, 2007 at 17:18 | #14

    No Terje – I don’t think the killing will stop when the US pulls out, it was going on before they arrived and will go on well after they’ve gone. I guess what I meant to say was ‘it is a small price to pay to stop the killing in the name of democracy’.

    I say get out of there… let them sort out their own mess. I guess the Iranians will take over pretty quickly. We’ll have another oil shock but I think we’ll be surprised how quickly we adapt to oil at $120/bbl and find alternative energy sources. The US could cut its military spending in half and put it to work on energy R&D. The next time someone asks for US military help in somewhere like Bosnia, South Korea or Darfur they could just say ‘not our problem’.

  15. May 2nd, 2007 at 17:35 | #15

    The 1970s oil shock was not really a supply shock in any simple meaning of the concept. The price went up due to monetary inflation not scarcity and the USA got bowser shortages due to US domestic gasoline price controls. Of course US production peaked around the same time so there was also some political panic.

    Irans proxy war against the west seems to be going quite well and we should consider the merits of emulating it.

  16. Andrew
    May 2nd, 2007 at 18:09 | #16

    Given the nature of Iranian society (anti-progress theocracy), Iran might win a proxy battle but not a proxy war…. let ‘em have the Middle East and a Sharia state….. they’ll eventually regress into insignifance as their economy crumbles.

    The closest we’ve come to emulating Iran is by voting in a religious right US president….. and we can all see how well that’s going. Religion has no place in government.

  17. snuh
    May 2nd, 2007 at 18:36 | #17

    While it’s so obvious with the benefit of all this hindsight, Indonesian rule was the best option for East Timorese

    nonsense. indonesian rule was an absolute nightmare which maybe a third of the population died as a result of.

  18. mugwump
    May 2nd, 2007 at 19:51 | #18

    The “pull out and damn the consequences” attitude is remarkably cavalier. Are you confident Iraq won’t descend into some kind of Killing Field?

    We got Iraq into this mess, we have a responsibility to help them out of it.

  19. observa
    May 2nd, 2007 at 20:17 | #19

    Nonsense yourself snuh. Even if you got that one third figure as gospel from the Lancet, the point is, that number of people need not have died if they did exactly what the TNI told them to, just like Iraqis under Saddam, or Afghanis under the Taliban. That’s the whole point of us not getting involved in these internal power squabbles. As for my position on refugees “(presumably for reductio ad absurdum purposes)”, nothing could be further from the truth. How could we possibly take the moral high ground, by not interfering in culturally, insensitive, imperialist ways, to enable these people to sort things out for themselves in their own good time and then turn around and aid or abet one side or another, by some ethnic or theocratic cleansing. Apart from the Mugabes deliberately dumping their troublesome opponents (or just plain criminals like Saddam did) on you, you could have the disastrously ludicrous situation of packing some losing Tsutsis into western Sydney one month and then if circumstances change, packing Hutus in there the next. Same with Shiites and Sunnis for God’s sakes. Grow a brain like the wise three monkeys isolationists here snuh.

  20. observa
    May 2nd, 2007 at 20:23 | #20

    ….errr, that is unless you have a foolproof method for determining exactly where are our cultural imperialism will work quickly and cleanly, but then perhaps Professor Quiggin, et al can help you out a bit with some suggestions there?

  21. melanie
    May 2nd, 2007 at 20:34 | #21

    Bush’s response to the congressional vote for a withdrawal timetable was that it “would lead to failure.” The only possible interpretation of that remark, given that the invasion and occupation have failed already in almost every respect, is that he meant ‘failure to prevent the establishment of an Iranian/Syrian arc of dominance’. As Rabee says above, they should’ve known before they started that this would happen and, moreover, that the election would entrench it.

    I suspect the best possible solution now is a revised version of what Saddam had in place: ethnic enclaves (perhaps protected by American no fly zones?) with a cowed Sunni population living in the ghetto they are building right now in A’ademiyeh in Baghdad. The only difference will be that the boot will be on the other (shi’ite/Iranian) foot.

  22. jstrocch
    May 2nd, 2007 at 21:08 | #22

    Pr Q says:

    The most important thing that can be done now is to help the millions of refugees who have fled the awful combination of invasion, insurgency and civil war we have unleashed upon them

    Civil war and sectarian violence is endemic in “Iraq” and the whole ME. There was sectarian violence before and millions of refuges in Iraq before the Coalition invaded. Remember the 1989 Kurdish gassing, the 1991 Shiited uprising? And there will be sectarian violence and millions of refugees in Iraq long after the Coalition leaves.

    We brought it on sooner and worser by using main force to regime change. It seems to get worse as soon as these countries achieve a) national self-determination b) democratic elections. Look at the Algerians, Palestinians, Iranians. The more freedom they have the worse they treat each other.

    In fact the notion of international refugee in the ME is misleading since this implies nations of which there are none. Arabic states are just a collection of tribes trying to hoist a national flag.

    Pr Q says:

    Even more importantly, any serious proposal to do something about refugees would involve a massive increase in the intake by members of the coalition countries, and (as I’ve found from previous discussions of the topic) the chickenhawks who pushed this war are utterly terrified by the risks this would involve, given that many of these refugees have little reason to love us. Even suggestions that we are obligated to rescue those who risked their own lives working for the coalition are much too scary for these fighting keyboardists.

    We should take in all IRAQI personnell who worked with or for the Coalition. They face certain death once the last US choppers lift off from the Green Zone.

    Other refugees that we can carry should be subject to strict background tests to filter out terrorists or unsuitable people. Obviously anyone with a sectarian inclination or an axe to grind is unsuitable.

    We cant take in that many Iraqi refugees fleeing persecution. Arabic political culture is built on social persecution and instututionalised paranoia. We may as well invite the whole ME over. Then we would be suffering the problems faced by French car drivers.

    It would be better to seek a massive increase in foreign humanitarian aid. Or pay other ME countries to resettle them. (“The Mesopotamian Solution”?)

    We should not have invaded their world. But I do not see much more good coming from inviting their world.

  23. jstrocch
    May 2nd, 2007 at 21:30 | #23

    I should add that if ever there was a justification for declaring a “National Sorry Day” then Iraq-attack would be it. This is a criminal catastrophe for which reparations are in order.

    The only problem is that we just killed the man who would logically be the recipient of the apology and custodian of the compensation.

  24. observa
    May 2nd, 2007 at 21:50 | #24
  25. snuh
    May 3rd, 2007 at 08:29 | #25

    observa, your stream of consciousness comments leave me with no idea what you’re arguing, and your casual dismissal of the suffering of the east timorese means i’m not inclined to try and figure it out.

  26. May 3rd, 2007 at 21:15 | #26

    What about partitioning Iraq? Things seem to be going ok in quasi-independent Kurdistan.

  27. observa
    May 3rd, 2007 at 23:49 | #27

    Well let me give it to you straight snuh.

    I’ve deleted the rest, which (as often with this kind of intro) was a racist rant, contravening my discussion policy in numerous respects. If you can support your position by arguments rather than racist stereotypes, feel free to do so. Otherwise, there are, as you’re aware, plenty of sites where this kind of thing is welcome. JQ

  28. jquiggin
    May 4th, 2007 at 12:26 | #28

    Leftists in general have been much more aware of the difficulties of these operations than warhawks (including previous incarnations of observa, IIRC). This hasn’t led us to oppose intervention outright (like the new observa), but to be much more cautious and to demand a much more substantial commitment if anything at all is to be done. See, for example this from 2003.

  29. jstrocch
    May 4th, 2007 at 18:46 | #29

    jquiggin Says: May 4th, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    Leftists in general have been much more aware of the difficulties of these operations than warhawks.

    Ahem, arent we forgetting a prominent Rightist “warhawk” who did manage “the difficulties of these operations”? Howard’s actions in E Timor made regime changing and nation building look too easy. which perhaps lulled some of his more militant supporters in the run-up to subsequent interventions.

    It worked well because Howard had shifted the bulk of the ADF’s sea-lift and armour to the North and managed to get twist Clinton’s arm to get USMC heavy lift choppers on the case.

    “Intellectuals talks strategy, lieutenants talk tactics, generals talk logistics.”*

    *Trad.

  30. jstrocch
    May 4th, 2007 at 19:31 | #30

    As usual the Onion sums up the ME military-political situation best:

    Middle East Conflict Intensifies As Blah Blah Blah, Etc. Etc.
    April 26, 2007 | Issue 43•17

    MIDDLE EAST—With the Iraq war in its fifth year, the war in Afghanistan in its sixth, and conflict between Israel and the rest of the region continuing unabated for more than half a century, intelligence sources are warning that a new wave of violence in the Middle East may soon blah blah blah, etc. etc., you know the rest.

    “Tensions in the region are extremely high,” said U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who added the same old same old while answering reporters’ questions. “We’re disappointed by the events of the last few months, but we’re confident that we’re about to [yakety yakety yak].”

    The U.N. has issued a strongly worded whatever denouncing someone or something presumably having to do with the vicious explosive things that raged across this, or shattered the predawn calm of that, or ripped suddenly through the other, killing umpteen innocent civilians in a Jerusalem bus or Beirut discotheque or Fallujah mosque or whatever it was this time.

    In the aftermath of a whole series of incidents, there have also been troubling reports of just fill in the blanks. Middle East experts say the still somehow worsening situation has inflamed age-old sectarian tensions between the Sunnis, Shiites, Semites, Kurds, Turks, Saudis, Persians, Wahhabis, radicals, extremists, Baathists, mullahs, clerics, et al, which is likely to lead to more gurgle-gurgle over the coming weeks and months.

    Major and minor combat operations never end in the ME. That is not the wish of the moderate majority. But it is the testosterone-driven militant minority that sets the contentious pace.

    In the ME one counts balls, not noses.

  31. observa
    May 6th, 2007 at 02:03 | #31

    Observa, I’ve got better things to do with my time than deal with this stuff. Please read the discussion policy, and remember this is a conversation you’ve been invited to join. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else. Anything more on these lines, and I’ll put you on moderation.

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