Thursday, March 31, 2005
How Wars End

The Centre for Strategic and International Studies recently ran a symposium for the republication of Dr Fred Ikle's book, "Every War Must End". This minor classic has proved timely with the recent war in Iraq and Beltway discussions on the need for an 'exit strategy'. The thoughts of the symposium were published in pdf format including the GOM of US Foreign Policy, Dr Zbigniew Brzezinski (now that Kennan has passed on).

Reading the transcript brought out a number of thoughts on the first Gulf War. The current experiences of insurgency and chaos now place the decision to halt at the Iraqi border in 1991 within a gentler light. Despite their overwhelming success, the Allied forces in 1991 had no plan to occupy Iraq and would have faced similar problems to the invading forces in 2003. Would the Ba'athists have turned to insurgency in 1991 and acquired weapons from Syria, even without the added stimulation of Islamic jihadis? Would Iraq have fallen into greater chaos in 1991 than 2004 given the lack of an occupation plan on the part of the Allies? Bush and Powell's decision should not be judged too harshly in light of these possible counterfactuals.

When the symposium discussed how the Iraq war/occupation would end, only one member discussed the strategy of the 'war on terror' placing the war within a wider ideological conflict. The other members adopted a more conservative view of the war and posited various scenarios for ending. The probable developments were a developing Iraqi polity requesting the withdrawal of Coalition troops; or, the costs of the Iraqi war setting up the seeds of further conflict in Syria or Iran. This clarification demonstrated that the war will end only when the United States wishes to leave, when the newly established Iraqi elites ask them to, or when the insurgency dies away. These ingredients provide the base for that messy if improving occupation that is sometimes called stability, a curious misnomer. This continuation seems the most likely outcome for now.

This proves again that the decision to withdraw from Iraq rests with Blair. There is no further need to prove solidarity with the United States of America and the Iraqis are proving increasingly capable of policing their own territory. The longer our troops stay, the easier it will be to view them as occupiers rather than as liberators.


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