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What is Plan C ? 16 février 2007

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie, USA / Etats-Unis.
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U.S. News & World Report, February 19, 2007 Monday

Kevin Whitelaw, Anna Mulrine

Bush may have a few months to test his new Iraq strategy, but he’ll need a fallback-and the options are scary

Amid the congressional grandstanding last week over U.S. policy in Iraq, House Minority Leader John Boehner tried to channel President Bush and cast the choice as a simple one. « If you’re not for victory in Iraq, » the Ohio Republican said, « you’re for failure. »

If only it were that simple.

What kind of « victory, » realistically, is achievable at this point? Certainly not a model democracy. Probably not even a particularly stable government, but perhaps one that would present some semblance of central authority and deny al Qaeda a new home for its training camps. What would failure be? These days, most Americans would probably settle for anything less than an all-out civil or regional war-as long as it brings the troops home. More voices are arguing that maybe the goal should simply be getting U.S. troops out of Iraq, whatever the consequences.

For now, Democrats and Republicans in Congress are tying themselves in knots trying to respond to the new strategy President Bush laid out last month for Iraq-his Plan B. The president’s critics have focused on his call for a so-called surge of 21,500 U.S. troops, but Plan B is a broader shift that makes American soldiers responsible (for the first time) for keeping the Iraqi people safe. The new security plan is still taking shape, with additional U.S. troops moving into Baghdad. But the past two weeks have been demoralizing, with a handful of U.S. helicopters shot down and Baghdad convulsed by its own surge of suicide bombings and sectarian killings.

Even U.S. officials admit privately that Plan B is a long shot, alarmingly dependent on the performance of an Iraqi government that has yet to demonstrate much by way of resolve. Anthony Cordesman, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, puts the odds of success at « probably less than 1 in 4. » U.S. intelligence agencies are downright skeptical. The newly issued National Intelligence Estimate says that both Iraqi leaders and security forces will be « hard pressed » to move forward in the next 18 months.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a Senate panel last week that he is « planning for success » but conceded that he has ordered Pentagon officials to look at fallbacks. « I would be irresponsible, » he said, « if I weren’t thinking about what the alternatives might be. » In public, U.S. officials are loath to discuss a possible « Plan C, » but any significant shift would require months of preparation.

Unfortunately, the options for Plan C range from ugly to abhorrent-underscoring exactly how much is riding on Bush’s Plan B. A look at five of the most-discussed options for Plan C, and their shortcomings:

1. Withdrawal

Announce a date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops; accelerate training of Iraqi security forces; intensify diplomatic efforts to keep Iraq’s neighbors from intervening

With violence spiraling and the Iraqi government so far unable to reverse the trend, a new report by the Council on Foreign Relations suggests that the situation may simply be irretrievable and U.S. forces will have to pull out from an unstable Iraq sooner or later. « It is now just a matter of time, » the report concludes. « Better to withdraw as a coherent … act than withdraw later in a hectic response to public opposition … or a series of unexpectedly sharp reverses on the ground in Iraq. »

A carefully orchestrated pullout might avoid the helicopter-evacuation-from-the-embassy-roof debacle of Vietnam, but the U.S. presence has become one of the few checks on violence in Iraq. Pulling out risks turning what amounts to a civil war into a larger, regional battle. « When we invaded, we created a failed state that has absolutely no capacity, » says Kenneth Pollack, a former Persian Gulf analyst at the CIA. « It is simply ridiculous to suggest that the government could hold the country together without massive American assistance. »

The U.S. intelligence community warned in its recent estimate on Iraq that a rapid withdrawal could lead to even more violence, as well as to the collapse of the Iraqi government and the intervention of one or more of Iraq’s neighbors. Saudi Arabia and Turkey have warned that they might be forced to defend their interests in Iraq, while Iran already has a significant economic and intelligence presence in the country. The ultimate fear: the specter of a broad Sunni-Shiite confrontation in the oil-rich Middle East.

A carefully phased withdrawal could mitigate some of the risk of collapse, but any effort to continue training and sustaining Iraqi security forces would require a significant U.S. military presence in Iraq. The Iraqi military is « going to need aviation support, tanks-and be backed up by U.S. military units, » says retired Gen. Joseph Hoar, former head of Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East. « The Iraq Army has demonstrated, just in the past two weeks, that they don’t have the ability to fight the big fight against a determined enemy. » In the most optimistic scenario, it will take several years for the Iraqi security forces to become self-sustaining. Fewer troops may mean fewer casualties, but the increased violence sure to follow could cripple the Iraqi government.

2. Partition

Accelerate the existing trend of dividing Iraq into Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish areas; establish a loose federation, tied together by oil revenues

This scenario, backed by Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden and others, says that Washington should simply accept that Iraqis are already voting with their feet. The sectarian death squads in Baghdad and other mixed cities have already effectively « cleansed » many of Baghdad’s mixed neighborhoods. Several million Iraqis have either fled to Syria or Jordan or sought refuge in neighborhoods dominated by their own sect. « I see that as the only way out, » says retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who was in charge of training Iraqi security forces from 2003 to 2004. « We’re dealing with 1,000 years of Sunni-Shiite divide. »

Iraq is, however, a long way from being truly divided. Shiite- and Sunni-dominated areas remain interspersed throughout large portions of Iraq, and Baghdad in particular. Simply trying to draw formal dividing lines could throw millions of Iraqis out of their homes-and even provoke an all-out civil war. While Kurds would be delighted by a deeper partition, the Sunnis, who fear losing their share of Iraq’s oil wealth, and powerful Shiite leaders like firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, fiercely oppose it. Kurds and Arabs both claim the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk. And nobody has a good answer for the future of Baghdad.

Iraq may eventually be headed toward some form of partition anyway, but having the United States impose a division could be disastrous. « When the partition becomes our responsibility, we have to make the decisions of who gets to keep their homes and who doesn’t, » says Pollack. « At the end of the day, we will have to be present to police the demarcation line. » Eaton agrees that Iraqi leaders would first have to reach a political compromise on where the boundaries would be, including places like Kirkuk. « Until that Iraqi government says we’re going to pursue a partition, » he says, « then there’s really nothing we can do. »

3. Strongman

Abandon the experiment with democracy; install a new regime that can move decisively against insurgents and militias, including Sadr

The goal of installing a model democracy in Iraq might never have been realistic, but it would be very difficult to abandon. The Bush administration worked hard to push out former Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari. Unfortunately, his successor, Nouri al-Maliki, has proved nearly as incapable of asserting himself on any significant security, political, or economic issues. In recent days, Maliki has taken tentative steps against Sadr, a key backer, but may not follow through.

If Iraq’s current political leaders are incapable of reaching the compromises needed for political reconciliation, it’s not clear who could force the changes. For one thing, Washington would have to choose either a Sunni or a Shiite to put in charge. The Shiites won a majority in the last election, but the traditional Sunni leaders still feel entitled to a large share of the power. « If the strongman is a Shia, then the Sunnis will never come to heel for that, and neither will the Kurds, » says Eaton. « I just don’t see that one playing out without an extraordinary brutality as we watch the guy bring the country to heel. »

4. Attack Iran

Tehran is actively stoking violence in Iraq; provoke a confrontation; use airstrikes to restrain Iran

With a second aircraft carrier battle group headed to the Persian Gulf, Patriot missile batteries in Kuwait and Qatar, and a Navy admiral taking over U.S. Central Command, many are concerned that the Bush administration is gearing up for an air war (perhaps even as an excuse to take out Iran’s nuclear program). In recent weeks, U.S. officials have stepped up their rhetoric accusing Iran of training and supplying weapons to Shiite militias. Says Hoar: « I think we’re setting ourselves up for a battle with the Iranians, » a charge Gates denies. Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini last week threatened to retaliate against any U.S. strike by attacking American interests worldwide.

But U.S. intelligence agencies were very clear in the recent NIE: Iran might support the militias, but if Iranian involvement ended tomorrow, violence in Iraq would not decrease appreciably. In fact, attacking Iran could spur them to create even more trouble in Iraq. And it would almost certainly backfire inside Iran. While a number of military analysts favor playing a strong hand to unsettle the Iranians, « the idea of actually following through and bombing the country » would reverse the momentum of student movements that have been agitating against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, says Eaton. « The Persians are very nationalistic. If they take an attack, any opportunity to create change from within is gone. »

5. Containment

The slide to all-out civil war is inevitable; pull U.S. forces out of Baghdad and other contested areas, and create safe zones inside Iraq’s borders for refugees

For Washington, this route is tantamount to conceding complete defeat in Iraq. « The only thing standing between Iraq and a descent into Lebanon- or Bosnia-style maelstrom is 140,000 American troops, and even they are merely slowing the fall at this point, » concluded a recent report issued by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. « If we cannot prevent such a full-scale civil war, then containment, as awful as it threatens to be, might still prove to be our least bad option. »

Based on a grim application of realpolitik, containment would largely abandon the center of Iraq to anarchy, focusing instead on preventing a larger regional conflict. The level of Iraqi casualties could be staggering. « At best, if everything worked out, we would be leaving the Iraqis to a horrible fate, » admits Pollack, who coauthored the Saban Center report. Yet he says that it would still require as many as 70,000 U.S. troops to maintain a series of « catch-basins » around Iraq to safeguard and disarm refugees-and deter foreign intervention. It could prove very difficult for U.S. troops to stand by while Baghdad descends into all-out chaos. « It’s a solution of last resort, » says Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Further, the plan could enable al Qaeda to establish a more permanent presence, even training camps, in western Iraq. It could also appear to invite Iran’s intervention because it would most likely be too difficult to manage camps along the Iranian border.

Concerted diplomacy may not deter Iran’s intervention, but U.S. diplomatic efforts with Tehran did ease tensions in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. « You could make the case that we’re doing Iran’s work for them by getting rid of Saddam and turning it inside out with a Shia government being in place when the dust settled, » says Hoar. « We have common interests in a stable Iraq. » But in recent weeks, the Bush administration has stepped up accusations against Iran, making the prospect of dialogue even more remote.

Picture, U.S. Marine Capt. Ryan Crais on patrol with an Iraqi Army officer , John Moore-Getty Images

Picture, Baghdad shop owner Abu Abdullah (right) lost two sons in a truck-bomb attack, which also destroyed his store., Khalid Mohammed-AP

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