Monday, August 27, 2007

Rethinking Iraq - the George Friedman Way

27 August 2007

George Friedman at Stratfor has once again done us a worthy service.

He examines the three most plausible current options in Iraq, and finds all of them wanting.

In brief, the net effect of the American intervention in Iraq is to have won the longstanding and heretofore unsettled Iraqi-Iranian war for the Iranians, thereby creating massively escalated instability in the region, and a far more dire threat to Middle Eastern security than Saddam Hussein alone could ever have constituted.

The current link is only good for a brief time, so click
here now for Friedman's analysis and proposal for US policy in Iraq.

Here are Friedman's own words on the subject:

"All three conventional options, therefore, contain serious flaws. Continuing the current strategy pursues an unattainable goal. Staged withdrawal exposes fewer U.S. troops to more aggressive enemy action. Rapid withdrawal quickly opens the door for possible Iranian hegemony -- and lays a large part of the world's oil reserves at Iran's feet.

"The solution is to be found in redefining the mission, the strategic goal. If the goal of creating a stable, pro-American Iraq no longer is possible, then what is the U.S. national interest? That national interest is to limit the expansion of Iranian power, particularly the Iranian threat to the Arabian Peninsula. This war was not about oil, as some have claimed, although a war in Saudi Arabia certainly would be about oil. At the extreme, the conquest of the Arabian Peninsula by Iran would give Iran control of a huge portion of global energy reserves. That would be a much more potent threat than Iranian nuclear weapons ever could be.

"The new U.S. mission, therefore, must be to block Iran in the aftermath of the Iraq war. The United States cannot impose a government on Iraq; the fate of Iraq's heavily populated regions cannot be controlled by the United States. But the United States remains an outstanding military force, particularly against conventional forces. It is not very good at counterinsurgency and never has been. The threat to the Arabian Peninsula from Iran would be primarily a conventional threat -- supplemented possibly by instability among Shia on the peninsula."

In summary, Friedman suggests that the US might quickly abandon the urban regions of Iraq, but maintain an ongoing base in the peripheral and unpopulated hinterland of Iraq, serving as a police force, if you will, to contain possible conventional Iranian military action against say Kuwait or, ultimately, Saudi Arabia.

In fact, the Saudis have always been vulnerable in the region, having a tiny poplulation, a miniscule army, and little direct battle experience. There are far too few Saudis sitting on top of far too many oil and natural gas reserves.

That is, no one would welcome the Americans, but the Saudis and Kuwaitis might be quietly content to have a police force on the ground at points of vulnerability in the region. It would be up to the US to behave responsibly in the Arabian Peninsula – and that, of course, would not be easy, given the cumulative blunders of the recent past. However, Friedman's plan might yet be better than the remaining and thoroughly discredited conventional alternatives.

Thanks, George Friedman, for opening a small window of hope in a land of tragedy and despair.

Note (30 August 2008): A combination of the US troop surge and disastrous tactics on the part of Iraqi insurgents seem now to have turned the tide in the Iraq War in favour of stabilization. I admit that I was unprepared for this turn of events, but it is very pleasing now to report that my earlier pessimism appears to have been incompletely founded. Thanks to Michael Yon for being one of the first to report the favourable news - independently - from the front lines!

1 comment:

  1. A thoughtful comment from my friend, Jim Proctor:

    I agree that Friedman's proposal is the only course they have available militartily, I don't think the direct military threat to Saudia Arabia by Iran is that great. It certainly pales compared to the threat posed by the humiliation of the US by the Iraqis in the eyes of the entire muslim world. The Saudi royal family along with the pro US governments of Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon will all struggle for credibility and legititimacy with own populations as the Arab worlds confrontation with Israel deepens amid the instability created by defeat of Isreal's great benefactor in Iraq. If Iran can unite the sunni arabs and the shia Iranians against Israel, the saudi royals would have to go along rather than risk losing their status as protectors of Mecca.

    Friedman's plan can buy the US a few months or even a few years, but I don't think the US is ready to force enough concessions from Isreal to douse the impending wildfire that is going to engulf the entire middle east. The more radical and militant elements of all arab and Iranian secular and religious movements will be empowered and emboldened by the decline of US power in the region. The US will probably respond with more blind support for Israel and supplying more military support for pro US governments and miss it's last real chance at salvaging at least some of it's vital interests in the region.

    It does seem ironic that it is becomimg apparent that it is the US that "never misses an opportunity to miss an an opportunity"!