The Cepia Club Blog

The Cepia Club Blog: The Cepia Club believes individual awareness and activism can lead to a peaceful and prosperous world. This blog contains the pertinent literature, both creative and non-fiction, produced by the Cepiaclub Director and its associates.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Thomas Friedman’s Iraq Proposal

In the December 11, 2006, issue of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, syndicated columnist Thomas L. Friedman had a very interesting argument in favor of a rapid U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq. Friedman is perhaps the best known foreign affairs journalist in the U.S. His idea is unique and his logic is definitely not boxed by partisan slogans like “cut and run” or “stay the course.”

Many foreign policy experts, like Henry Kissinger, and amateur commentators, such as myself, have long offered the argument that a quick and complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq would result in a wider, more bloody regional conflict, which would include WMD. The term that is cropping up lately in the literature is the fear of “Balkanizing” Iraq. “Balkanization” happens when a nation’s central authority and its control of its territory disintegrate and becomes the prize in power struggles between neighboring countries. The term refers to what happen to the Muslim Ottoman Turk empire after World War I. Known as the “caliphate,” the Ottoman Empire fell apart, leading to the breakup of its territory in Southeast (Balkan) Europe and in Southwest Asia into smaller states. These states were the focused of struggle between the major colonial powers of Soviet Russia, France, and Great Britain. The colonial powers schemed for either direct or indirect control of these lands newly freed from Ottoman control. In the process, the modern secular state of Turkey was born withing the confines of its present borders.

The belief of a “Balkanization” of Iraq is that a U.S. retreat would allow the insurgency to explode and the civil war to broaden. The government would fall and the nation would break up into territorial and ethnic divisions along Shi’a, Sunni, and Kurdish enclaves. The fear that the experts and even amateurs warn against is the involvement of Iraq’s neighbors in a major war over direct control or indirect influence over the fragmented Iraq. This is an entirely realistic fear that has happened in history when such “power vacuums,” or lack of a stable system of government, form. The U.S. leaving Iraq before Iraq is capable of surviving on its own very well may create such a vacuum.

Friedman’s proposal is theoretical based on Iraq’s neighbors--Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Syria–being far too smart, rational and self-interested in national survival to let any such power competition entrap them in policies that lead to major war in the Middle East. Friedman believes that instead of Iran helping Shi’tes, Turkey manipulating the Kurds, Syria supporting Sunni’s, and Saudi Arabia assisting non-Iraqi Al-Qaeda fighters by willful blindness, that all of these countries would fear to lose their prosperity and their future in a war: In short, they would cooperate to solve the problems, instead of having the U.S. presence enable their quiet aggression in Iraq against America.

In Friedman’s view, political necessity and the need for a stable and strong peace in Iraq would force the regional powers now causing problems to instead be part of the solution. The author further makes the point that with the U.S. out of Iraq and deployed further back into the Persian Gulf or the Indian Ocean, Iran would no longer feel invulnerable to U.S. policy. Currently with such a massive forward presence at the head of the Persian Gulf, Iran can seriously disrupt supply lines through the Gulf. Iran has naval and air power enough to mine the Gulf and engage in guerilla warfare against the U.S. sea lines of communication. As a result of having the U.S. head in its own noose, Iran has ignored pressure on Iraq and on its nuclear development program. Freeing itself from the war, the U.S. would gain what makes for great diplomacy and military policy: more strategic political options than its enemies.

Friedman’s proposal and the theory behind it are not a conclusion on what would happen if the U.S. withdrew from Iraq. His suggestion depends on the self-interest, the self-survival instinct of Iraq’s neighbors. This theory depends almost completely on faith that Iran and Syria’s leaders, especially, are rational actors making their countries strategic policy based on reason and trust. They could be very rational people, but it would be risky to base U.S. policy of far-reaching consequences on such faith in fallible people as Bashar Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadejinad. Tthe weight of evidence thus far is against such a conclusion. Yet, some such move by the U.S. may be unavoidable. It should be only a last resort because of the risk. Yet, policy makers in a war always base decisions and following actions on “calculated risk.” There are ways that the U.S. can secure the advantages of its dominant position in the region while achieving its political goals. But before that can happen, the U.S. Government must define the objectives and settle a real political grand strategy on how to attain them before any military changes are made. Stay tuned to for development updates and more ideas.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Initial Reactions to the Iraq Study Group

I have not yet read the Iraq Study Group report that I downloaded the morning it came out. I plan on reading it over the next week. I have read, on the other hand, a lot of commentary on the report. The St. Paul (MN) Pioneer Press, the New York Times on-line, Foreign Affairs on-line and the Council on Foreign Relations website have some interesting analysis from “the usual suspects” who have widely disseminated opinions on national and international politics and security issues. What is offered here are my summations of what I’ve been reading that I feel is important. I will also provide a context and construct of how I will analyze the report for a future article.

The first thing that strikes me about the Baker-Hamilton commission (a.k.a. the Iraq Study Group) and its final report is the call for consensus among the “two” parties in America on what our foreign and defense policy should be. This Clublog and The Cepia Club Strategy Gazette newsletter in Nov. (Issue # 3) have made issue of the present lack and definite need for civility in policy discussions and debates to arrive at workable, positive solutions. The Iraq War, as seen by the American mid-term elections this fall, had partisan point scoring as a higher priority than protecting the lives of Americans fighting this global war on the terrorists. The Gazette issue in particular had an essay on the history of American foreign policy consensus and how such consensus has secured the blessings of liberty, freedom, justice, and unity for America for almost two and a half centuries. The ISG has said that no matter what is decided by policymakers, America’s leaders have to be united, the people fully supportive, behind any foreign or defense policy. Without such unity of mind and focus of effort, an otherwise divided America will weaken U.S. policy, place the country in danger and high risk, and give a decided gravity of advantage to the terrorists adversaries.

The second thing, which is upsetting, is about the criticism of the ISG report. Disparaging opinions by so-called civil and retired military experts on the report recommendation to embed American advisors in Iraqi units are both right and wrong. The report says the U.S. should place up to 30,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq units to train and advise their counter-insurgency operations. This places Iraq in comparison to Vietnam on its head. In that war, advisors led to escalation, then disengagement led back to advisors and Vietnamization. This embedding idea of the ISG’s goes from an initial full-scale war to advisors as a way of disengagement. The suggestion also says for U.S. combat brigades to be withdrawn from Iraq no later than spring 2008. The “experts” say that placing U.S. personnel in such isolated positions without support places too many American soldiers at risk. On the score of withdrawing all U.S. combat units who could be mobile strike forces reinforcing Iraqi-embedded Americans troops, the critics are right. But, quite frankly, war is risk. Successful commanders apply calculated risk to achieve battlefield dominance over their adversaries. Simply brushing off this suggestion of embedding U.S. personnel as “risky” ignores America’s own success with counter-insurgency operations.

In the past three years, many professional publications and new books have talked about the U.S. Marine Corps Combined Action Platoon (CAP) program in Vietnam during the latter half of active U.S. involvement, roughly from 1967-1973. The CAP program is rated co-equal with the U.S. Special Forces-led indigenous para-military units as effective counters to Viet Cong political and military insurgency tactics. The CAP program involved placing an independent U.S.M.C. rifle platoon into a village. That platoon operated security missions with local, home-grown forces. The platoon lived in the village isolated from other U.S. bases but were supplied and supported by quick reaction forces from the larger bases. The platoon slept and ate like the villagers, formed social networks for government reform programs, built cultural awareness of the real objective in the insurgency campaign, the normal people, and the platoon built incredibly reliable intelligence systems that identified Viet Cong political cadre and guerillas for elimination.

The ISG’s recommendation on something similar, as far as I am aware, is a step toward creating favorable military outcomes that will determine the political end stage. I hope to find something more similar to CAPs in the report, and less of a disorganized lone-wolf-embedded-advisor in Iraq units when I read the full report.

The final main recommendation of the ISG to note is the call for a regional discussion involving Iraq’s neighbors as a way to defeat the insurgency threat to Iraq’s future. The report calls for the U.S. to have a dialogue with the arch-enemy clerical leaders of Iran and with Syria, which is dominated by the same Bath Party ideology and system that Saddam Hussein used to govern Iraq. The Bush Administration and many of his conservative religious constituencies have shown an almost complete rejection of discussing anything with Iran and Syria (in public, at least; they be talking secretly at present), because Iran and Syria are Muslim and labeled state-sponsors of terrorism. In the May 2006 issue of the Club’s Gazette (#1), I made a similar, but far broader suggestion for a security and cooperation conference with all the countries in or connected by some means to the Indian Ocean Area (IOA). The suggestion I made had a context of an all-party, all-encompassing regional, permanent conference that addressed issues of sovereignty and natural rights, economic opportunity and natural resource management, collective defense and common security, and multi-lateral cooperation on issues currently breaking apart the international system and norms in the region. Such a conference would have to include dialogue with an aim to resolve the Israeli-Arab war. A permanent conference would at least give ministers and heads of state forums, mechanisms, and resources to address common problems and promote inter-connected development. The conference should also involve countries outside of the Indian Ocean Area–the permanent five vetoing members of the U.N., and Germany and Japan. When I read the Iraq Study Group report, I hope their recommendation for a regional discussion includes many of these aspects and is not limited to Iraq’s insurgency and its immediately surrounding neighbors. The problem in that one-fourth of the globe goes beyond Iraq. The discussion can start small, but I feel it must include these larger ambitions for long-term liberty, prosperity, peace, and understanding.

Overall, my impression of the commentary on the ISG report is one of “middle” ground taken by politicians, suggestions made that reach across to the “other” party. I really haven’t heard anything saying that there is creative, imaginative, or truly revolutionary ideas in the report for helping the U.S. in Iraq’s civil war. I will discuss later what I find as I read through the report.