Charles J. Hanley / San Diego Union-Tribune – 2005-11-30 23:48:04
(November 30, 2005) — Two senior Army analysts who in 2003 accurately foretold the turmoil that would be unleashed by the US invasion of Iraq offer a bleak assessment in a new study of what now lies ahead in that bloodied land.
They advise, however, against setting a timetable for US troop withdrawal — unless Washington finds the situation “irredeemable.”
A timetable “is an excuse for allowing the system to collapse,” the Army War College’s W. Andrew Terrill and Conrad C. Crane write.
Political pressure is building in Washington for a concrete plan to extricate US forces from Iraq. On Tuesday, on the eve of an important address on Iraq at the US Naval Academy, President Bush told reporters he wants the troops home, “but I don’t want them to come home without having achieved victory.”
In a February 2003 report, a month before the US invasion, Crane and Terrill had warned that the United States might “win the war but lose the peace” if it attacked Iraq. They suggested armed resistance to an occupation would grow, a harsh American response would further alienate Iraqis, and establishing political stability would prove difficult – all predictions that were borne out.
They warned in particular against disbanding the pre-invasion Iraqi army, a step that was nonetheless taken and is now viewed as a blunder that fed the anti-US insurgency.
In their new 60-page report, veteran Middle East scholar Terrill and Crane, director of the Army Military History Institute, say a US troop presence in Iraq probably cannot be sustained more than three years further.
Meantime, they write:
• “It appears increasingly unlikely that US, Iraqi and coalition forces will crush the insurgency prior to the beginning of a phased US and coalition withdrawal.”
• “It is no longer clear that the United States will be able to create (Iraqi) military and police forces that can secure the entire country no matter how long US forces remain.”
• And “the United States may also have to scale back its expectations for Iraq’s political future,” by accepting a relatively stable but undemocratic state as preferable to a civil war among Iraq’s ethnic and religious factions.
“US vital interests have never demanded a democratic state in Iraq before 2003,” they note.
As for Iraqi security forces, Terrill and Crane reason it may prove difficult to build “multiethnic and multisectarian” police and military units, and suggest factional militias may come to the fore instead.
The Army scholars devote their closest analysis to the current debate over whether Washington should set a predetermined, step-by-step schedule for a troop pullout. They see “catastrophic” dangers in that approach.
For one thing, they say, as soon as a timetable is announced, some Iraqis cooperating with the Americans “will calculate that US protection is a declining asset” and ally themselves with the insurgents, or seek protection of a militia.
For another, the insurgents might do what the North Vietnamese did in 1973: bide their time, build up their forces, and attack all-out once the Americans leave.
Thirdly, with an inflexible timetable, “the United States may end up abandoning a potentially hopeful situation and instead allowing that nation to plunge into civil war.”
They see one circumstance in which a timetable is useful, if “the Iraqi government may have only a small chance to survive, but the US leadership does not wish to announce publicly that we have basically given up on Iraq.”