Umm, Congress? It’s me. Amanda. How’s things?
Why am I calling? No reason. I just thought, you know, we haven’t really talked in a while. I know, I moved away, and things just haven’t been the same since then. And of course you’ve been busy too, what with the economy headed straight down the pooper and no one having any idea what to do about it. So it makes sense. No hard feelings.
What’s that? General Petraeus’s testimony? Well, now that you bring it up, I do have some thoughts.
So. Here’s the thing. I opposed this war from the start. (Like Barack Obama! Except different!) And I think that General Petraeus is an extremely intelligent, capable general who is doing an excellent job in a difficult situation. (Like Angelina Jolie! Except different!) Cool, right? See, I opposed the war not because I didn’t believe in the WMDs (I didn’t really have any information on that -just like you!), but because I was pretty sure that regardless of the presence of WMDs in Iraq, the war would turn out badly.
I knew that Saddam Hussein had done a remarkably effective job of ensuring that his Baathist party was the only established power structure in the country. And that meant that when we took him out, there would be a power vacuum to be filled. And in the absence of any kind of peaceful political or social structure to fill said power vacuum, conflict would. If you can’t get yourself into power peacefully, you can always try doing it violently!
Hmm? Sure, I’ll hold for snack time. I wouldn’t want them to run out of apple juice and graham crackers before you get there, Congress.
Back now? Great. Where was I? Oh, right. The inevitable power vacuum and the civil conflict that would follow it. That’s where Gen. Petraeus comes in. Because it turns out that one thing our Very Modern Military is pretty lousy at is controlling insurgencies. Everything about our military -from spending, to training, to fighting- is based on our ability to use overwhelming force against slightly-less-overwhelming force. And that turns out not to be much help when you’re trying to protect a town full of civilians against terroristic warfare. To mistquote the great philosopher Cher Horowitz: Oops! Your bad!
General Petraeus, however, is one of the army’s top experts on counterinsurgency warfare (he literally wrote the book on it). He has always been upfront about the resources that would be needed to fight a war like this one, and he has never actually gotten them. The “surge” we’ve all heard so much about? Barely meets his standards for the troops necessary to fight a war like this in the first place.
So we can’t really be surprised that things haven’t gone that well, can we Congress? Of course there has been terrible violence. Being able to command armed fighters gets you a seat at the table. More fighters get you more seats. (see: Moqtada el Sadr, see also: Kenyan powersharing agreement). With enough troops, the U.S. can control the violence. But as soon as it looks like we’re leaving, the violence will surge as the different interests jockey to be in the top position once we’re gone. (You’ve noticed how often the attacks target the police and army, right? Hint: this is not the behavior of leaders with a stake in a peaceful society)
Should we just stay, and wait it out? That’s tricky. To have a lasting effect, we’d have to keep troops stationed until the Iraqis work out a power hierarchy that is stable, and able to process change through civil political processes. Or at least sets up one group that is so firmly dominant that there won’t be change for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, the groups in play are fairly well matched, so that just isn’t very likely. And our presence taints the political process: groups we support are damned by association, and the prospects of those we oppose are unreasonably inflated. So that’s not great.
But if we leave, it will get worse, at least for a while. And the way that it gets worse will be particularly horrible. The different power groups have broken down along ethno-religious lines, so we can assume that the violence against civilians will do the same. So it’s almost certain that civilians will be targeted for harm based on their religion or ethnic group, and very likely that this targeting would escalate into full-scale ethnic cleansing for the same reason. On the other hand, American soldiers wouldn’t be dying there anymore, we would save an estimated 40 squillion dollars, and we could turn our attention to Afghanistan.
Are you still with me? I know this is hard. Maybe next time we have this discussion before we have a war, yes? Wait, what? Iran what?
Let’s recap: two choices. (1) stay the course, prevent large-scale ethnic cleansing, but probably not make any substantial progress. (2) pull out, ethnic cleansing explodes, Iraq becomes a much sadder place.
No more wars for YOU until you can come up with a better idea.