Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Promoting the Balance of Terror


Fresh from warning U.S. citizens about the danger of leaving Iraq in a hurry, President Bush visited Anbar province last weekend at least partly to demonstrate that he has left Baghdad.

Left Baghdad to twist in the wind, that is.

Several factors caused the president to shun Iraq’s capital for the first time in his visits to Mesopotamia. The central government there has been paralyzed or on vacation while a war of words between Maliki and Congress escalated, and the president naturally doesn’t want to spend time in Maliki’s company right now. In addition, the U.S. military has scored notable successes in quieting Anbar province, and the president wants to highlight those successes in advance of the Petraeus report.

These are the visible factors leading President Bush to skip Baghdad this time around. But as with icebergs, it’s the invisible factors that matter most. I believe the president is interested in showing Maliki, and Shi’ites generally, that the cost of refusing to share power with Sunnis or Kurds is that the U.S. will arm and organize them until they can no longer be ignored.

This is a fine strategy if you assume an extended U.S. presence in Iraq, as the president seems to. Sooner or later, the Shi’ites will realize that they cannot simply terrorize or shove aside their Sunni countrymen while the U.S. keeps a lid on large-scale violence, and will arrive reluctantly at a power-sharing deal.

However, if the U.S. leaves Iraq before there is effective central government in that country, it is leaving behind three major factions kept from each other’s throats only by a balance of military force among them.

To make this balance of terror stable, the U.S. will have to arm the Sunnis and Kurds with much more than small arms so they can hold their own in a post-occupation civil war with their Shi’ite countrymen. The analogy I’m thinking of here is Cold War Western Europe, where the U.S. developed technically superior weapons to offset the Warsaw Pact’s overwhelming advantages in troop and tank numbers.

I’d love to sit in on some of the scenarios that the DoD must be using to examine how an Iraqi civil war might start and play out. How do you say Fulda Gap in Arabic?

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