It's been a disturbing year. General Tony Zinni, led the US Marines ably and effectively in the gulf, and afterwards back home. Now retired, his Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy presentation at Duke (available for free on iTunes — just key in "Terry Sanford Zinni" to find a free audio or video podcast) tells it, pretty much, as it is from a military perspective — Iraq, failures, realities and the Future.
Thomas E. Ricks is the Washington Post Pentagon correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winning military historian. His analysis is now in paperback, and the title says it all — Fiasco: the American Military adventure in Iraq. It's a terribly depressing read (people suffering from a surfeit of cheerfulness after the holidays can get it on Amazon in a job lot with Bob Woodward's State of denial: Bush at War part III).
In Ricks' view not only have many people died on all sides, many of them innocent bystanders, but the effect of the whole thing has been to destroy US credibility and stoke up terrorism. "Effective tactics harnessed to bad strategy equals military disaster." He investigates how the US could start a pre-emptive war based on false information (step forward Paul Wolfowitz, among others), and tracks carefully through the disastrous resulting imbroglio.
His Afterword ("Betting against History") suggests one of four denouements:
- The best case scenario: the Philippines, 1899-1946 — thousands of troops there for many years to come while the place dials down and normalises
- The middling secnario: France in Algeria or Israel in Lebanon — keeping a lid on low level civil war for as long as possible, whilst trying to keep casualties down to a publicly acceptable rate, until something can be cobbled together domestically. This took the Israelis 18 years in Lebanon.
- A worse scenario: Civil war, partition and regional war. T. X. Hammes, the counterinsurgency expert says "We have lit multiple fuses. There will be multiple explosions. I'm thinking our grandkids could easily be there."
- The nightmare scenario. This is where the 74% of Iraqis who say "it doesn't matter whom, the country needs a single strong leader" gets one. Then if the US bottles out for electoral reasons, you arrive at a profound irony: Iraq run by a real dictator (Caliph?), who really is all the things Bush & Blair said Saddam Hussein was, which SH was, but only in his dreams. Unlike SH this guy would be the real deal. Anti-Americanism would unite all kinds of people around him SH could never pull in. Thus (almost like Greek tragedy) the result of the war could be to bring about precisely the scenario it was intended to avoid, but in a much more virulent form.
Is there a 5th scenario?