Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Chilling Warning from the CIA on Iraq


General John Abizaid testified before the congressional armed services committees on Wednesday and admitted that, in terms of the U.S. troop levels in Iraq, the damage has been done. He opposes any major withdrawal of troops; says that at its current size, the U.S. military can’t sustain a larger deployment of army and marine forces into Iraq; and for the first time, admitted that too few soldiers were deployed to Iraq to begin with.

Much more chilling was CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden’s testimony, which referred to a disintegrating political center in Iraq:

General Hayden said the C.I.A. station in Baghdad assessed that Iraq was deteriorating to a chaotic state, with the political center disintegrating and rival factions increasingly warring with each other. “Their view of the battlefield is that it is descending into smaller and smaller groups fighting over smaller and smaller issues over smaller and smaller pieces of territory,” he said.

If this assessment is correct, U.S. forces face a no-win situation in Iraq no matter how many soldiers there are, because allies and enemies may be dissolving into an indistinguishable mass.

Looking back at the Vietnam War, it was difficult enough for U.S. forces to tell whether a given person was friendly or hostile—but at least there were only a limited number of sides in the conflict to deal with: North and South, and Christian, Buddhist and Communist in varying combinations. The U.S. could at least negotiate with Hanoi and achieve limited short-term results, even if Hanoi never wavered in its ultimate goal of a unitary Vietnam.

In Iraq, negotiations are becoming impossible. The time is approaching where there will be more religious, tribal, political, commercial and familial factions in Iraq than there are U.S. soldiers. These micro-factions will be increasingly interested in personal survival, with few willing to help build the Iraqi state as waves of violence surge ever higher around them. I hope policymakers take Hayden’s warning seriously and start thinking about what it means for the U.S. endgame in Iraq, whether that is in the spring or five years from now.

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