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Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Bollettino

So Sahib Bremer, late of Baghdad, tells a bunch of Indiana insurance men that there were too few soldiers to occupy Iraq back in the beginning, and that maybe the eight billion dollars worth of looting that Donald Rumsfeld thought was such a joke, back in May 2003 (Hey, I musta seen the same vase on tv bein’ taken out of the museum fifty times! and all the cued and oiled press goes, badda badda bing, wow, that’s a hot one!) just might have led to a general air of lawlessness.

No shit, Sherlock.

There are, in LI’s opinion, two options for the U.S in Iraq.

One option is simply retreat. Getting out of there, in an orderly fashion, by the end of next year. The second option is a huge increase in the U.S. force in Iraq.

The option that is unacceptable is the current Bush plan: the indefinite stay of a relatively small force. Let’s call this the let it bleed option.

To see why this is so, let’s look at Samarra, the victory the U.S. is currently touting – right on the smoking heels of our great victory in Najaf. Basically, holding Samarra for the length of a photo op is worthless. The insurgents, at this point, aren’t in search of a permanent base – they can be satisfied with securing a permanent possibility of return. So far, nothing I’ve read about Samarra tells me that they’ve lost this possibility. If, going with option no. 1, we seriously want to have an Iraqi force strong enough to hold the villes in the hinterlands, our guess is that we are going to have to accept the resurrection, in modified form, of the Ba’athist party – that mix of secular nationalism and Sunni Islamism that has traditionally recruited from the army. In other words, given the current political fracturing in Iraq, a big, efficient army is going to be a hell of a political attractor. The 2003 plan seems to have been to let Chalabi fill the secular vacuum created by the fall and decimation of the Ba’athists. That was never going to happen. It shows that, contrary to appearances, the problem with Bush isn’t that he is dumb, the problem is that he let intellectuals – the Wolfowitzs, Perles, and even Hitchenses – play far too big a role planning the war. These people have no experience running big projects of any sort, and so no notion of how to do it.

Allawi is now supposed to play the Chalabi part, but nothing, so far, tells us that he is going to succeed. The American fantasy is that we are going to create a modern but non-political army. This hasn’t happened in Northern Iraq, where the major Kurdish parties evolved from militias and are still tied to warlords, and it isn’t going to happen in Iraq.

The bloodier option is to increase American forces in Iraq. The increase would be for the purpose of suppressing the insurrection. In order to do this, however, the Americans are going to have to abandon their current military strategy. Samarra, again, is a good illustration. To take Samarra again, the Americans killed at a minimum 200 Iraqis – maybe up to 500. They lost one soldier, I believe. This is typical of the American style – overwhelming force. This style has been developed to win battles, and indeed, if there are battles to be fought, it will be successful. However, this isn’t that kind of war, and the immediate military success leads to long term disaster. As, for instance, in the however many Iraqi relatives of the dead in Samarra who are now prepared to help, in some way, the insurgents. The unspoken problem in Iraq – unspoken by the U.S. press –is that, to successfully engage with the insurgents – to specifically target them -- means sacrificing those tactics that maximize the preservation of American lives.

The calculus in a normal war is to take out as many of the enemy while preserving as many of your own men as possible. But in a war of ambushes and spotty advances, that strategy has to be redone from the bottom up. So far, the military has rigidly pretended that they are fighting the war game that says, here are the vast Nazi forces, and here are the good guys, and here is the convenient plain on which we can mass our artillery. So, we are admirably following the second part of the conventional principle – but, alas, for every American soldier preserved some x number of Iraqi are killed who are not part of an enemy army. And given the composition and tactics of the Iraqi insurgents, we know that this will be the case. The greater part of the dead will be Iraqi civilians. To the Americans these are collateral casualties, to the Iraqis these are Mom, Pop, Sister and Brother. The number of the collateral casualties is going to rise dramatically if the Americans continue to fight the way they’ve been fighting. This means that either the morale of the population as a whole will collapse – which has happened after ten years in Liberia -- or that the morale of the population will stiffen into the resolution to throw out the occupiers, no matter what.

Now, here is what we are told is happening. We are going to create simultaneously that mass of casualties AND an American-loving democracy. This is a psychological long-shot that only Judith Miller would be gullible enough to believe. If the Americans are going to do crowd control by, in effect, machine gunning the crowd, they will be forced back into the old pattern of finding a puppet – a Thieu like figure – who they can pretend is somehow legitimated by grossly fixed elections. The effect of that legitimation will be merely to pacify the American public, not to convince the Iraqi public. We can already see that pattern forming with Allawi.

To sum up, then – option two is costly, and – if it is pursued rationally, without regard to maximizing the preservation of American life – bloody. There will be a definite rise in the number of American deaths in places like Samarra, and a definite fall in the number of Iraqi deaths. You can’t jigger these numbers, you can’t make them go away, if the goal actually is to “let the free people of Iraq have their freedom,” in the inimitable speech of the Prez.

Given these parameters, and given the fact that there is no courage in D.C. to accept that these are, indeed, the two options, we imagine the "Let it bleed' option will be pursued until the helicopters are evacuating personnel from the rooftop of the American embassy in the Green Zone. As for Allawi – he better not sell his exile apartments. He’ll be needing them.

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