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Iraq's Future

12/15/2008

The conventional wisdom seems to be that the United States has won, or is winning, the war in Iraq. According to the SOFA agreement, the United States has until 2011 to finish its business there. After that, it would seem unlikely that the Iraqi government will want the United States to maintain troops there, or that the American people will want to do so. But the powers that be are not worried. Evidently, they are convinced that training of local forces was successful, and that this provides a model for Afghanistan and perhaps, according to Jim Jones, for the Palestinians.

The reality may be quite different. The last time the strategy of training local troops and withdrawing was tried by the United States, it was done in a different part of Asia. I was struck, when reading Henry Kissinger's memoirs in The White House Years, by his conviction that his strategy in Vietnam had been brilliantly successful. A US surge forced the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table and bought time for the United States to train the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. After that, the United States withdrew in good order and the South Vietnamese were to live in peace and harmony, enjoying the benefits of democracy. This idyll was spoiled only by happenstance according to Kissinger. Dr. Kissinger is a great expert in foreign affairs and a world class statesman responsible for the ruination of more than one country and honored for it. I am only a despised blogger, but I have the temerity to insist that I remember a quite different "narrative" of Vietnamese history. As far as I remember, everyone except Dr. Kissinger understood at the time the treaty was signed, that it was a barely disguised defeat. How should we view the evolving American situation in Iraq?

Perhaps all will go well in Iraq, but the signs of corruption and ineptitude and disunity in the Iraqi government do not bode well. The United States is enjoying a temporary reprieve. Sunni tribesman and Shi'a forces made common cause against the Al-Qaeda extremists who were making life impossible. Al Qaeda saw greener fields in Afghanistan. The Iranians perceived that there was no point in angering the Americans, who are leaving in any case, and moderated their support for terrorists. The number of foreign manufactured IEDs appears to have fortuitously declined. But nothing at all has changed fundamentally.

The Americans will leave and go back to watching their football games. It may be hard for those Americans serving in Iraq to realize that their presence is not permanent, and it may be hard for the Iraqis to understand the significance of this fact. Nonetheless it is a fact. It is unlikely that the Iraqi people or government will want the Americans to stay, and it is very unlikely that the Obama administration, elected on a platform of getting out of Iraq, will be able to muster public support for a significant American presence even if it wants to do so. Given the state of the American economy, it is unlikely that congress will find the funds to support that presence. The Americans will leave. The bases will close. What seems today to be so permanent and unchanging will vanish.

But the Kurds, the Shi'ites and the Sunni will remain, and there is no sign they are being molded into a unified nation. Moqtada Sadr and his Mahdi army are still there. The Sunni Baathist sympathizers and their militias and clan organizations are still there too. Iran is still on the border of Iraq, and in 2011 or 2012 may be a nuclear power. Syria is still on the other border of Iraq. Both have interests in ensuring that there is a "spontaneous" civil war in Iraq, which offers various delicious opportunities. US action in Afghanistan will, if successful to any extent, push "militants" out of Afghanistan and into Iraq and other places where the pickings are easier.

American withdrawal from Iraq is not an option to be considered, but a fact in the making. The consequences of American withdrawal and how to deal with them must be considered carefully and soberly, not only by American policy makers, but by Middle East leaders.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000735.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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