Friday, January 12, 2007

A more realistic set of assumptions

American commentary yesterday on the new Bush strategy was based on the idea that this was an attempt to pacify the Iraq security situation, and that of the region, but one that was likely to fail, and the commentary could be classified according to the reasons for the expected failure.

Arab commentary, by and large, starts from the opposite viewpoint, namely that what Bush is attempting is not the restoration of calm, but the opposite.
The new Bush strategy [writes Abdulbari Atwan in Al-Quds al-Arabi] is not a strategy of pacification, but rather a strategy of escalation in Iraq, and this is going to lead to the sacrifice of many thousands of Iraqi lives, regardless of sectarian affiliations. He has made a dangerous wager which he knows beforehand is not only not assured of success, but whose chances of failure far outweigh the chances of success, and this was clear from the muddled and unconvincing character of his presentation.
This is an important point, because it goes to the purpose of US policy in the region. Atwan wasn't the only widely-read writer to make this point. The whole purpose of US policy is not to stabilize the situation, but the opposite.

Here is Atwan's explanation of what Bush's aim is:
President Bush wants to draw the "moderate" Arab governments into a new war, without offering them in exchange any cover vis-a-vis their populations; the strategy talks about a pure security solution in Iraq, to the exclusion of any discussion of the political side, whether with respect to Iraq and Iraqis [referring to what has been called the national reconciliation program] or with respect to the people of the region, and here we are talking in particular about the Palestinian issue. The president did not say a single word about Palestine, or about democracy, or about fighting corruption and dictatorship....
There are a couple of overlapping ideas here. The first is that imposition of a purely military solution on a politically divided country like Iraq in this environment is bound to lead to war, and in fact that is the purpose of the Bush strategy. The second is that in drawing the Sunni regimes of the region into this war, Bush has neglected to give them political cover of their own, so this will act as a magnifier of the problem (popular opposition to government-by-force) to a regional scale.

Joseph Samaha, writing in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, makes the same points. He writes:
[Bush in his speech said] Iran and Syria are responsible for the collapse in Iraq... What he meant was: Forget about any discussions with Tehran or Damascus. The United States is determined to deepen and perhaps widen the war. And what Baker-Hamilton or any other report says about creating a stable regional environment to ease the Iraq problem is without meaning. I am not under the influence of the neocons in this regard, I am one of them.
It is worth noting that while Atwan and Samaha have different political attitudes and allegiances, they are competely in agreement on Bush and his "new strategy". It is not a failed attempt to create stability, rather it is a premeditated effort to do the opposite.

Samaha is in agreement with Atwan's second point too, namely that Bush is pursuing this aim specifically by imposing a purely military/security approach to the Iraq crisis. Here is the way Samaha puts it:
[Bush says that] security in Baghdad in particular is the priority, because that is where the sectarian violence is concentrated, and the Iraqi government has promised to help. What he means is that the essence of the solution in Iraq is military and not political. And the new role of the United States will be in connection with sectarian violence...and we will be aligned sometimes with one side and at other times with the opposide side [in the sectarian troubles] and if we are not successful we will blame the Iraqis for not being of sufficient help.
It is an interesting situation. American commentators have been considerably preoccupied with the question whether the Bush administration will be backing the Shiites or the Sunnis in the current troubles. But in doing so, these devoutly American opinion-makers are showing they have already swallowed two major assumptions. The first is that Bush is trying to achieve stability in Iraq. And the second is that domestically in Iraq there isn't any political/rapprochement dimension to the crisis, the whole question being essentially military. What Samaha and Atwan are saying (in part, and these are the parts where the two are in complete agreement) is that these two assumptions themselves are wrong. What Bush is trying to do is (1) foment instability; by (2) relying exclusively on force where political solutions are needed. On those assumptions, obviously it makes sense to back now one side and now the other. Ask yourself which set of assumptions better reflects what is going on.

6 Comments:

Blogger helena said...

Badger, hi. I disagree with your characterization of the major thrust of US discussion and criticism of the Bush Plan. Those opposing it-- at all levels-- have gone to great pains to spell out that its is a plan for escalation, though Condi's tried to deny that.

I note too that even the Prez, and also Condi and Gates yesterday, have been at pains to point out that things "might get worse before they get better"... i.e., preparing the public for some possibly very gory weeks ahead, and lots of US body bags.

Having said that, your presentations of Atwan's and Samaha's views is interesting and important. I agree w/ the broad view that the Prez is trying to enlist the GCC-plus-Egt-&-Jordan into supporting an anti-Syria, anti-Iran campaign of as-yet-undisclosed intensity. However, as I've been writing over at JWN I don't think Bush has anything like the ability to bamboozle and hoodwink the US public on such matters that he had 18 months or so ago.

10:23 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Of course it is escalation, and of course people say that. That wasn't my point. My point is that whether you say Bush is aiming for a stable and a peaceable outcome via escalation or via inviting people over for coffee, still you are adopting a set of assumptions based on the idea that the US is aiming for a stable and a peaceable outcome. And that is in contrast to the assumptions of people like the writers I mentioned, which is that the aim of the Bush administration is not for a stable and a peaceable outcome, but rather for an unstable outcome precisely because that can lead to another war. These are opposing sets of assumptions, and I think it is important for people to understand (1) that they are different; and (2) something about the implications of each (for instance, people can debate about whether the US will back the Sunnis or the Shiites in terms of a stable end-state; but on the second set of assumptions the whole idea is to keep them fighting, in an open-ended process). These are two different and opposing ways of seeing the situation. And whether you say "escalation" or you don't, doesn't alter the fact that the US debate as a whole is firmly in he grip of the idea that the US is looking for a stable outcome in Iraq. The discussion is merely about the means.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Leigh said...

I am confused--of course, that's not new in this day and age--if I buy into your argument that Bush is trying to enlarge or escalate the conflict, what does he or the U.S. or even Israel gain?

We need ME oil. Bush has done nothing to reduce our dependency. A mideast in the upheaval of a war would be an unreliable supplier of oil. All our other sources, such as Venezuela, are not exactly banging down our doors to become our prime supplier.

The latest proposed Iraqi oil law would give corporations something like 70% of the profits. Would they want a ME in turmoil?

Now, I do not disagree that Bush was speaking the truth when he called this a crusade--beware of the overly religious, my mother used to warn me--but what of the others in the WH? Does Cheney buy into this? Where goeth Halliburton's contracts if all of the ME is engaged in war?

5:09 PM  
Anonymous John C. said...

"what does he or the U.S. or even Israel gain?"

Leigh - I can tell you are not a major Exxon shareholder. Perhaps you should consider investing. Don't know if this link will work, but check out the 4-year performance.

http://ir.exxonmobil.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=115024&p=irol-stockchart

Helena - fancy meeting you here.

Badger - excellent points, thanks.

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What the U.S. media has swallowed hook line and sinker, and then projected as fact -- is the notion that Maliki is behooved to deliver benchmarks favorable to U.S. interests, and as of late, is under the gun to do so. And so the former illusion of democracy and soverignity has become official policy.

As most employers would know, the best way to discharge an employee in a politically sensitive enviroment is to saddle the employee with a host of unfamiliar tasks subject to regular critical oversight and review -- whereby the employee can be scapegoated as incompetent in all assumed functions.

Or in other words Maliki is being groomed for failure, while appearing to be supported.

anna missed

9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The president’s new strategy for Iraq appears to be his new strategy for the 110th Congress. The thrust is to get the Congress to either buy in to the Iraq adventure or to buy Iraq altogether. Since conventional wisdom sees Iraq as a fail now or fail later matter, the president sweetened the pot when he telegraphed widening the war. I think he really wants the Congress to buy his administration out of Iraq. The will of the people can trump his mistake and still leave open speculation as to what might have been for the “historians” down the road. (Shades of the Weimar Republic and Vietnam)

The Arabic articles support the view that the plan has been to fragment Iraq since the beginning. Conspiracy theories are always entertaining. Whatever eventually emerges from this debacle will have more to do with American domestic politics. Otherwise, at least to me, his actions have no underlying rationality at all. My complements to Badger for following the Arabic language press and their opinions. Ground truth.

8:40 AM  

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