Another Perspective

Grasping the Nettle

At last, a winning strategy for Iraq.

By 2.7.07

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During World War II it came to the notice of seven or eight million GIs that their GI world was an imperfect one. Sometimes more and sometimes less but always imperfect. This they expressed in an acronym they made famous all over the world -- SNAFU. In fact, our greatest generation developed a set of acronyms that was capable of even expressing the degree of imperfection with which they were dealing. In order of seriousness there was:

SNAFU: SITUATION NORMAL, ALL F---ED UP

TARFU: THINGS ARE REALLY F---ED UP

And best, or worst, of all,

FUBAR: F---ED UP BEYOND ALL RECOGNITION

The final stage of f---ed-upness -- FUBAR -- has at last been achieved in Iraq. Not only is no one on the same page anymore, but no one can find the pages. No one can even find the people anymore. Rumsfeld is gone, General Casey is gone, General Abizaid is gone, Bolton is gone, the Republicans are gone and have taken their chairs and chairmanships with them, and Nancy Pelosi seems to be too busy with her new toy gavel to pay attention to business.

The President acknowledges that things are not going well in Iraq and now proposes his new Surge plan which nobody likes -- the retiring generals don't like it, none of the 2008 Presidential candidates like it, and Congress doesn't like it. It seems that everyone who holds any office or who has held any office in the past, or who might hold any office in the future has ideas and strongly held opinions about Iraq. Most of them boil down to "send troops in" or "get troops out." Those opposed to these strategies say that if we cut and run there will be civil war and chaos, and if we send more troops in we will be incurring more casualties in a lost cause. Probably both groups are right.

Things being what they are -- FUBAR -- here are a few outrageous suggestions that may help us regain a constructive strategic perspective, reduce useless, uncontrollable and demoralizing casualties, and save us from more world-class humiliating foreign policy errors.

The first of these new ideas about Iraq requires that the government give up its public relations model of foreign policy development, in which every pundit and media outlet make a contribution to policy. Foreign policy cannot be made by bureaucratic leaks, congressional investigations, public polls, the media, talk radio, or by Hollywood.

The true nature of foreign policy development in Western diplomacy has been too immoral, too sanctimonious, too hypocritical, too dishonest, to be viewed by any normal non-politician as anything but disgusting and shocking. But that is the only way that foreign policy can be formulated in the world of realpolitik, especially in wartime. Winston Churchill once wisely said in World War II that "In time of war the truth must be protected by a bodyguard of lies."

Furthermore, we must confess our sins against common sense and history, and the cultural illusions that led us into Iraq in the first place.

First of all, we don't fight non-conventional wars very well. Time is always on the side of guerrillas and insurgents. So we must stop fighting on the enemy's terms. We'll never beat them with a conventional force. We don't have to go native, but it will be wise to use some of their own tactics against them.

We must give up our misguided attempt to transform Iraq and Arabia into Western civilization. The Arab street doesn't get Western political values. Sophisticated Arabs may understand the value of freedom and the free market but they live in London or Jordan, and the average Joe Mohammed just wants to shoot off his AK-47 once in a while and get his two hours of Al Jazeera every night.

Iraq cannot be unified except by a political strong man. It was never meant to be a unified country back in 1922 when it was invented. It was created geographically to serve British political purposes. But even the British soon realized that it wouldn't work, and got out. We must give up the strategic aim of unification and let the three sects work out their borders, and their economic inequities on their own terms. This will mean civil war, dislocation, suffering, death, and political instability for years, maybe decades. The same has been true when any country splits up. England/Ireland, India/Pakistan, our own Civil War -- but wars never go on until there is no one left standing. No matter how long they last -- several days or decades -- they end when those fighting get tired of fighting and make up a reason for stopping. In Iraq, whether allies participate or not, the fighting will continue until the sects decide to stop or their allies decide to stop paying the bills.

Whatever partitioning occurs, whatever boundaries are finally agreed upon, whatever oil agreements are arranged, they will be finalized after much blood is shed and that fact will make the arrangement much more acceptable than any political arrangement between non-combatants.

Two Cheers for the Iraqi Civil War and Its Political Turmoil and Chaos

A civil war is, of course, a catastrophe for the Iraqi people, but not for the United States -- although there are those who will try to hold America and George Bush responsible for it. They will be wrong, just as Colin Powell was wrong when he tried to reduce American foreign policy to Pottery Barn etiquette when he uttered his famously simplistic and inappropriate warning, "If you break it [Iraq], you've bought it." Nothing of the sort is true nor has it ever been true throughout history. That was Powell's middle class Bronx morality, similar to the sense of honor and fair play that almost cost us World War II when fighting a foe that doesn't know or care about the rules of cricket. In wars past, the winners killed the men, raped the women, took the children for slaves, took anything that wasn't nailed down, and burned down the rest.

Those who are and will be engaged in civil war are the extremists who are the enemies of peace in Iraq and the enemies of the United States everywhere. Arab hearts and minds, Shia and Sunni, it seems, are different from Americans, they are in love with death and shooting AK-47s. The Sunnis and the Shias have been feuding with each other over the same thing now since 632 A.D. -- whether Ali, Mohammed's son-in-law, should have succeeded him as leader of Islam. In the short run nothing will change, they will go on killing each other because they love their tribalism and tribal values. Those who continue to fight each other are our enemies too -- extremists, jihadists, and fundamentalists. Those Iraqi moderates who hate and fear violence have already left war-torn Iraq for neighboring countries and safer provinces and will continue to do so.

The situation as it stands today -- FUBAR to the unimaginative -- can be a unique opportunity for the pursuit of America's long-term interests. During the chaos that emerges during a civil war there is no better place for a small American force to be -- an opportunity that rarely comes along. We can accomplish many Special Operations that are in the interests of America, under cover of the chaos. We can recruit intelligence agents during this time from amongst the warring factions to provide invaluable intelligence with little or no cost. We can identify targets of opportunity with the help of these bought and paid for informants.

This is the way out of the Iraq mess without losing another casualty. Publicly we remain strictly neutral, except for our humanitarian assistance in helping refugees who need it. Privately, we play the great game of Middle-Eastern strategy and covert exploitation. We do whatever has to be done to serve the interests of America in secret and deny publicly any culpability for anything.

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend." So goes an old Arab proverb. What could be more satisfying than knowing that one of our enemies is killing another of our enemies without our incurring any risk at all. And that this may be happening thousands of times a day.

The first step is publicly to acknowledge the de facto civil war and that the United States cannot fulfill any of its obligations until the different factions agree to peace so that rebuilding Iraq can continue. After such an acknowledgement we have to declare publicly that we stand as a neutral power and will undertake only humanitarian activities -- medical supplies, food, and transport of refugees to distant camps that provide safety for either sect.

Under cover of these humanitarian activities performed by a force of twenty or twenty-five thousand non-combatant troops, a well-organized military intelligence program can be created that would include recruitment of spies from all factions, acquisition of human intelligence about our enemies and their operations, and the identification of targets of opportunity.

Instead of Cutting and Running, or Surging, How About Redeployment?

"...but I tell you, my lord, out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety..."

In addition to exploiting the opportunities of the civil war there is one more important strategic aim that must be accomplished. Contrary to cutting and running we must carry out a plan of redeployment. A large component of our present force should be redeployed to a new and permanent base to be built in Northern Iraq -- non-Arabic Kurdistan. There we will be welcomed by the cooperative, pro-American Kurds, and out of the way of harassment by IEDs, RPGs, and light artillery from hostile Arabs. Kurdistan is already a mostly autonomous country and desires to become completely independent of central and southern Iraq.

We need a long-term base there much like the ones we have had in Korea and Germany for more than fifty years. What are the advantages of such an arrangement? For the Kurds it will bring dollars and employment. It will also bring political stability and reassurance -- about their hostile neighbors, Iran, Syria, and Turkey.

In fact, an American base will tend to stabilize the Middle East as well as put pressure on America's Middle-Eastern enemies, Syria, Iran, and Saudi extremists.

The strategic purpose of such a base should be as a center for the acquisition of and recruitment of human and signal intelligence and agents. And for the location of a large Special Operations cadre to do covert operations in and around the Middle East against our enemies and those who support our enemies

Such a permanent base in the region will put constant pressure on antagonistic governments. After all, we have demonstrated that an Arab country -- a country in which political factions love death more than victory -- is highly vulnerable to America's newest weapon -- political ineptitude. We have demonstrated unequivocally that we can reduce a country to impotence and chaos without dropping a single nuclear bomb.

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About the Author

Yale Kramer is a psychiatrist and essayist for Horsefeathers, the blog that fights folly, ignorance, and cant.