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WAR HAS NO 'ELEGANT SOLUTIONS'
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
November 21, 2006

November 21, 2006 -- AMERICANS have long made fun of the French love of finding solutions before knowing what the problem is. Yet the U.S. political and media elite has itself taken up the habit - with a quest for "elegant solutions" in Iraq.

The sense that unhappiness on Iraq led to losses by President Bush's Republicans has opened the floodgates for all sorts of ideas, some fanciful, others derelict. Two such ideas appear to be the talk of the town in Washington.

The first is to "cut and run" - or, more palatably, "whistle and walk away." Supporters of this idea don't care what might happen to Iraq or the Middle East as a whole. For most, the toppling of Saddam Hussein was a secular version of original sin, which nothing short of the political destruction of Bush (and Britain's Tony Blair) can expiate.

The trouble is, "cut and run" is easier said than done: It is always easier to send an army in than bring it out.

In 1968, Richard Nixon, campaigning for the presidency, was said to have a "secret plan" to get U.S. forces out of Vietnam. Nixon won, but it took the United States six more years to get that last helicopter out of Saigon. (By then, Nixon, driven out of office by the Watergate scandal, was sulking on the sidelines.)

And "cut and run" was easier in Vietnam then than it would be in Iraq. In Vietnam, the Americans had a negotiating partner - the Communist regime in Hanoi. They knew who to "give the keys to." In Iraq, there is no such negotiating partner. Even if Saddam were brought back, he no longer has the murderous machine he'd need to gain power and provide the Americans with cover while they run away.

Handing the keys to al Qaeda would be equally problematic, if only because the self-styled Jihadists, although able to kill defenseless civilians, don't have the clout to cover the American retreat against America's other enemies in Iraq.

Some may not care about such complications. They'd throw the keys in the midst of the melee, and let the various armed groups in Iraq fight over it. But even that is easier said than done. When you run away, you need somewhere to run to on your way home. The U.S.-led Coalition has some 160,000 troops in Iraq, backed by a vast logistical network and a string of bases that can't be dismantled overnight.

Even with the logistical abilities of the U.S. military, it took almost eight months to build up the force that invaded Iraq in March 2003. Most military analysts agree that it would take at least three times longer to wind down the Coalition's military presence in Iraq.

And even that assumes that Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey agree to help. But why should they - when it is obvious that, if the Americans run away before new Iraq can stand on its feet, Iraq will either plunge into civil war or fall under a Ba'ath/al Qaeda regime that would be deadly for all its neighbors?

All in all, therefore, even "whistle and walk away" is a non-starter, if only because there is no one to whom the United States can surrender. (And, if there was going to be a regime capable of holding Iraq together, then why not try to ensure it is a friend of the United States?)

The second hot "solution" circulating in Washington is the "talk to the mullahs" scenario. There is nothing wrong in talking to the Iranian regime (or anyone else, for that matter). But the fact is that Tehran today cannot give the United States what it needs in Iraq.

The most that the mullahs can do is to stop making mischief in the Shiite provinces, by curbing Muqtada al Sadr, their wild card in Iraq. But the mullahs have no control over either the Saddamite bitter-enders or the al Qaeda terrorists.

Some "talk to the mullahs" advocates hope that Iran might send troops to defeat the Saddamites and al Qaeda once the Americans begin to leave. But a Persian army entering Iraq is most likely to simply add fuel to the fire.

Some may not care about such complications. They'd throw the keys in the midst of the melee, and let the various armed groups in Iraq fight over it. But even that is easier said than done. When you run away, you need somewhere to run to on your way home. The U.S.-led Coalition has some 160,000 troops in Iraq, backed by a vast logistical network and a string of bases that can't be dismantled overnight.

Even with the logistical abilities of the U.S. military, it took almost eight months to build up the force that invaded Iraq in March 2003. Most military analysts agree that it would take at least three times longer to wind down the Coalition's military presence in Iraq.

And even that assumes that Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey agree to help. But why should they - when it is obvious that, if the Americans run away before new Iraq can stand on its feet, Iraq will either plunge into civil war or fall under a Ba'ath/al Qaeda regime that would be deadly for all its neighbors?

All in all, therefore, even "whistle and walk away" is a non-starter, if only because there is no one to whom the United States can surrender. (And, if there was going to be a regime capable of holding Iraq together, then why not try to ensure it is a friend of the United States?)

The second hot "solution" circulating in Washington is the "talk to the mullahs" scenario. There is nothing wrong in talking to the Iranian regime (or anyone else, for that matter). But the fact is that Tehran today cannot give the United States what it needs in Iraq.

The most that the mullahs can do is to stop making mischief in the Shiite provinces, by curbing Muqtada al Sadr, their wild card in Iraq. But the mullahs have no control over either the Saddamite bitter-enders or the al Qaeda terrorists.

Some "talk to the mullahs" advocates hope that Iran might send troops to defeat the Saddamites and al Qaeda once the Americans begin to leave. But a Persian army entering Iraq is most likely to simply add fuel to the fire.

One reason why some Iraqi Arab Sunnis, and many of their brethren throughout the Middle East, still won't back the Coalition is their fear that Washington might have a secret plan to hand Iraq over to the mullahs via pro-Iranian Shiite politicians in Baghdad.

These "elegant solutions" fail in part because they neglect to define the problem. Speaking in London recently, Blair did just that: "In Iraq, terrorism has changed the nature of the battle. Its purpose is now plain: to provoke civil war. . . . The violence is not therefore an accident or a result of faulty planning. It is a deliberate strategy. It is the direct result of outside extremists teaming up with internal extremists - al Qaeda with the Sunni insurgents, Iranian-backed Shia militia - to foment hatred and thus throttle at birth the possibility of non-sectarian democracy.

"These external elements are, of course, the same elements driving extremism the world over. This is crucial to our understanding of the right strategy to combat it.

"The majority of Iraqis don't want this extremism: They showed that when they voted for an explicitly non-sectarian government. But the terrorists are trying to propel them toward it."

What all this means is that the struggle in Iraq is part of the broader war against global terrorism. It is also clear that a majority of Iraqis do not support the various terrorist groups operating there and, thus, it would be treacherous to abandon them before they can defend themselves.

Although numerous terms are used to describe Iraq, only one reflects the reality of the situation: war. The U.S.-led Coalition didn't go to Iraq for a picnic. It went there to fight to dismantle one of the most vicious regimes in recent history and to replace it with a regime chosen by the Iraqi peoples. Those objectives have been achieved but are challenged by the elements that Blair talked about.

The message to those in search of elegant solutions is simple: This is a war, stupid! And what are the options in a war? One can fight to win. One can surrender to the enemy. One can panic and run away. These are the options in Iraq.

So, let the debate begin.

Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.

 

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