Thursday, July 13, 2017

Iraq Part Deux

G. Friedman, America's Secret War, 2005

The reason for the [Iraq] war was complex and difficult to explain. The process of public explanation undermined the war's utility. If the President was to say that the reason for invading Iraq was to prove that the United States was really much tougher than people thought, and that the occupation of Iraq was intended to intimidate neighboring countries, it would undermine the United States's ability to attain either goal. During World War II, for example, the core American strategy was to allow the Soviets to bleed the Germans dry so that the United States could then land in France and defeat a weakened Germany. It was certainly true, but it was not something that could be said publicly. Roosevelt preferred to speak in terms of the Four Freedoms and the United Nations rather than publicly embrace the actual strategy. Indeed, his strategy and his ideals were not incompatible. Nevertheless, explaining his strategy was not something to be done in polite company.

All nations, especially democratic ones, are torn between the realities of foreign policy and the need to mobilize public opinion around ideals. This is made even more complex when it is simultaneously necessary to build a coalition of foreign nations while attempting to influence the behavior of enemies. It is frequently impossible to publicly reveal the strategic purpose for taking action, and necessary to invoke powerful symbols to justify them. In the best circumstances, the realities of strategy and the symbols invoked are not incompatible [..].

The rationale for the invasion of Iraq was to bring the Saudis into the U.S. anti–Al Qaeda coalition. If Powell could get the Saudis to collaborate in the war, they would also collaborate against Al Qaeda—and that would make the invasion of Iraq unnecessary. In other words, Powell was saying that Saudi cooperation was necessary for an invasion in Iraq. One of the goals of such an invasion would be to force Saudi Arabia to cooperate with the U.S. If it cooperated, the U.S. wouldn't have to invade Iraq. Powell was setting up a situation in which the invasion of Iraq would become unnecessary.

The chosen military strategy gave Powell at least four but no more than six months to resolve the paradox—to get the Saudis to collaborate and avoid invasion. In order to do this, Powell and the United States had to undertake a massive chess-like strategy to convince the Saudis that there would be an invasion. (The Saudis were convinced the U.S. would not go to war if most of the European nations were opposed.) Here was the paradox: In order for there not to be a war, the Saudis would have to believe that it was inevitable and change their behavior. In order for the Saudis to believe in the inevitability of war—and thereby avoid war—the Europeans had to support the U.S. war plans. This was the incredibly complex challenge that faced the administration in September 2002 [..].

The decision to invade Iraq was not a good one and very few in the administration thought it was. It was simply the best decision available given the limited menu. It was the best of a bad lot. Taking out Al Qaeda through covert operations was not a practical option [elsewhere in the book GF says the intelligence leads had dried up, the effort was going nowhere]. Getting Saudi Arabia to incur the political wrath of its radical elements by cutting off financial support was also not going to happen unless the United States forced them to do so. The United States faced the option of hoping for the best or making the best of a mediocre strategy. In a sense, Iraq reminds us of Guadalcanal. No one wanted to be there and no one really cared about it. It was, under the circumstances, the best available option. Now, wars must not be presented that way to the public and allies. So the administration had to become wildly enthusiastic about the idea.

The United States miscalculated, in large part because it failed to understand the geopolitical consequences to others of an Iraqi invasion. The great powers (major regional powers without the ability to influence events globally) understood that the United States had to wage its war on Al Qaeda. They were prepared to cooperate fully in a war designed to track down Al Qaeda around the world. However, an invasion of Iraq would shift the global balance of power so dramatically that these great powers could not tolerate it. In other words, the great powers opposed the invasion for the same reason that the United States wanted it.

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Man.. such duplicity.. Back to the perennial question, did the Iraq War work? Looking at this video, I guess Saudi cooperation is in the bag now, in part thanks to the invasion of Iraq? I still think the whole effort cost way too much, and caused too much mayhem, the timing sucked for "us", meaning us poor sods who are from the region, but hey, we have no control over these things, we just live there.

On alliances: now Israel + SA + US + Egypt formed a powerful alliance, and this axis will supposedly balance all the rest in the region. US stepping in as a balancer to each region seems to be in play, and, I have to admit, there is a certain elegant simplicity to this. Noone will doubt where US stands, it is now clear. In Asia US joins in with India + Japan balancing China. Pakis are out in the cold which kinda computes from another direction - Pakis were buddy-buddy with China.

The key from American perspective will be not to push anyone into a corner, that they feel so threathened that they lash out. Iranians are being balanced, but with Iraq pacified, "Shiitized" they feel more secure. If they are not pushed into a corner, peace can ensue. But Pakis can feel threathened, India buddy-buddy with US is huge (I wish Pakis never seperated from India - such a shame).

On the Russian front, US seems to want an "entente" with Russia? Well.. Germany partnered up with China to balance Russia, so that puts it at odds with US. Is that why there is all this friction lately?