Sunday, March 30, 2008

US denial in Iraq: withdrawal symptoms

Palm Beach Gardens, March 24, 2008

The continuation of the US-led war in Iraq, which is now in its sixth year, is fueled by three elements of a questionable mindset: our feelings of invincibility in war, our fear of transfer of terror from Baghdad to Washington, and our anticipation of regional wars in the aftermath of US troop withdrawal.

Let us first examine the “invincibility” outlook, which is a predisposition of denial. Americans are not used to losing wars. For a country that spends more than the rest of the world’s total military budget on defense, losing in war is not an option, especially for generals and policy makers. Vietnam was the first war to be lost. Many still have the arrogant belief that losses in Vietnam could have turned into victory had US troops stayed longer. Similarly, in the face of accumulating death and destruction in Iraq, there is a conviction that the war can be won. American triumphalists do not realize that their occupying forces are a large part of the problem and not the solution. Staying the course in Iraq ignores the fact that Middle Easterners consider the US occupation a dictatorship. Arabs consider the occupation a neo-colonial social order. In Iraq the US is fighting local insurgents directly as well as regional groups covertly. Can a force of 170 thousand soldiers maintain law and order in a vast country with power shifting insurgencies, fratricidal factions and border nations that consider the US a colonial presence?

Now let us examine the second factor that is inhibiting US withdrawal of troops: fear of migration of terror to America. The fear of transfer of Iraq-based terror to the US is unfounded. America does not provide nesting grounds for terror. Terrorists have no demographic cover in the US. To survive terrorists require an environment that tolerates underground organization. Arab and Muslim Americans are educated, integrated and loyal citizens. Terrorism thrives within communities that are alienated from larger society with no stakes in the economic and social system. In fact, Arabs and Muslims of America are the best agents for fighting terrorism because they are loyal Americans and they stand to lose the most by acts of terror, regardless of where these acts occurs in the world.

And finally, the most important element underpinning the mindset of staying the course in Iraq is fear of spread of civil war when troops are withdrawn. If the US troops leave the country as defeated occupiers hostilities will indeed expand within and outside Iraq. But US could leave honorably by engaging in an alternative strategy. That strategy would integrate regional peace with empowerment and political reconciliation. The US still garners respect in many quarters of the Middle East. America has regional allies that are willing to cooperate to solve the Iraq conundrum. Four of the countries that border Iraq are friendly to the US - Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. But Iran and Syria are in a conflict with America. However, these two adversarial regimes have shown in the past strong willingness to reconcile with the US if their interests are considered seriously. Syria and Iran have assertive and volatile regimes. But the US cannot afford to ignore two of the six countries that encircle Iraq if it wishes to establish a comprehensive consortium of peace in the region.

A three-way regional peace forged among the US, the Iraqi government and the six border countries- Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan and Kuwait- would go a long way in resolving the conflict. But a regional peace agreement with the US requires painful processing of reality and a seismic shift in foreign policy.

Establishing a regional peace would unify the region against world terrorism. The most practical cure for international terrorism can naturally emerge from within the power structure of the Muslim world. AlQaeda will be defeated in Iraq and in Afghanistan when Iran, Turkey and the Arab world cooperate wholeheartedly with the West to eliminate terrorism.

When Middle East powers agree on a US sponsored plan for a reunified Iraq, a regional peace-force can be organized with a negotiable long-term mandate. This regional peace force would prevent the threat of continued civil war and the spread of the conflict beyond Iraq’s borders.

The question for America is not whether to withdraw or to stay; the question is whether to work with regional partners or to bully them into compliance.

A new US foreign policy would free Americans from a triumphal military stance, a simplistic geographical approach to control terrorism and a single-handed uphill strategy to conflict resolution.


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