Thursday, September 07, 2006

Why Bush cannot leave Iraq

Summary: Because US withdrawal will leave Iran hegemony in the Middle East. They have already won a psychological victory with Israel. Now they seem to be succeeding in the same thing in Iraq. The options for the US below are sobering. Pray for our President and his advisors to find a solution with this rogue nation Iran.

The following is a quotation from Stratfor.com, a leading intelligence website:

"At this point, except for the United States, Iran has by far the most powerful military force in the Persian Gulf. This has nothing to do with its nuclear capability, which is still years away from realization. Its ground forces are simply more numerous and more capable than all the forces of the
Arabian Peninsula combined.

"There is another aspect to this: The countries of the Arabian Peninsula are governed by Sunnis, but many are home to substantial Shiite populations as well. Between the Iranian military and the possibility of unrest among Shia in the region, the situation in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Peninsula is uneasy, to say the least. The rise of Hezbollah well might psychologically empower the generally quiescent Shia to become more assertive. This is one of the reasons that the Saudis were so angry at Hezbollah, and why they now are so anxious over events in Iraq.

"If Iraq were to break into three regions, the southern region would be Shiite -- and the Iranians clearly believe that they could dominate southern Iraq. This not only would give them control of the Basra oil fields, but also would theoretically open the road to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. From a strictly military point of view, and not including the Shiite insurgencies at all, Iran could move far down the western littoral of the Persian Gulf if American forces were absent. Put another way, there would be a possibility that the Iranians could seize control of the bulk of the region's oil reserves. They could do the same thing if Iraq were to be united as an Iranian satellite, but that would be far more difficult to achieve and would require active U.S. cooperation in withdrawing.

"We can now see why Bush cannot begin withdrawing forces. If he did that, the entire region would destabilize. The countries of the Arabian Peninsula, seeing the withdrawal, would realize that the Iranians were now the dominant power. Shia in the Gulf region might act, or they might simply wait until the Americans had withdrawn and the Iranians arrived. Israel, shaken to the core by its fight with Hezbollah, would have neither the force nor the inclination to act. Therefore, the United States has little choice, from Bush's perspective, but to remain in Iraq.The Iranians undoubtedly anticipated this response. They have planned carefully. They are therefore shifting their rhetoric somewhat to be more accommodating. They understand that to get the United States out of Iraq -- and out of Kuwait --they will have to engage in a complex set of negotiations. They will promise anything -- but in the end, they will be the largest military force in the region, and nothing else matters. Ultimately, they are counting on the Americans to be sufficiently exhausted by their experience of Iraq to rationalize their withdrawal -- leaving, as in Vietnam, a graceful interval for what follows.

Options
Iran will do everything it can, of course, to assure that the Americans are as exhausted as possible. The Iranians have no incentive to allow the chaos to wind down, until at least a political settlement with the United States is achieved. The United States cannot permit Iranian hegemony over the Persian Gulf, nor can it sustain its forces in Iraq indefinitely under these circumstances.


The United States has four choices, apart from the status quo:

1. Reach a political accommodation that cedes the status of regional hegemon to Iran, and withdraw from Iraq.

2. Withdraw forces from Iraq and maintain a presence in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia -- something the Saudis would hate but would have little choice about -- while remembering that an American military presence is highly offensive to many Muslims and was a significant factor in the rise of al Qaeda.

3. Halt counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and redeploy its forces in the south (west of Kuwait), to block any Iranian moves in the region.

4. Assume that Iran relies solely on its psychological pre-eminence to force a regional realignment and, thus, use Sunni proxies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in attempts to outmaneuver Tehran.

None of these are attractive choices. Each cedes much of Iraq to Shiite and Iranian power and represents some degree of a psychological defeat for the United States, or else rests on a risky assumption.

While No. 3 might be the most attractive, it would leave U.S. forces in highly exposed, dangerous and difficult-to-sustain postures. Iran has set a clever trap, and the United States has walked into it. Rather than a functioning government in Iraq, it has chaos and a triumphant Shiite community. The Americans cannot contain the chaos, and they cannot simply withdraw. Therefore, we can understand why Bush insists on holding his position indefinitely. He has been maneuvered in such a manner that he -- or a successor -- has no real alternatives.

There is one counter to this: a massive American buildup,
including a major buildup of ground forces that requires a large expansion of the Army, geared for the invasion of Iran and destruction of its military force. The idea that this could readily be done through air power has evaporated, we would think, with the Israeli air force's failure in Lebanon. An invasion of Iran would be enormously expensive, take a very long time and create a problem of occupation that would dwarf the problem faced in Iraq. But it is the other option.
It would stabilize the geopolitics of the Arabian Peninsula and drain American military power for a generation.

Sometimes there are no good choices. For the United States, the options are to negotiate a settlement that is acceptable to Iran and live with the consequences, raise a massive army and invade Iran, or live in the current twilight world between Iranian hegemony and war with Iran. Bush appears to be choosing an indecisive twilight. Given the options, it is understandable why.