"V" is not for Vendetta
Well it's nice to see a professional pundit come to the same conclusions that have been monotonously emphasized in the past Belmont Club posts. Michael Young at the UK Times puts the case succinctly and correctly:
In recent weeks the idea that the United States and the UK should “engage” Syria, but also Iran, to stabilise Iraq has been all the rage. On Tuesday, in an east Beirut suburb, Lebanon’s industry minister, Pierre Gemayel, showed what the cost of engagement might be. The scion of a prominent Christian political family was assassinated in broad daylight. This was the latest in a series of killings and bomb attacks that the UN investigator looking into the murder of the late Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, has determined are linked. ...
If political “realism” is about interests, then realists must prove that a country that has ignored successive UN resolutions demanding Syrian non-interference in Lebanon could somehow be a force for stability in Iraq, to which it has funnelled hundreds of foreign fighters. Engaging Mr Assad over Iraq will mean the gradual return of Syrian hegemony over Lebanon, since neither the US nor the UK will be in a position to deny Syria in Lebanon while asking favours in Iraq.
Recently some of the advocates of engagement with Syria and Iran, who proposed a regional conference to negotiate a withdrawal via a 'comprehensive settlement' have also advocated radically increasing troop numbers in Iraq in a "last ditch attempt to stabilize it". This is truly laudable, and it is very probable that increasing troop numbers may have a significant military benefit. However, without a firm bipartisan determination to impose the American will -- provided that can be articulated by both parties -- any gains from reinforcement will be temporary and fleeting.
For those gains to last, any access of strength -- or any other measure in Iraq -- must be implemented as part of an overall strategy to make Syria and Iran leave Iraq alone; and impress that failure to do so will result in their abject defeat. It is up to the professionals to decide how that defeat should be administered. Whether by a combination of military, diplomatic or economic means does not matter. Troop strength can be increased; it can be decreased; it can be shifted out of theater or moved around as desired. Blockades and sanctions may be imposed. Diplomatic demarches employed; conferences convened. Even a "responsible redeployment" is not out of the question. These are all tactics which men who are professionally employed to judge such matters can use as they see fit. But the strategic aim must be fixed. Iraq must no longer be assailed in the thinly veiled manner of the past by either Syria or Iran.
In the closing year of the Vietnam conflict, President Richard Nixon unleashed the US Airforce for the first time upon North Vietnam in Operations Linebacker 1 and 2. Accounts of the Linebacker 2 tell of POWs in the Hanoi Hilton listening to the B-52s crunch up the Hanoi docks, like Godzilla come to end the world. They told of brutal guards cowering on the floor as the POWs laughed manically behind bars; the guards asking in panic each time the floor shook "what was that?" And the answer was: "it is hand of God coming to take us home". Stirring stuff. Yet ultimately futile. The POWS did come home, but Linebacker changed nothing strategically because it was a brilliant military operation aimed at easing a retreat rather than achieving victory. Iraq does not need another Linebacker 2. What it needs is a bipartisan consensus to identify what American war aims are in this theater. Too long has the task been put off. But once the result is known it should be the only outcome permissible and the only choice for Syria and Iran.