Thursday, June 16, 2005

Not Looking Good

Thomas L. Friedman: Let's talk about Iraq - Editorials & Commentary - International Herald Tribune

Immediately after the election and the rather belated formation of a new government in Iraq, there was the hope that the security situation was going to improve and politics take over.

Now, a couple of months later, it doesn't really look like that.

The security situation in parts of the country remains difficult. Donald Rumsfeld recently said that the situation now was roughly the same as immediately after the fall of the Saddam regime. And it's obvious that part of the insurgents are getting more sophisticated in their different attacks. The surge in car bombings and coordinated attacks point in this direction.

The political process moves very slowly. There is still no agreement on bringing more Sunnis into the work to draft the new constitution. That this work will be completed in time is now virtually out of question. The transitional law has the option for a six-month extension, and this will most certainly have to be used.

When the British had to fight an insurgency in Iraq in the early 1920's they had roughly as many troops in the country as the United States has now. It wasn't easy, but they defeated the insurgency and established stability.

The problem is that since then the population of Iraq has increased by a factor of seventeen. Thus, the ratio of troops to population is now a seventeenth of what it was then. That's much, much too little.

At the same time it's evident that the US armed forces are feeling the strain of these extended deployments to Iraq. The US today is a distinctly weak military power in terms of ground forces - both in Iraq and elsewhere.

Is there an alternative course available?

If there is, it's hard to see. To allow Iraq to descend into anarchy as a consequence of a hasty withdrawal would be profoundly dangereous.

There would be a civil war in Iraq that would rapidly draw in its neighbours in different ways, and there would be a new generation of committed, experienced and victorious terrorists starting to spread across the world.

There is no alternative but staying the course. But that might require a more broadly-based political strategy both in terms of its international base and in terms of its domestic constituencies. And this must be combined with a continued and heavy international military presence essentially dominated by the United States.

All of which must work with a time perspective that stretches many years into the future.

Not too easy to sell to electorates expecting quick results. But there really is no decent alternative.