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Forecast for Iraq and Afghanistan: taking the pulse of the war on terror

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In a season clouded by political spin, I felt it time to take the pulse of the war on terror and offer a forecast for Iraq and Afghanistan. My great sadness is that my government is in the process of making it worse not better:

Afghanistan is tanking, out of the spotlight, as I write, and key US troops are being withdrawn to Iraq, where they will be far too little and too late. The US ambassador there is viceroy, Karzai a front figure, regardless of election results. The only thing keeping Karzai alive is US security. When they go, he goes.

The civil war in Iraq is already well underway. The major parties are biding their time until we depart, which I expect to occur in 12 to 18 months. Words to the contrary are from those who do not understand the situation on the ground or wish to keep perfuming the pig for other reasons. US intel and military increasingly feel that they have been, in my term, "re-Vietnamized" in that they are being consigned into a politically driven mission with high level tactical input and no exit strategy. An impermeable Neocon layer within DoD has distorted US military and foreign policy, influencing orders down and blocking actionable information up. (Expect major purges there.)

Barring an intervention that I cannot yet see, I expect jihadists and fundamentalists to continue to gain sway through their marriage of convenience with the Baathists and mercenaries running around the Sunni heartland. The "King of the Green Zone," Allawi, will either be killed or join the Sunnis in the death struggle of a unified secular Iraq against the Shias. (Those with good memories know that Allawi was a Baathist before he fell from favor and went into exile.) Neither Turkey nor Iran will sit idly by watching the further isolation of US forces -- dispense with any fiction of a meaningful coalition -- diplomatically and on the ground. Ever the survivors, the Kurds may cut a deal with the Turks before they move on Kirkuk.

In meantime, Sunni insurgents will hammer away at the thin supporting infrastructure of cooks, drivers, barbers, and translators, not to mention the security forces -- who, by the way, primarily take up this line of work because the economy has collapsed and there are no jobs to speak of. We may not wait 12 to 18 months to depart, but what we leave behind will make Taliban Afghanistan look like children's day care.

We either abrogated our responsibility to protect civilian populations upon close of immediate hostilities, or we failed to properly anticipate postwar needs. Neither is a palatable verdict upon us. The failure to plan the postwar period was a civilian lapse, not a military one, and it allowed Iraq to descend into chaos, collapse of civil order and humanitarian services, looting of national infrastructure, and wholesale sequestering of weapons and resources for future combat operations.

Iraq has eviscerated our ability to sustain Afghanistan as it undermined Arab moderates. Atop that, we have done it in a manner that has made us a rogue state in the eyes of far too many. As Tucker and Hendrickson note:

There is no simple and direct route to the recovery of U.S. legitimacy. The years when the United States appeared as the hope of the world now seem long distant. Washington is hobbled by a reputation for the reckless use of force, and it is going to take a long time to live that down. World public opinion now sees the United States increasingly as an outlier-invoking international law when convenient, and ignoring it when not; using international institutions when they work to its advantage, and disdaining them when they pose obstacles to U.S. designs. The United States has gone down a road in which the use of force has become a chronic feature of U.S. foreign policy, and the country's security has been weakened rather than bolstered as a consequence. It is true, of course, that the American public does not like the idea of deferring to others, but it may come to see the advantages of doing so once it appreciates that enterprises undertaken on a unilateral basis must be paid for on a unilateral basis.

We are now in the process of attempting to return our pottery while asking the international community for a political refund. It will not be an easy task as our bit of crockery is, like Humpty Dumpty, going to be difficult to put together again.

The Sources of American Legitimacy
By Robert W. Tucker and David C. Hendrickson
Foreign Affairs, November/December 2004

The Unspoken Power: Civil-Military Relations and the Prospects for Reform
Steven A. Cook
Analysis Paper 7, September 2004
The Brookings Project on U.S. Policy Towards the Islamic World

IRAQ: Quelling the Insurgency
Council on Foreign Relations
Updated: September 23, 2004
Note: I would recommend all of the topic points at column right column as it offer the casual reader an excellent one-stop grounding removed from shrill, deception-laden partisanship.

Fallujah: Inside the Iraqi Resistance
Asia Times
PART 1: Losing it
(Jul 15, '04)
PART 2: The fighting poets
(Jul 16, '04)
PART 3: The Fallujah model
(Jul 19, '04)
PART 4: All power to the sheikh
(Jul 20, '04)
PART 5: The tongue of the mujahideen
(Jul 21, '04)
PART 6: Mean and clean streets
(Jul 22, '04)
PART 7: Radicals in the ashes of democracy
(Jul 23, '04)

Gordon Housworth


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