No one interested in current events can have failed to notice the change in tone coming from the Bush and Blair administrations when the subject of Iraq come up. It seems we have indeed reached a tipping point and finally there are admissions (of sorts) that things are not going well. That of course is an understatement, Iraq has become every bit the disaster that was predicted by the many anti-war factions. It is now abundantly clear that the Bush administration does not have the faintest clue what to do as it desparetely looks for a way out. None of the options up for consideration have much of a chance of ending the chaos let alone bringing peace and democracy to the region. Iraq seems set to be torn apart whatever new tactics are imposed on the country.
Let’s look at what is being considered:
The break-up of the country along ethnic lines
I think that ultimately this is inevitable whether it is desired or not. Iraq’s different factions were held together by the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Without that sort of leadership, weak governments plagued by in-fighting and corruption were bound to be the alternative. The break-up of Iraq could trigger a full-scale civil war with wider implications for the region as other countries like Iran and Turkey get drawn in. The fighting over final borders will be messy and violent and the coalition (such as it is) will be unable and unwilling to do much about it. For America and Britain it might provide the ideal excuse for withdrawing. Another thing the Americans may be considering is the possibility that smaller oil-rich states each populated by one ethnic group might be easier to control.
The imposition of a strong-man
This would be highly embarrassing for Bush and Blair who waxed lyrically about democracy and freedom. Removing Saddam Hussein only to put in another tyrant will not go down well with anybody. The first problem would be who the new dictator would be. Whoever it is would find himself under attack from all the other factions. Britain tried this before when it installed kings in Iraq. Tyrants can’t be chosen like that, they tend to emerge on their own as Saddam did. I seriously doubt America and Britain would consider re-installing Saddam. Also the chaos is probably too great now for any autocrat to quell and any potential tyrant endorsed by America will be as unpopular as the current puppet government.
Talking to the neighbours
This, of course should have been done right from the start. Iran and Syria are already involved in the struggle. Whatever happens in Iraq directly affects those countries so they should never have been side-lined the way they were by America and Britain. At this late stage though, it is uncertain whether there is much these countries can do anyway other than arm different factions. America is still being bellicose towards both Iran and Syria and the war in Lebanon compounded the problem. Talking to these countries would mean America eating a huge slice of humble pie and that may be more than it could swallow.
Cut and Run
This is unlikely at the moment but as the situation deteriorates, it may seem more attractive. Bush has hinted at a withdrawal within 18 months if things don’t improve. A sudden withdrawal would inevitably lead to a bloodbath in Iraq and a very obvious Vietnam-like defeat for the coalition. Simply declaring a victory before leaving will fool nobody as the country will quickly descend into anarchy and other powers will move in to fill the vacuum. However, seeing as a descent into anarchy seems to be happening anyway, the likelihood of cutting and running is increasing. Gradual troop reductions are a distinct possibility and this seems to be the British strategy as they hand over provinces, but success is limited.
Sending in more troops just won’t work. It’s been tried numerous times throughout the conflict and any improvement has been temporary at best. Usually it is ineffective as insurgents either move elsewhere as they did with Falluja, or, as we have seen recently in Baghdad, the violence increases. More coalition casualties will not go down well with the American and British public. In the short term, increased troop levels do seem likely, if only to cover a withdrawal.
Internationalising the problem
It is far too late for this option. The coalition has now shrunk dramatically since the start of the occupation (and it wasn’t that impressive to start with). I can’t see any other countries volunteering to send their citizens to what looks more and more like a lost cause. The recent conflict in Lebanon should serve as an example as to how unenthusiastic other nations are to send troops to a war zone with no exit strategy.
Staying the course
This is what Bush and Blair have been advocating all along (although Bush is now denying this). It hasn’t worked and now even the American public is waking up to how futile this is. Most people are sick of this war and a failed foreign policy and what they want to hear is news of their soldiers coming home rather than staying indefinitely in a hostile environment. The occupation is a major part of the problem so any talk of more of the same won’t please the electorates of America and Britain.
These seem to be the main options being discussed and as you can see none of them are particularly pleasant. As Bush ponders which options are the least unacceptable to him, Blair is waiting for his orders. Britain won’t do a thing without prior authorisation from America so we have the unedifying spectacle of Blair literally not knowing which way to turn. he offers the same platitudes as Bush, agrees with one of his generals who says the presence of British troops are exacerbates the problem, makes some noises about being able to withdraw in 16 months or so, and then goes back to saying that we won’t leave until the job is done (the job being either undefined or totally impossible).
Meanwhile, more and more people on both sides of the Atlantic are speaking out against the war and the foreign policy that spawned it. As usual they are side-lined and marginalised and bullied, but they are becoming harder to ignore. One idea which might help ease the situation is a frank and unambiguous admission from both governments that the invasion of Iraq was a catastrophic mistake, and then publicly holding the perpetrators to account for the prosecution of an illegal war, numerous war crimes and misleading the people on every aspect of it, from the objectives of the war to the casualty figures. Then there might be a better chance of success at attempting any of the options outlined above. It wouldn’t solve the conflicts, but a greater degree of honesty might elicit more co-operation from the various players involved and the wider international community. I realise that this is highly unlikely and it will fall to the electorates of America and Britain to remove these dangerous criminals from public office. For such an unmitigated disaster, it is the very least we can do.