Whelp, the chickens have come home to roost for Mr. Bush. I was surprised that our miserable failure managed to eke out a win last November. However, as I pointed out then, this would not change the fundamental dynamics of what he unwisely set into play. Right now pollsters tell us that the Vietnam-redux unfolding in Iraq trumps all of our other concerns. Even so, Americans do not seem too excited with the “good” economic news that Bush keeps touting. Sky-high gas prices might have something to do with it. A diarist on DailyKos makes a convincing case that the real unemployment rate is holding steady and is a lot higher than our official labor statistics. Americans, sensing this truth, are unlikely to believe economic data that contradicts their wallets. Also likely contributing to our mood is our sense that the benefits of growth seem to be going disproportionately to the upper class and stockholders. Well duh!
For whatever reasons, Americans are in a sour mood. Bush’s anemic poll ratings in the low forties are likely to go even lower. He is trapped in a box of his own making. Let us shed tears, but none for him. Instead, let us save buckets of tears for our dutiful soldiers, marines and airmen who have paid and are paying the price for his bungled leadership.
Our retreat from Iraq will happen, but not because we will succeed in bringing real stability and democracy to Iraq. No, it will happen because it must happen. We get to grit our teeth and watch as Bush’s house of cards slowly falls, to the inevitable suffering of many more innocent people. One sign can be found in today’s news: the Army now admit they will not come close to meeting their recruiting goals this year. The fundamental flaw with our all-volunteer army is that it only works in peacetime or during wars of short duration. Only the foolhardy or the excessively patriotic will volunteer to lose life or limb when their neighbors will not. The rest of us are left to the extreme edge of the cheering section, way inside the safety zone. Lately though our cheering has been halfhearted. Our beers taste flat. We are urgently looking for distractions, but are finding the distressing fact that our team is getting its butt kicked is impossible to tune out. Therefore, we are getting really ticked off at the coach.
Since our president rarely does anything without consulting his political adviser Karl Rove, I expect we will see substantial troop reductions in Iraq (likely under some transparent guise) during the first half of 2006. Why? There are midterm elections coming up my friends. The last thing Republicans want is to have the Congress return to Democratic hands. For Republicans power is paramount and responsibility is a word they cannot apply to themselves. Republicans are likely to be scapegoats next year unless Republicans can give the appearance that America will soon go back to Norman Rockwell mode. So despite Bush’s bravado about staying the course, expect that the real course he will stay on is the one he thinks that will keep him and fellow Republicans in power. (However, if he actually stays the course, expect at least one house of Congress to change hands in 2006.)
Eventually the situation in Iraq will completely devolve. We can expect in the next few days that Iraqis will say that they need another six months to work on their constitution. They will need more time than that but they likely will never finish it. It is clear the insurgency has picked up a big head of steam. As American forces go through the pretense of strategic pullbacks next year expect the insurgency to occupy the territory. As for Iraqi forces, expect them to scatter faster than the South Vietnamese Army when the North Vietnamese Army approached Saigon. Iraq will balkanize unless a new strongman can be found who can keep the country together. Presumably, Saddam Hussein will not be available. However, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi probably hopes that he can fill his shoes with a less secular version of a glorious dictatorship. In the unlikely event that Saddam turned out to be available, well, the bull has run through the china shop. There is no going back to early 2003.
Therefore, the most likely scenario in Iraq is civil war. That is why Iran is sending arms across the Iraqi border. It is not necessarily in order to get the Great Satan, although if their shells are lobbed at Uncle Sam’s forces they would not be upset. No, the arms are for their Shi’ite brothers who, after all, are the majority in Iraq who have never really held the reigns of power. The Iranians know the real deal: sectarian civil war is coming in Iraq, if it is not already here, so their side needs to be ready. Shi’ite Iraq looks promising as a future Shi’ite state, although Iran is likely hoping that in time it will be absorbed into a greater Iranian empire.
If you want a likely playbook of what will follow, possibly as soon as next year, think of the diaspora that occurred when Great Britain decided to turn greater India into India, and East and West Pakistan. Where there are pluralistic communities inside Iraq, expect them to become single ethnicity. Shi’ites are mostly already where they already need to be. Sunnis living in predominantly Shi’ite territories will beat a hasty retreat toward predominantly Sunni areas. With luck, Sunni areas may affiliate with friendly countries too. Jordan is possible but Syria is more likely. The Kurds will claim their state although whether they can keep it is another question. Turkey will be watching them anxiously. The moment the Kurds seem too uppity or too weak Turkish troops will cross the border en masse. The notion of a new stable, peaceful and democratic Iraq will prove yet another mirage that our leaders conjured up gazing wistfully into the Arabian Desert.
Yes, it will be a shame. Moreover, I will be ashamed. (Heck, I already feel ashamed.) Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding (after all, according to the Right, all us liberals were secretly hoping for the worst) I ache for the suffering of the Iraqi people. I am sure most of them would prefer something like a democratic government and a real peace. I wish we could have given it to them. A few short months after we invaded Iraq I knew that we could not make it happen. I feel ashamed because my country needlessly set this house of cards in motion. Despite plenty of well-respected experts pointing out before the war that what has unfolded would be the most likely scenario, our leaders refused to let reasoned judgment get in the way of their prejudices. Instead, this will be more sad evidence that our leaders see the rest of the world through a greatly distorted prism. They could not grasp with the complexity of the Iraqi problem as it actually was. Instead, our leaders of course had to act from their own foolish preconceptions. Hit the patella of a neoconservative and you get preemptive war. They cannot help it anymore than a crack addict can avoid his next fix. However, blame yourself if helped put these fools in power.
With luck, things outside of Iraq will not spiral too badly out of hand. I hope that the civil war there will not spark riots in Egypt. I hope it will not trigger the untimely toppling of new King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia by Islamic insurgents. I hope that the ethnicities in Iraq will quickly create defacto borders that will be grudgingly respected by the other sides. If we keep all our fingers and toes crossed, perhaps in ten years or so they will form a loose federation, perhaps an Iraq-lite. Here’s hoping.
Therefore, our exhausted troops will leave sooner rather than later, possibly to be sent to the next theater of war, assuming they do not mutiny outright. Their next theater of war likely will not be one of our choosing. Nevertheless, it does beg the question: after defeat in Iraq how do we regroup and win this war against Islamic extremists?
For my thoughts on this, please come back in a few days. Because that is the real war that will continue. We need to seriously and soberly grapple with it. Iraq has been a costly and unnecessary sideshow from a main event that will keep coming.