Mr. Bush has now scaled back his strategy for victory to a strategy for the best-we-can-hope-for. So, it must be asked, what exactly is the best we can hope for?Huzzah.
“In the best-case scenario, we’ll be in Iraq for 15 or 20 years,” said Stephen Biddle, author of “Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle.” He offers the example of the Balkans, where everyone seems to have forgotten about the United States troops who have been there for years, helping keep a peace brokered in Dayton, Ohio, in 1995.
Under the best result Mr. Biddle said he could imagine, the United States would cajole or force warring Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds to agree to the standard-cookbook negotiated ending to a civil war. There would be some kind of power-sharing deal among the key combatants, yielding an uneasy cease-fire that would have to be policed for a long time by outside peacekeepers, since no warring side would trust another.
Sounds like paradise, doesn’t it? Except, Mr. Biddle said, “If I had to bet my house mortgage on a scenario, it wouldn’t be on that one.”(...)
The best America can hope for, some experts said, would be for Iraq to turn into today’s version of the Spanish Civil War.
...[T]he Spanish Civil War lasted three years, from 1936 to 1939, when the Nationalists, led by Francisco Franco, defeated the Loyalists of the Second Spanish Republic. The death toll was huge — estimates put it between 500,000 and one million. People in just about every European country were passionate about the fight: the Loyalists got weapons and volunteers from the Soviet Union, while the Nationalists received help from Italy, Germany and Portugal.
But, in the end, the Spanish Civil War stayed Spanish. The Europeans sent money and arms and even volunteers, but they didn’t let the war engulf the continent....The biggest worry in Iraq is not that Iraq will descend into a civil war — most experts say that is a done deal — but that an Iraqi civil war will not stay Iraqi. The fear is that a civil war will engulf the entire region, with Saudi Arabia and Jordan defending the Sunnis, Iran backing the Shiites, and Iraqi Kurds declaring their independence, a move sure to draw in Turkey, which has its own restive Kurdish population.
The Spanish Civil War script doesn’t bode well for Iraq itself. The death toll would be enormous, and Iraqi Sunnis, who make up only about 20 percent of the population, would face particular hardship. But such a war wouldn’t become World War III. The United States would eventually pull its troops out, the Iranians would finance the Shiites, and the Saudis would support the Sunnis, but neither neighbor would engage militarily itself.
America’s image abroad would suffer a blow, but not a fatal one, and in the end, the United States would still be the sole world power. “That’s the best we can expect,” Mr. Rose said. “Disaster in Iraq, problems in the Middle East and a several-year period to recover the losses in American foreign policy.”
Well, as long as it's just Middle Eastern cities getting nuked, that's no skin off our nose, right? I mean, it's not like we'd be culpable in any way. We simply tried to force the sweet nectar of democracy down Iraq's throat - how could we anticipate that they would be so barbaric and ungrateful as to spit it back in our faces? (Actually, I kinda wish they really had - we could use some more of that democracy nectar over here.)
The problem with Mr. Bush’s plan, said Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is that it doesn’t provide enough American troops to do much more than stay the course, to use Mr. Bush’s now-abandoned lexicon. The way Mr. Nasr sees it, 20,000 additional troops is too few to change the dynamic on the ground, but enough to escalate tensions further.
“The best we can hope for is pretty much the same thing we’ve had for the last year,” said Mr. Nasr, author of “The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future.” “More of the same for another two years, but keep in mind that it could potentially get much worse.”
That worst-case scenario is pretty scary, Mr. Biddle said. In that picture, the United States would pull its troops out of Iraq, the civil war would accelerate, and the Shiites, financed by Iran, would conquer one Sunni village after another, driving the Sunnis over the borders and into refugee camps in Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
There would be a huge refugee crisis in the Sunni Arab countries, where a dispossessed, bitter and highly politicized refugee population would appeal to Saudi and Jordanian rulers to make a last stand for Sunnis in Iraq. But since it would have taken about 5 to 10 years to get to this point, guess who, by then, would have acquired a nuclear bomb?
“In the worst case, you could be looking at a couple of nuclear weapons dropped on major cities — Baghdad, Riyadh, Tehran,” Mr. Biddle said.
That possibility makes the one that Mr. Biddle views as most likely seem almost palatable. Here it is:
“We get out, the civil war escalates,” Mr. Biddle said. “It’s funded by all sides but they don’t send their own troops across the border. The war just bumps along for 5 or 10 years and everybody eventually gets so weary that diplomacy finally gets going, and there’s a cease-fire, power-sharing deal. During that period, Iraqi oil output crashes, there’s huge instability in the region and oil prices rise. And there’s a humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq.
“That’s not a very happy scenario,” Mr. Biddle acknowledged. “But it beats the heck out of nuclear war in the Mideast.”
The problem with the Bushies and the neocons is that they never, ever look at the worst-case scenarios - except, of course, when they're evaluating what will happen if they don't blow shit up. They don't even look at the non-best-case scenarios. They look at the candy-and-flowers scenario, and become so enamored of its inevitability that they don't even bother to make plans to ensure its occurrence.
Even now, I think the administration is still swinging for the fences, hoping to hit a best-case home run, without admitting that they have barely enough power to clear the infield for a bloop single. Bush thinks he's Mickey Mantle, when he's actually Eddie Gaedel.