Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Iraq - can America win?
Whether or not the Americans can prevail in Iraq is becoming an acute political question, especially given the determination of the Bush Presidency to send more troops.
War is the exercise of violence in order to enforce your political objectives upon your opponents. It is therefore vital that those engaged in a war understand both what political outcome is acceptable to them as a victory, and also what is the necessary level of violence, and against whom, in order to enforce that outcome upon the enemy.
Military institutions have traditions of their own. In particular the US army and marines are structurally wedded to the strategy and tactics of the big battle field war, even Delta Force and the Seals are simply better trained commandos, rather than counter insurgency specialists. The other key component of US military thinking is air supremacy. As I wrote in Socialist Review, “Strategic bombing and destruction of civilian populations has been a key component of US military planning since the 1920s. The originator of the tactic of mass civilian bombing was not the fascist Condor legion that destroyed Guernica in 1937, but an American, Brigadier General Billy Mitchell, who argued in the 1920s that bomber aircraft could be used to destroy 'cities where the people live, areas where their food and supplies are produced and the transport lines that carry these supplies from place to place...the hostile main army in the field is a false objective and the real objectives are the vital centres.'”
So the US military is modelled to continually re-fight World War 2. Ideologically, the US ruling class also believe their own self image, as extending democracy, and being the good guys. One of the factors standing in their way is they are simply not as cynical as the British or French.
Another important point to understand about the US military, and the neo-con right, is that they feel that they could have won in Vietnam. After Tet in 1968, the National Liberation Front were effectively destroyed in the South, and the North Vietnamese Army, under general Vo Nguyen Giap, (hero of Dien Bien Phu) were defeated at the battle of Khe Sanh. General Westmoreland asked for more US forces to exploit their advantage and win the war. But the public perception in the US (wrongly) was that Tet had been a military disaster and Westmoreland request from more troops was because he was losing not winning. The judgement of the military is probably right, a US offensive after Tet, particularly if they could have dealt a quick decisive blow to the NVA, could well have won the war. So for the American right, the issue of sending more troops for victory is an argument not only about Iraq, but also with an emotional legacy about Vietnam.
We need to bear these things in mind to understand what is happening in Iraq. America lost the possibility of a clean outcome to the war on 23rd May 2003, when their pro-consul Paul Bremer abolished the Iraqi army, which was the most important unifying force holding the Iraqi state together, and in which national sovereignty resided de facto, following the overthrow of the Ba’athist regime. The alternative strategy of using the Iraqi army to restore order, and maintaining the Ba’athist institutions until elections could be held simply didn’t fit either the WW2 paradigms of their armed forces, or the neo-con fantasies of the US administration. The subsequent squandering of Iraq’s wealth by Bremer, rather than using the fund for reconstruction undermined any credibility of the US as a constructive player for a post-war settlement in the eyes of most Iraqis.
What is more, the nature of the US armed forces means they have escalated the violence, instead of quelling it. In March 2004, four mercenaries working for Blackwater, were killed in Fallujah, and the film of their mutilation caused outrage in the USA. The public demand for a military response could only be met by the Marine Corps, as they were the troops in theatre, and the Marines are only trained to fight battles, they are not trained for proportionate counter insurgency. As a result they besieged the city and briefly galvanised a national Iraqi response that united Shia and Sunni against the occupation. (This national unity was later squandered by Sunni sectarian terrorism, (including the Wah Habi sectarian butchers of Zuqari) and by the strategic campaign by the Shia political parties to dominate the new Iraq).
The lack of any campaign for Iraqi national liberation, except for the marginal forces of the Iraqi Communist Party and its allies, means that the current situation is very unstable. The Sunni minority of 4 million or so, are sustaining a high level insurgency against the American army, but this is also a war to prevent a Shia dominated Iraq emerging. The Iraqi government, which is Shia dominated, has a co-dependent relationship with the occupying forces, but also wants to see the back of them, and there are Shia militia, like the Mehdi army, seeking to drive the Sunnis out of Baghdad. The whole country is spiralling into cycles of sectarian reprisals, murder and anarchy. The situation was acutely analysed recently by Ali Allawi, former Iraqi Defence Minister.
The absence of a national liberation movement is important to the left, because it means there can be no internal settlement – there is no alternative government in waiting. If the US withdraws without a negotiated framework, then the result could be another Afghanistan, as different war lords fight over the remains. The left often seems to occupy a fantasy world, for example the last Stop the War Conference adopted a position, following Sami Ramidani’s argument, that tales of Iraq descending into sectarian violence are just propaganda. Also it is commonplace to describe the current Iraqi governments as puppets – but they are the only force in Iraq that has any legitimacy, as a majority of the Iraqi population did participate in elections for that government.
That is not to say that the US forces should stay. Their current deployment is contributing to the escalating sectarianism as they horse trade between different factions, and the US also vetoes the involvement of neighbouring countries, Iran and Syria (and Turkey) – who are necessary for any settlement. Conspicuously the US administration lacks any realistic political concept of what a post war Iraq would be like, and without such a political objective to fight for, then their armies are simply locked into a cycle of aimless violence. Their avowed intent of using increased troop numbers to pacify Baghdad will force them to take sides as maintaining the status quo is Sunni objective, but pacification under Shia domination would be a further obstacle to national stability.
The USA undermines the only legitimate force by associating the Iraqi government with the atrocities of the US troops. What is more, both of the USA’s main allies in the Middle East, Wah Habi Saudi Arabia, and Zionist Israel, are opposed to the emergence of a Shia run Iraq.
Early US withdrawal is vital, as the US are impeding the political processes that could lead to peace. Nor do they have any clear idea what they are fighting for.
Unfortunately the vanity of the superpower, the prestige of its stupid politicians, and the craven support for every imperial insanity by the British Labour Party, stand in the way of progress. The Americans would rather Iraq descended into Hell on Earth before they admit defeat, and the Labour Party will send British soldiers to help in this atrocity.