Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What Americans don't want to think about

Americans who advocate percipitous withdrawal from Iraq, don't want to think about the down side.
But US Ambassador Crocker spelled it out, as the New York Times tells us :

"You can't build a whole policy on a fear of a negative, but, boy, you've really got to account for it," Mr. Crocker said Saturday in an interview at his office in Saddam Hussein's old Republican Palace, now the seat of American power here. Setting out what he said was not a policy prescription but a review of issues that needed to be weighed, the ambassador compared Iraq's current violence to the early scenes of a gruesome movie.

"In the States, it's like we're in the last half of the third reel of a three-reel movie, and all we have to do is decide we're done here, and the credits come up, and the lights come on, and we leave the theater and go on to something else," he said. "Whereas out here, you're just getting into the first reel of five reels," he added, "and as ugly as the first reel has been, the other four and a half are going to be way, way worse."

Hoshyar Zebari, the foreign minister, sounded a similar warning at a Baghdad news conference on Monday. "The dangers vary from civil war to dividing the country or maybe to regional wars," he said, referring to an American withdrawal. "In our estimation the danger is huge. Until the Iraqi forces and institutions complete their readiness, there is a responsibility on the U.S. and other countries to stand by the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people to help build up their capabilities."

... Mr. Crocker, a career diplomat,, seemed eager to emphasize that the report he and Gen. David H. Petraeus are to make in September — an event Mr. Bush and his war critics have presented as a watershed moment — would represent their professional judgment, unburdened by any reflex to back administration policy.

In the interview, which was requested by The New York Times, he said, "We'll give the best assessment we can, and the most honest." Unusually for American officials here, who have generally avoided any comparisons between the situation in Iraq and the war in Vietnam, he compared the task that he and General Petraeus face in reporting back in September to the one faced by Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker and Gen. Creighton W. Abrams Jr., the two top Americans in Vietnam when the decisions that led to the American withdrawal there were made nearly 40 years ago.

General Petraeus, too, has warned in recent months that while there is a high price for staying in Iraq, including mounting American casualties, the price for leaving could be higher than many war critics have acknowledged. Some opponents of the war have argued the contrary, saying that keeping American troops in Iraq provokes much of the violence and that withdrawing could force Iraq's feuding politicians into burying their sectarian differences.

In the interview, Mr. Crocker said he based his warning about what might happen if American troops left on the realities he has seen in the four months since he took up the Baghdad post, a knowledge of Iraq and its violent history dating back to a previous Baghdad posting more than 25 years ago, and lessons learned during an assignment in Beirut in the early 1980s. Then, he said, a "failure of imagination" made it impossible to foresee the extreme violence that enveloped Lebanon as it descended into civil war. He added, "And I'm sure what will happen here exceeds my imagination."

On the potential for worsening violence after an American withdrawal from Iraq, he said: "You have to look at what the consequences would be, and you look at those who say we could have bases elsewhere in the country. Well yes, we could, but we would have the prospect of American forces looking on while civilians by the thousands were slaughtered. Not a pretty prospect."

In setting out what he called "the kind of things you have to think about" before an American troop withdrawal, the ambassador cited several possibilities. He said these included a resurgence by the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which he said had been "pretty hard-pressed of late" by the additional 30,000 troops Mr. Bush ordered deployed here this year; the risk that Iraq's 350,000-strong security forces would "completely collapse" under sectarian pressures, disintegrating into militias; and the specter of interference by Iran, neighboring Sunni Arab states and Turkey.

That may be true, but there is an ominous note to this insight by the ambassador:

The ambassador also suggested what is likely to be another core element of the approach that he and General Petraeus will take to the September report: that the so-called benchmarks for Iraqi government performance set by Congress in a defense authorization bill this spring may not be the best way of assessing whether the United States has a partner in the Baghdad government that warrants continued American military backing. "The longer I'm here, the more I'm persuaded that Iraq cannot be analyzed by these kind of discrete benchmarks," he said...


Perhaps it is true. But there have to be some benchmarks that you can use to measure Iraqi progress, and for that matter, American progress.  Hoshyar Zebari said, "Until the Iraqi forces and institutions complete their readiness, there is a responsibility on the U.S. and other countries to stand by the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people to help build up their capabilities."  But how do we know Iraqi forces and institutions are completing their readiness or making any progress at all, without benchmarks? What evidence is there that anything at all has gotten better in Iraq??

Ami Isseroff

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