Monday, September 13, 2004

The Iraqi Insurgency

A story in today's New York Times indicates that the Iraqi insurgency is gaining momentum. The coordinated attacks that occurred in Baghdad yesterday make it clear that, at this point, not even the capital has been fully secured by the interim government or the occupation forces:
In a series of tightly sequenced attacks, at least 25 Iraqis were killed by suicide car bombings and a barrage of missile and mortar fire in several neighborhoods across Baghdad on Sunday.

The attacks were the most widespread in months, seeming to demonstrate the growing power of the insurgency and heightening the sense of uncertainty and chaos in the capital at a time when American forces have already ceded control to insurgents in a number of cities outside of Baghdad.
The story also states that
American forces appear to be facing a guerrilla insurgency that is more sophisticated and more widespread than ever before. Last month, attacks on American forces reached their highest level since the war began, an average of 87 per day.

Two things are important to keep in mind with respect to the situation in Iraq. First, the war in Iraq was a war of choice, not of necessity. This limits the political and military options available to the United States in dealing with the insurgency. ("You broke it, you pay for it" is, understandably, the attitude of many of America's traditional allies.) Second, the American occupation of Iraq has brought greater instability to the Middle East contrary to the expectations of those who planned the war. The great problem facing policymakers now is that neither staying the course nor withdrawing from Iraq seems likely to improve the stability of the region. We must determine what policy is likely to be the lesser evil knowing full well that even the lesser evil is likely to be significantly worse than the status quo ante bellum.

It should go without saying (but clearly doesn't) that (1) we should never fight wars of choice, not necessity, and (2) if we do, those wars should not be ones that increase, rather than decrease, the level of instability and insecurity in the world.

For more on the situation in Iraq, I recommend Informed Comment, written by Juan Cole of the University of Michigan. In a recent post, Cole wrote:

Al-Qaeda has succeeded in several of its main goals. It had been trying to convince Muslims that the United States wanted to invade Muslim lands, humiliate Muslim men, and rape Muslim women. Most Muslims found this charge hard to accept. The Bush administration's Iraq invasion, along with the Abu Ghuraib prison torture scandal, was perceived by many Muslims to validate Bin Laden's wisdom and foresightedness.

After the Iraq War, Bin Laden is more popular than George W. Bush even in a significantly secular Muslim country such as Turkey. This is a bizarre finding, a weird turn of events. Turks didn't start out with such an attitude. It grew up in reaction against US policies.
What can the United States do correct the situation at this point? A high-level appointment in the next administration, whether Democratic or Republican, may await someone who has a reasonable answer.