Immanuel Wallerstein: The U.S. has lost the Iraq war

Yale geopolitical guru, Immanuel Wallerstein, registered this opinion back in August of this year. I missed it completely, so I'm posting it in its entirety now. Following his August opinion is another short commentary piece from a couple weeks ago.

Commentary No. 167, Aug. 15, 2005

"The U.S. Has Lost the Iraq War"

It's over. For the U.S. to win the Iraq war requires three things: defeating the Iraqi resistance; establishing a stable government in Iraq that is friendly to the U.S.; maintaining the support of the American people while the first two are being done. None of these three seem any longer possible. First, the U.S. military itself no longer believes it can defeat the resistance. Secondly, the likelihood that the Iraqi politicians can agree on a constitution is almost nil, and therefore the likelihood of a minimally stable central government is almost nil. Thirdly, the U.S. public is turning against the war because it sees no "light at the end of the tunnel."

As a result, the Bush regime is in an impossible position. It would like to withdraw in a dignified manner, asserting some semblance of victory. But, if it tries to do this, it will face ferocious anger and deception on the part of the war party at home. And if it does not, it will face ferocious anger on the part of the withdrawal party. It will end up satisfying neither, lose face precipitously, and be remembered in ignominy.

Let us see what is happening. This month, Gen. George Casey, the U.S. commanding general in Iraq, suggested that it may be possible to reduce U.S. troops in Iraq next year by 30,000, given improvements in the ability of the Iraqi government's armed forces to handle the situation. Almost immediately, this position came under attack from the war party, and the Pentagon amended this statement to suggest that maybe this wouldn't happen, since maybe the Iraqi forces were not yet ready to handle the situation, which is surely so. At the same time, stories appeared in the leading newspapers suggesting that the level of military sophistication of the insurgent forces has been growing steadily and remarkably. And the increased rate of killings of U.S. soldiers certainly bears this out.

In the debate on the Iraqi constitution, there are two major problems. One is the degree to which the constitution will institutionalize Islamic law. It is conceivable that, given enough time and trust, there could be a compromise on this issue that would more or less satisfy most sides. But the second issue is more intractable. The Kurds, who still really want an independent state, will not settle for less than a federal structure that will guarantee their autonomy, the maintenance of their militia, and control of Kirkuk as their capital and its oil resources as their booty. The Shiites are currently divided between those who feel like the Kurds and want a federal structure, and those who prefer a strong central government provided they can control it and its resources, and provided that it will have an Islamic flavor. And the Sunnis are desperate to maintain a united state, one in which they will minimally get their fair share, and certainly don't want a state governed by Shia interpretations of Islam.

The U.S. has been trying to encourage some compromise, but it is hard to see what this might be. So, two possibilities are before us right now. The Iraqis paper over the differences in some way that will not last long. Or there is a more immediate breakdown in negotiations. Neither of these meets the needs of the U.S. Of course, there is one solution that might end the deadlock. The Iraqi politicians could join the resisters in a nationalist anti-American thrust, and thereby unite at least the non-Kurd part of the population. This development is not to be ruled out, and of course is a nightmare from the U.S. point of view.

But, for the Bush regime, the worst picture of all is on the home front. Approval rating of Bush for the conduct of the Iraqi war has gone down to 36 percent. The figures have been going steadily down for some time and should continue to do so. For poor George Bush is now faced with the vigil of Cindy Sheehan. She is a 48-year-old mother of a soldier who was killed in Iraq a year ago. Incensed by Bush's statement that the U.S. soldiers died in a "noble cause," she decided to go to Crawford, Texas, and ask to see the president so that he could explain to her for what "noble cause" her son died.

Of course, George W. Bush hasn't had the courage to see her. He sent out emissaries. She said this wasn't enough, that she wanted to see Bush personally. She has now said that she will maintain a vigil outside Bush's home until either he sees her or she is arrested. At first, the press ignored her. But now, other mothers of soldiers in Iraq have come to join her. She is getting moral support from more and more people who had previously supported the war. And the national press now has turned her into a major celebrity, some comparing her to Rosa Parks, the Black woman whose refusal to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama a half-century ago was the spark that transformed the struggle for Black rights into a mainstream cause.

Bush won't see her because he knows there is nothing that he can say to her. Seeing her is a losing proposition. But so is not seeing her. The pressure to withdraw from Iraq is now becoming mainstream. It is not because the U.S. public shares the view that the U.S. is an imperialist power in Iraq. It is because there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. Or rather there is a light, the light an acerbic Canadian cartoonist for the Calgary Sun drew recently. He shows a U.S. soldier in a dark tunnel approaching someone to whose body is attached an array of explosives. The light comes from the match he is holding to the wick that will cause them to explode. In the month following the attacks in London and the high level of U.S. deaths in Iraq, this is the light that the U.S. public is beginning to see. They want out. Bush is caught in an insoluble dilemma. The war is lost.

by Immanuel Wallerstein

[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically or e-mail to others and to post this text on non-commercial community Internet sites, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To translate this text, publish it in printed and/or other forms, including commercial Internet sites and excerpts, contact the author at immanuel.wallerstein@yale.edu; fax: 1-203-432-6976.

These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.]

Here's the more recent commentary from Wallerstein. You can find many other short pieces written by him in the last 7 years right here. They are translated into 31, yes thirty one, languages.

Commentary No. 175, Dec. 15, 2005

"Losing One's Nerve in Iraq"

In response to the ever-growing sense that the United States is doing poorly in Iraq, indeed in the view of many is actually losing the war, the U.S. government has launched a campaign to persuade everyone that this is not so. In November, 2005, the U.S. National Security Council published, with great fanfare, a document entitled "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." And President Bush has been pushing its line vociferously in public speeches.

What this document argues is that victory is occurring, but occurring in stages, that victory is a vital U.S. interest, that the U.S. has a quite clear strategy for victory, but that this victory will take time. The key sentence in this wordy document, which evades all concrete analysis of what is actually going on, is a quote from President Bush's speech on Oct. 6, 2005: "In Iraq, there is no peace without victory. We will keep our nerve, and we will win that victory."

We will keep our nerve, says Bush. But his Rasputin, Vice-President Cheney, is not so sure, since he constantly asserts that U.S. critics of the Bush administration, however mild their criticism, are undermining this "nerve" and risk making the U.S. lose its resolve. The number of Republican Congressmen and Senators who are worried that the voters have already lost their "nerve" and might vote against them seems to be increasing at a very rapid pace, and seems to be having a great impact on the "nerve" of these Republican politicians.

When Rep. John Murtha, ex-Marine and longtime stalwart hawk, called for pulling out of Iraq, most commentators felt he was the unofficial voice of large numbers of senior military officers who were unable to voice their concerns publicly. Is this loss of their nerve? Neither Murtha nor the hidden senior military officers would define it this way. They see a situation in which the U.S. will not at all be able to win the kind of victory Bush is talking about, and by staying in Iraq they believe that the U.S. armed forces are being weakened as a military force able to do its work elsewhere in the world. They want to cut their losses before the U.S. armed forces lose even more.

It seems clear now that virtually every member of the U.S. coalition that has military forces in Iraq intends to reduce its number, if not fully withdraw them, in 2006. It seems fairly clear that the U.S. itself will do this. Nobody of course admits to losing their nerve, but public opinion at home and impending elections are taking their toll.

What about the Iraqis? There are two main groups of Iraqis - those who are energetically fighting the U.S. forces and any Iraqis thought to be cooperating with them, and the others. Those who are energetically fighting the U.S. are said, in this U.S. document, to be composed of three groups: rejectionists (Sunni Arabs who have not "embraced" the changes); Saddamists (who wish to restore the old regime), and terrorists affiliated with or inspired by Al Qaeda. The U.S., according to this document, has more or less given up on the latter two categories but hopes to persuade "many" of the first group to reduce their opposition. There does not however seem to be much evidence that this is happening. In short, those whom the U.S. calls its "enemies" do not seem to have lost their nerve, or their competence in fighting.

But what about the other Iraqis? Here the U.S. seems to be counting on the new Iraqi security forces, presumably under the authority of the new Iraqi government. I say presumably because it is obvious that these security forces are deeply infiltrated both by the "enemies" of the U.S. and by various militias - two kinds of Kurdish militias, and at least three kinds of Shi'a militias - who are pursuing their own objectives under the cover of being the national army. The U.S. says it is counting on these security forces to take over its task of fighting the "enemy" - that is, those who reject all legitimacy to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

But is the objective of those who control various parts of the new security forces really the same as those of the Bush regime? Do they intend to be "a full partner in the global war on terrorism" - the longer-term goal of the U.S. according to this document? Is this credible over the longer run? Even if those who are in the new government now are still there two years from now (itself a dubious proposition), why would they want to play this role when it can only make it more difficult to create even a moderately stable political situation in Iraq?

And finally, among winners and losers, more attention is being paid by observers today to the possibility that the big winner will be Iran. It is not that even a Shia-dominated government in Iraq will be in any sense a stooge of the Iranians. It is simply that they will not in any way want to play a role of being hostile to Iran, and therefore could not, will not, be sympathetic to U.S. objectives vis-a-vis Iran.

Do not ask for whom the bell tolls in Iraq. They toll for George W. Bush, and the United States. Bush claimed the U.S. went into Iraq so that it would not have to fight this "war" on U.S. soil. But the contrary is happening. The turmoil is coming to U.S. soil with a vengeance. One of the claims as to why the U.S. should not immediately withdraw from Iraq is that it might result in an Iraqi civil war. But no one discusses what kind of civil war might be in the process of developing in the United States.

by Immanuel Wallerstein

[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact: rights@agenceglobal.com, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write: immanuel.wallerstein@yale.edu.

These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.]


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