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Three Wars, Three Quagmires

Posted by on April 12th, 2011

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

We're heading into the 2012 US election campaign with the nation involved in three quagmire wars. Is it too much to ask that the bi-partisan penchant to allow military intervention substitute for creative foreign policy come under some serious scrutiny this time around?

In Iraq, as Pepe Escobar writes, Mookie Sadr still isn't dead and is threatening a resurgent Sadrist rsistance if Maliki and the US don't keep their promises to get all US troops out in 2011.

The SOFA was signed by former president George W Bush in November 2008. According to the text, the whole of the US military, plus their civilian personnel, must exit Iraq by December 31, 2011, at midnight. If Washington does not honor the agreement, the US will be technically at war with Iraq – as in US soldiers illegally deployed without the consent of the US Congress.

There's absolutely no evidence this SOFA will be amended before the deadline, although Maliki's government, under extreme pressure, could always ask the Barack Obama administration to extend the occupation. But for this, Maliki needs the Sadrists – which are part of the government.

So Muqtada's message is actually a stern warning to Maliki. And by the way, this is not only about 47,000 US boots off the ground; it's about the end of the Iraq chapter of the US empire of military bases (other rallies went on Saturday near US bases in Kirkuk, Dhi Qar, and al-Asad base in Anbar province).

No wonder both the Obama administration and the Pentagon are on red alert. Vice President Joe Biden urgently called Maliki after Gates left Iraq to keep up the pressure. Iraqi parliamentarians, for their part, stress any extension would have to be approved by parliament. And Muhammad Salman, from the Sunni Iraqiya party (most Sunnis are Iraqi nationalists who also want the US out) has already talked about a popular referendum.

The SOFA itself was supposed to be approved by referendum (it never happened). In a nutshell, the only players who want the US to stay are the military in Iraqi Kurdistan – who fear they may be overpowered by Iraqi Arabs.

What it really comes down to is what is Maliki most afraid of: the Sadrist threat or the lack of US troops to back his regime? That will depend on his confidence in and control over the Iraqi army. But that the US wants to stay in Iraq is now a given.

In Libya, as most of us predicted the "short, good war" promised has turned into another quagmire that's not helping anybody.

"Regrettably, the longer this goes on, the more the civilian population will be affected by the conflict, by the fighting and we are deeply troubled by what we're starting to see as more fundamental issues affecting daily life," Simon Brooks, head of the Red Cross mission in Benghazi added.

Indeed, the chances of this new quagmire impacting Sarkozy's election campaign negatively – when it was always intended to to the reverse – has the French in a bit of a panic. The UK, knowing full well that the recently-signed UK/France defense pact which is the conservative government's only chance of funding the British Navy is in danger if they don't toe Sarkozy's line, duly line-toed.

Speaking out about the military campaign, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Nato needed to be more assertive in its operations in Libya.

"Nato must play its role fully. It wanted to take the lead in operations," Mr Juppe said, calling efforts so far "not enough".

William Hague later echoed Mr Juppe's comments, stressing that Col Gaddafi needed to step down: "We must maintain and intensify our efforts in Nato.

"That is why the United Kingdom has in the last weeks supplied additional aircraft capable of striking ground targets threatening the civilian population.

"Of course it would be welcome if other countries also did the same," he said on arrival at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

The US will now come under intense pressure from its allies across the pond to get more heavily involved again, so as to effect regime change before sarkozy's election deadline rolls around.

And as for Afghanistan….well, this says it all, from MoJo's Adam Weinstein:

“And while observing the Soviet difficulties in Afghanistan with a certain sense of vindication, the US military are at the same time reminded of the difficulties of defeating a determined guerrilla opponent who enjoys sanctuaries and is fighting in rugged terrain. After all, if a country with relatively few public opinion concerns or moral compunctions about its tactics cannot beat a bunch of ill-equipped Afghan tribesmen, what does that say about the ability of the United States — with its domestic constraints, statutory limitations, moral inhibition, and zealous investigative reporters — to carry out a successful action against a guerrilla force?

— From now-General Petraeus’s Princeton Ph.D. dissertation.

Three wars in Moslem countries, three quagmires – and not one of them unpredictably so. We really need a national conversation on the propensity to reach for the military hammer, some day sooner rather than later.

Update: Andrew Bacevich -

 Here is where we find Barack Obama and George W. Bush (not to mention Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter) joined at the hip. When it comes to the Islamic world, for more than three decades now Washington's answer to how has been remarkably consistent: through the determined application of hard power wielded by the United States. Simply put, Washington's how implies a concerted emphasis on girding for and engaging in war.

Presidents may not agree on exactly what we are trying to achieve in the Greater Middle East (Obama wouldn't be caught dead reciting lines from Bush's Freedom Agenda, for example), but for the past several decades, they have agreed on means: whatever it is we want done, military might holds the key to doing it. So today, we have the extraordinary spectacle of Obama embracing and expanding Bush's Global War on Terror even after having permanently banished that phrase to the Guantanamo of politically incorrect speech.

The key point is this: like those who preceded them, neither Obama nor his Harpies (nor anyone else in a position of influence) could evidently be bothered to assess whether the hammer actually works as advertised — notwithstanding abundant evidence showing that it doesn't.

The sequence of military adventures set in motion when Jimmy Carter promulgated his Carter Doctrine back in 1980 makes for an interesting story but not a very pretty one. Ronald Reagan's effort to bring peace to Lebanon ended in 1983 in a bloody catastrophe. The nominal victory of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, which pushed Saddam Hussein's forces out of Kuwait, produced little except woeful complications, which Bill Clinton's penchant for flinging bombs and missiles about during the 1990s did little to resolve or conceal. The blowback stemming from our first Afghanistan intervention against the Soviets helped create the conditions leading to 9/11 and another Afghanistan War, now approaching its tenth anniversary with no clear end in sight. As for George W. Bush's second go at Iraq, the less said the better. Now, there is Libya.

The question demands to be asked: Are we winning yet? And if not, why persist in an effort for which great pain is repaid with such little gain?


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