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Howard upbeat on Iraq « Previous | |Next »
March 19, 2007

I see that the PM is upbeat on Iraq after a fleeting visit. He has confidence in the strategy being pursued by the US and Iraqi governments, reckons that the situation in southern Iraq was improving, that it would be disastrous to withdraw troops too early, and use of military force remains essential to building Iraq's democracy. He repeats the US claims that the surge strategy was working and that the Iraqi army was maintaining order on its own.

Such a prognosis is usefully compared with the recent analysis by Anthony Cordesman, the defence analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. It is entitled The New Strategy in Iraq: Uncertain Progress Towards an Unknown Goal, and Cordesman argues that the situation in Iraq is so bad that none of the “least bad options” now available to U.S. policymakers will likely allow the U.S. to achieve its goals: creating a relatively politically and economically stable Iraq with reduced levels of violence that is able to defend itself against neighboring states.

Cordesman puts Howard's upbeatness into perspective. He says:

Just as the British confused Basra with a regional center of gravity, the Bush Administration may well have compounded these problems by confusing Baghdad with the center of gravity in a national struggle for the control of political and economic space that affects every part of the country..... Winning security control of the city and losing Iraq’s 11 other major cities and countryside to Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic factions is not victory in any strategic, it is defeat. As has been discussed earlier, the minimal requirement for a successful US strategy is a relatively stable and secure Iraq, not temporary US military control of Baghdad.

Cordesman adds that:
The US needs a strategy for all of Iraq, not a single city – particularly when a focus on control of Baghdad could mean leaving most of the country to divide on sectarian and ethnic lines. So far, the US has failed to set forth a strategy and meaningful operational plan for dealing with Iraq as a country even if it succeeds in Baghdad.

At the end of his analysis, Cordesman makes what is perhaps the most troubling point, that what happens now in Iraq is largely out of U.S. hands:
Another key reality is that the US really is no longer in control even of “Plan A;” the Iraqi government is. The British withdrawal plan may simply be yet another warning that the real-world contingency is plan I – one controlled and shaped by Iraq’s internal power struggles. Moreover, if the Bush Administration strategy does fail, virtually all of the plans to come will be shaped by fighting and power struggles between Iraqis where the US will have to respond to events shaped by both enemies and “allies.”

One of the lessons that both the Bush Administration and its various US opponents and critics may still have to learn is that at a given level of defeat, other actors control events. US discussions of alternative plans and strategies may well be becoming largely irrelevant.

I doubt that John Howard will argue his case against Cordesman's analysis when he makes his big speech to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute this week.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:11 AM |