Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The myths of Juan Cole

Juan Cole has up a kind of New Year's list of the top ten myths about Iraq. At least two of them are self-serving and to say the least contentious.
8. Iraq is already in a civil war, so it does not matter if the US simply withdraws precipitately, since the situation is as bad as it can get. No, it isn't. During the course of the guerrilla war, the daily number of dead has fluctuated, between about 20 and about 60. But in a real civil war, it could easily be 10 times that. Some estimates of the number of Afghans killed during their long set of civil wars put the number at 2.5 million, along with 5 million displaced abroad and more millions displaced internally. Iraq is Malibu Beach compared to Afghanistan in its darkest hours. The US has a responsibility to get out of Iraq responsibly and to not allow it to fall into that kind of genocidal civil conflict.
This is in essence a straw man argument against immediate withdrawal from Iraq and in favor of so-called the responsible withdrawal scenarios favored by, for example Cole and Tom Hayden. These scenarios envision a substantial withdrawal of US ground forces but are based on a liberal helping of fantasy.

They assume that we can substitute air power for troops on the ground, that air support is merely a defensive tactic, that the US will give the Iraqi troops it trains adequate equipment and that the US actually gives a flying fuck about Iraqi lives, democracy etc. Earlier, I thought Cole had come around to understanding this. I was mistaken.

Nonetheless, I do think that Cole is right about the possibility, the extreme likelihood, of a huge increase in casualties, perhaps into the millions following the American withdrawal. I understand his desperation to try to imagine some scenario that might ward off this further horror. The inevitable withdrawal of US forces does matter: it will bring untold chaos, suffering and death. And it is utterly our fault. But in the absence of good intentions on the part of the leadership of this country, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.
3. The guerrillas are winning the war against US forces. The guerrillas are really no more than mosquitos to US forces. The casualties they have inflicted on the US military, of over 2000 dead and some 15,000 wounded, are deeply regrettable and no one should make light of them. But this level of insurgency could never defeat the US military in the field.
Again Cole's formulation is disingenuous. The war is not a set piece field battle. The insurgents can win, have already won, because the US forces can not achieve their goal of securing the territory and installing a US puppet regime. They are relatively safe inside their military compounds, but they can't even secure the safety of roads inside the green zone, the most heavily fortified sector of Baghdad.

Update: Eliot Weinberger has a less problematic year in review list: What I heard about Iraq in 2005.


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