Friday, August 31, 2007

Exploring a third way to end the war

Wars normally end when they are won or lost Logically this should be the destiny of any war, more so in current times with advanced tactics and sophisticated weaponry that make it hard and extremely costly for wars to last long, or for either belligerent party to prolong fighting beyond certain limits.

With many rules changing, though, the ones applying to war seem to be so too. The war on Iraq, which started in the spring of 2003 and was declared won weeks after, is still raging on, with no end in sight. Contrary to conventional logic, and of course to US President George W. Bush’s “mission accomplished” declaration in early May 2003, this war has neither been, nor can it be, really won, and, strangely, it seems difficult to lose as well.

Although the cost of this US war runs currently at a rate of $2 billion a day, according to recent estimates, and the number of US casualties continue to rise, the Bush administration is not giving any indication other than that the war should continue and the foreign forces presence in Iraq should continue as well. For how long can Iraq and the Iraqi people sustain the devastation? How long can the world bear the damage caused, and which continues to spread? And how long can the US maintain an adventure which has been proven wrong from the beginning to the end, and which is only destined to certain failure?

There are two conflicting views on this matter, both within and outside the US. One calls for ending the war because it is not going anywhere and not achieving anything other than death and destruction, in addition of course to producing counterproductive consequences, such as causing severe harm to US - and indeed Western - relations with the entire Muslim and Arab world. It also is enhancing regional radicalization, sectarianism, instability, conflict and even global terrorism, as well as harming the very objectives the warring party claimed were set to achieve. This view is plainly correct.The other view, mainly of the Bush administration’s and its internal and external supporters, is that any abrupt ending of the war, and subsequent withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq, would hand the terrorists an easy victory and would, consequently, precipitate massive massacres, similar to those in Vietnam.This view, despite the fact that Vietnam was basically different, sounds technically correct too. Obviously the regime that has been established in Baghdad, regardless of who sits at its head, following the toppling of the previous one would not be able to stand on its own without full reliance on the direct protection of the foreign forces.

All efforts so far to build an adequate security apparatus and state institutions, and to enable any national government to gradually reduce its dependence on foreign troop support have failed.The rising power of the “resistance” attests to this reality. This is much the same as in Afghanistan where a departure of foreign forces would expose “green-zone regimes” to sudden collapse, paving the ground for the instant return of “terrorists”.The situation in Iraq has been steadily transcending the “legal forces versus resistance” equation into a much more complex internal conflict involving: resistance to occupation, civil war, sectarian strife, regional intervention, foreign struggle for influence, terrorism, thuggery, settling of old accounts, crime and profiteering. It will naturally not be easy to clean any society of such evils long after the war causing them had ended. It will take longer in Iraq, but prolonging a failed war will not make things any better, now or in the post-war era.The often forgotten reality is that neither the continuing war nor the presence of foreign forces has been able to prevent the collapse of “installed” regimes such as Maliki’s, or to restore any level of order by stemming out “terror” and raging daily violence. The choice, therefore, is not between an occupation which is building and preserving internal security, and helping progress and democracy, and against ending it and inviting chaos in place; it is rather between existing occupation dangers, on the one hand, and “exaggerated” consequences of its departure, on the other.It will be utterly naive, however, not to expect that the vacuum which would follow any sudden foreign forces withdrawal would not suck in more chaos and more civil conflict. This can hardly be avoided either way: continued occupation is indeed enflaming it, while ending it would truly offer the “terrorists” a taste of victory, and even make the situation temporarily worse, until the Iraqis, with UN and agreed regional help learn to live together, govern themselves and keep their country together.Of course, the current Iraqi administration, whether under Maliki or someone else, would repeatedly warn against foreign forces withdrawal because it can hardly survive on its own. The Bush administration would equally and understandably oppose any calls to end the war because that implies defeat and would, consequently, reflect badly on the entire failed war project, its fabricated pretexts and the responsibilities involved in spilling so much American, Iraqi and other blood, money and resources. Risks of accountability should not be underestimated.But how for long can NATO forces stay in Afghanistan, and how long can a large multinational force stay in Iraq just to protect pseudo-democratic non-self-sustaining regimes? Obviously they cannot stay forever.

The larger regional picture, on the other hand, is far more alarming. The sectarian seeds that the war has sown in Iraq are growing all over the region. The “New Middle East” is drifting further towards instability and fragmentation. Urgent security needs and requirements are blocking any genuine attempts towards democratization and openness, and one can hardly blame putting security considerations at the top of any priority list, with terrorism benefiting so much from the chaos, digging deeper and spreading faster.The Iraq factor, linking well with the other, chronic, Arab-Israeli conflict, is threatening the shaky stability of the whole region. A state of ominous polarization between many states in the region and their angered and frustrated Islamist crowds is developing fast, and fast precipitating violent clashes. Pakistan is not the only example here, although the most visible. There is a lot more to require deep attention. There are also regional divisions between the so-called extremists and moderates; another alarming symptom of serious political discord, which becomes all the more serious when running, as apparently it is, along sectarian lines.All these, and more, are the consequences of the war. The war should not, therefore, be defended and it cannot be justified on the grounds of treating its own blunders. The more it lasts the more blunders it will create.There is a dilemma here: keeping the war in the name of fighting terror, or freeing terror by opting for a sudden end to the war. If neither option is wise, there should be a third way: end the war gradually, hand the problem to the UN while offering it all the needed superpower political, legal and military support.* Published in THE JORDAN TIMES on August 29, 2007.

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