Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Options Running Out for Bush in Iraq

What happens to US strategy in Iraq matters greatly to the UK as we are bound to be influenced and our soldiers' lives directly put at risk. Following his ignoring of the Iraq Survey Group's recommendations for a multilateral road map out of the conflict he adopted the contrary 'surge' policy of committing another 30,000 in an attempt to break the hold the militias have over Bagdhad and elsewhere in Iraq. It now seems palpable that the surge policy has failed and Bush's free-fall in standing is now accompanied by the slow defection of members of his own Republican party into the Democrat 'bring our boys home now' camp. Even Senator John McCain's presidential campaign is faltering badly through his support of the 'surge' and he may well end up yet another political casualty of the ongoing disaster.

The slaughter of US troops and even more so Iraqi civilians by car bombs, suicide bombers and internecine murder has not reduced much by the influx of the new troops and the great gust of support leaving the Bush standard has caused a current rethink in strategy. As I see it, there are a number of options.

1. Stick the course: Advocates argue that the new troops have only just arrived and need time to make their presence felt. However, others maintain- I think correctly- this path is now virtually impossible as the fighting amounts to a vicious civil war to which the western presence acts as a constant catalyst.

2. Withdraw now: this course is urged by 70% of the US population, now thoroughly disenchanted with the wretched pass the neocon's adventure has come to. People like Simon Jenkins recommends British troops should do the same but I wonder. Withdrawing so quickly would send a 'surrender' message to terrorist groups everywhere and I'm not sure the world would benefit from that. We have to recognise that, in the absence of any other force, the US is still the world's policeman.

Furthermore, exiting the battle field will leave a power vacuum in the Middle East which will be filled by even less palatable forces: the Shia and Sunni militias, Al Quaeda and Iran whose probable entrance into Iraq-some say Iranian influence is already physically present- would bring a Shia nation alongside a Sunni one in the form of Saudi Arabia. However, when the withdrawal occurs- and it will sooner rather than later- it has to be measured and within the context of reasonable stability. Otherwise the very act of withdrawal will be accompanied by massive losses to the 160,000 US troops stationed there.

3. Retreat into fortified bases: This option is considered by Julian Borger yesterday. This would entail:

'a retreat from the firing line in cities such as Baghdad and Baquba and into [the 40 or so] highly-fortified, 'enduring' bases around Iraq. From there, US troops would only emerge in the form of special forces raids or withering air power for specific missions in support of the Iraqi government.' My feeling is that this would not assauge the fighting, would be a death warrant to the Iraqi army and thousands more civilians and might lead to such bases deteriorating into 40 'besieged' bases.

4. Borger also sketches in a 'variant':

'Withdrawal to bases in the region, in Qatar, Bahrain and possibly Turkey, formally ending the occupation but retaining the strategic capacity to intervene under circumstances such as the threat of invasion by one of Iraq's neighbours or the emergence of an al-Qaida statelet in Anbar province.

This would still be a very dangerous course but would at least remove the hated western troops from this benighted Muslim country, would reduce the casualty rate and act as a 'halfway house' between the present and eventual full withdrawal. Bush might be hanging on to hand over the insoluble state of affairs to his 2008 successor but I suspect political forces in the US will demand action well before then. Whether he likes it or not he will have to clear up his own mess and accept full blame for his criminal foolishness- as Blair should but refuses to do so. The options are fast running out.

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