Friday, February 02, 2007

The National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq

So I just finished reading the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, released earlier today. Didn't take long, since the government is only producing a two-page summary. As with the Iraq Study Group, the consensus is grim: security in Iraq is deteriorating rapidly and exhibiting signs of civil war. Unlike the ISG, the NIE authors do not think Iran, Syria or other neighbors can intervene to stop the sectarian bloodshed. Instead, the NIE opines:

Coalition capabilities, including force levels, resources, and operations, remain an essential stabilizing element in Iraq. If Coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly during the term of this Estimate, we judge that this almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq, intensify Sunni resistance to the Iraqi Government, and have adverse consequences for national reconciliation.

All of this is true, of course, but begs the question: will the continuing presence of coalition forces do anything to reverse the sectarian violence? If not, then staying in Iraq simply forstalls the inevitable, to the tune of 25 to 100 dead soldiers a month (and $8 billion).

So is there any reason to think the situation might improve? According to the NIE, "a number of identifiable developments could help to reverse the negative trends driving Iraq's current trajectory." (NIE's italics, not mine.) These absurd fantasiesoptimistic developments include:

(1) "Broader Sunni acceptance of the current political structure and federalism"
(2) "Significant concessions by Shia and Kurds"
(3) A "bottom-up approach--deputizing, resourcing and working more directly with neighborhood watch groups and establishing grievance committees"

Of these , only #3 is prescriptive; the first two are simply hopes, dreams, wishes, equivalent to saying "The security situation in Iraq will improve if everyone stops fighting and behaves reasonably" -- a true but worthless point, since the question is how to make them stop fighting. And as for the neighborhood watch committess, sure, great idea -- but how will the continued presence of U.S. troops support the development of such committees? Perhaps that mystery is solved in the full NIE report. Color me skeptical.


Blogger jd_5231 said...

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2:12 PM  
Anonymous Nic said...

I keep finding myself thinking “well it will probably get a bit better soon and that with time these things can sometimes sort themselves out”. This total naivety is something that George W. and I seem to have in common. The difference is I’m a paralegal and he’s the president. We (meaning the U.S.) [I can’t believe I just said that] need to come up with a better solution than just throwing more troops at the problem. Maybe it’s time to try and engage Iran and Syria. When I think about Iraq I don’t feel angry at Bush, I feel sad and depressed.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

I feel the same way, particularly for the Iraqi people, and the U.S. soldiers who gave their life for their country.

4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wanted to reply to your comments about Chirac and Iran but will combine my comments with your posting about the NIE. Please forgive the length of this response....

Two themes from MASH:

1. The need for triage. In triage, there is no moral or philosophical evaluation, only What Is. Is there anything that can be done to save the patient, and, if so, what is it?

It’s impossible to know if there is any strategy that would work in Iraq but we can make a pretty good guess about the current strategy. The “surge” won’t work by itself. It might have some short term cosmetic effects (though even this is doubtful) but will have no enduring effect unless it is coupled with political changes in Iraq and diplomatic efforts as envisioned by the Baker-Hamilton study.

Support for the war is at an all-time low. If the surge doesn’t produce an obvious and lasting improvement, we can expect a complete collapse of support for the war. Such a collapse could well lead to a rash precipitous call for immediate withdrawal regardless of the consequences. At that point, there will be almost no chance of diplomatic efforts succeeding.

IMO, the most pressing issue that needs to be addressed is not what to do in Iraq but how do we minimize the consequences of failure.

2. “Suicide is dangerous....” – opening words of the theme of MASH

Failure in Iraq will have dire consequences. Some of these are inevitable but some can be minimized and a few big ones perhaps avoided.

To me, the most important thing we can avoid from this debacle is war with Iran. The real thing to consider is not if we can “win” such a war but, what is the cost (in the broadest sense of the word) of war with Iran. The list of probable and possible consequence is too long to attempt.

One thing we can say is that we do not have the troops for a ground invasion and would have to rely on strategic weapons. Iran, on the other hand, will have plenty of Revolutionary Guards to send into Iraq. And we can anticipate moves that will disrupt oil production as never before. It may not be the end of life as we know it, but it will certainly be the end of lifestyle as we know it.

War with Iran can and must be avoided. Yes, the President of Iran is a flake but he does not have the same authority as we give a President. There are signs that he is losing support based on recent elections and editorials in “mullah-authorized” publications. Also, thinking long-term, Iran’s population is young and (hard-to-believe-but-true) the young population of Iran has the highest opinion of the US for any country in the Middle East. If we had a policy of diplomatic engagement and took a long-term “Cold War” view, there are reasons to hope that we could come to at least an accommodation with Iran.

Given that this administration rejected the thin thread of hope that might have come from trying the Baker-Hamilton suggestions, it seems to me that defeat in Iraq is inevitable and that now the issue is how to minimize the consequences.

Happy Day, y’all.

-- Big Daddy

11:26 AM  

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