Wesley Clark Conference Call
Wesley Clark held a conference call on the situation in Iraq with some bloggers Monday afternoon, in advance of testifying in Washington on the situation.
He began by pointing out that the US military made an assessment in September of 2002 that it could hold Iraq with 70,000 troops.
[I had not heard this before, and if it is true, and if the assessment came from the officer corps, it means that the typical opposition set up between Gen. Shinseki and others who wanted more troops, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who wanted a small force–might actually reflect a dispute within the officer corps itself, with Rumsfeld siding with the minimalist faction in the brass.]
I asked Gen. Clark how the US attains a “soft landing” in Iraq. I pointed out that the conventional wisdom is that if we just stay the course we will eventually be able to put down the guerrilla insurgency and stand up an Iraqi force that can keep them down.
But the problem is that if we over-stay our welcome, and if we do in fact weaken the Sunni guerrillas sufficiently, there is a danger that at that point the Shiites (no longer afraid of the Sunnis and by then very tired of our military presence) will just toss us out unceremoniously.
Clark replied with words to this effect:
He said that this way of posing the problem suggests the need to bring in Arab troops from regional countries, to have Arab advisers in the field with the Iraqi troops, and to continue train the Iraqi forces.
But the success of this enterprise requires that the government in Iraq have political legitimacy.
He went on to imply that it also requires the cooperation of Iraq’s neighbors. He saw a key contradiction in Bush administration policy in Iraq, which is that the operation in Iraq was seen as only a stepping stone to also overthrowing the regimes in Syria and Iran.
He located this policy in part in the Neoconservative circle of Richard Perle and Douglas Feith (Undersecretary of Defense for Policy).
He said the aim was to punish Asad’s regime and topple it, and likewise with Iran.
The problem with this idea of using Iraq as a springboard to finish off the regimes in Damascus and Tehran is that Bush has given Syria and Iran every reason to interfere with a soft landing of the US– indeed, there is a danger of a wider entanglement of the US in the region. [This is all loose paraphrase, not verbatim, but I think I’ve caught the implications.]
I said I saw no evidence that the guerrilla war was winding down.
Clark: You can’t tell where you are with this. If there is a way out, this is the way [i.e. that the Sunni Arabs would gradually give allegiance to the new elected government in Iraq]. There is no basis for the administration to crow that the guerrilla war is winding down.
Clark also made clear that he is not seeing military reports from the ground in Iraq, is not speaking from there, and so his assessment of the military situation is from a distance and not that of an insider. He did insist, nevertheless, that the Iraq crisis differs significantly from Vietnam in that the guerrillas in Iraq are so over-matched that they can never hope to engage in more than hit-and-run operations.
Those operations, however, could go on a long time if the political situation is not handled well.
Cole: I thought Clark put his finger on a key contradiction in the Bush administration “forward policy” in the Middle East, of targeting the governments of Syria and Iran for destruction even while the US needs their cooperation to avoid widening disaster in Iraq. This policy is not rational if it were intended solely for the benefit of the United States, and he thinks it derives from a concern to bolster regional allies even at the expense of US interests.
Clark was asked if this conference call was a sign of his interest in a 2008 presidential bid. He replied that he had supported John Kerry and John Edwards.
If the Democratic Party has any sense, it will indeed go for someone like Clark (who you could imagine winning Arkansas and West Virginia against the Republican candidate) in 2008. If the Dems go for Hilary or someone else with that profile, the red/blue split will look in 2008 exactly as it did in 2004, barring some huge disaster that befalls the Bush administration in the meantime. Plus Hilary has started giving that disgusting standard AIPAC stump speach that Fritz Hollings told us is distributed to you as soon as you get elected to Congress. Now that AIPAC is under investigation for espionage for the Likud Party, maybe someone in the US political establishment can finally start standing up to them and pointing out that what’s good for Likud isn’t necessarily good for Peoria (or even for Israel, more to the point).
Other bloggings of the confernce call: