Cobban Critique of Cole
My good friend Helena Cobban offers her own critique of my position on the need for some way of forestalling massive conventional civil war in Iraq in the aftermath of an Anglo-American withdrawal of ground troops.
She asks where a plan like mine has succeeded. I answer, Kosovo.
I don’t want to be thin-skinned, but I have to object to the ad hominem approach of both Cobban and Achcar (below) in asking about my credentials to propose such plans. First of all, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith, who headed the Department of Defense during and after the Iraq War, supposedly have such credentials, but they clearly had no idea whatsoever what they were doing. So security credentials are no guarantee of anything. Second, my thinking on these things generally tracks with that of scholars such as Barry Posen at MIT’s Security Studies Program, with which I have an affiliation, by the way. Third, the details of how the US military would accomplish a task would of course be left to the military people, who are experts in their own world; but over-arching goals can usefully be suggested by civilian analysts. Finally, I’m not exactly innocent of military history.
Cobban mischaracterizes my plan insofar as what I propose is giving the new Iraqi army close air support of a sort that would allow it to face down conventional military attacks by armed guerrillas marching on the Green Zone. There are now about 3000 Iraqi army troops that could and would fight in such a battle, and US air support would ensure decisive victories. The point of the US air forces and special ops is simply to support the Iraqi army; the special ops would have to be there to rescue any US crews that were shot down. The air bases could be in Kuwait in the south and in Kurdistan in the north. They would not be permanent. There are no such things as permanent bases. All of the bases I grew up on are gone. Bases are a political artefact, and depend on political agreements. If the Iraqis want them they will be there, if they don’t, they won’t. Look at the Philippines.
My plan does indeed suggest an abandonment of much of the country for the time being to local forces. The Anglo-American forces aren’t able to stop local forces from taking over, anyway, though they can destroy the cities taken over, which is unlikely to make the people there pro-American or happy with the government in Baghdad, to say the least. The Shiite religious parties that control the central government also control much of the Shiite south, which is not therefore problematic. The problem with just letting go of a city like Mosul, with 80 percent Sunni Arab population and over a million inhabitants, is that it can become a base for the guerrillas and ultimately with enough bases they could close in on the government in Baghdad with conventional armies. At that point they look like the Serbian armies in Kosovo and I am saying we know what to do about such a threat and know we can do it.
My plan assumes that the unconventional guerrilla violence, with bombings and assassinations, will go on for some time and that there is nothing anyone can do about it. Withdrawal of Coalition ground troops might put the Shiites and the Kurds in more of a mood to compromise with the neo-Baathists, Salafis and tribal forces now waging the guerrilla war, which could help.
The bottom line is that Iraq is fractured politically and militarily and a precipitate and complete withdrawal of Coalition forces would allow the outbreak of full-blown civil war among armed factions, which in turn would certainly pull in neighbors like Iran and Saudia Arabia. This scenario is not certain, but it is highly likely and the Iraqis I have brought it up with say the same thing. It is a potentiality that must be guarded against, since its consequences would be horrific. Simple withdrawal is not prudent because it does not so guard.