Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Endgame in Iraq and Afghanistan

The endgame has begun for American and other western military involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Decisions in Washington and London are being taken that will dramatically transform both of these conflicts.

Here are some straws in the wind:

* Today Gordon Brown, formerly Chancellor of the Exchequer, replaced Tony Blair as Britain’s Prime Minister. The Scottish politician, who made a famous deal in 1994 not to oppose Tony Blair’s run for the leadership of the Labour Party, now takes charge of Britain’s foreign engagements. The war in Iraq, and to a lesser extent the mission in Afghanistan, has been intensely unpopular with the British people, especially with Labour Party members and supporters.

While Brown endorsed Blair’s support for the U.S. initiated invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, his priorities as he prepared to take over as Prime Minister have been on domestic policy. Brown is certainly pro-American, but he has no intention of developing a close personal relationship with George W. Bush of the kind that Blair had. Brown knows that to win the next British general election---it must be held by 2010, but Brown could call it as early as the summer of 2008---he must not be labeled “Bush’s New Poodle”. There have been stories in the British media speculating that Brown intends to bring most British troops home from Iraq over the next twelve months. While he is unlikely to castigate Blair’s wars, in which he is also implicated, winding down the mission in Iraq would send a very clear message to the British electorate and to the beleaguered Bush administration in Washington.
* In Washington, Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate yesterday that was harshly critical of the Bush administration’s strategy in Iraq. The Senator, who has been a staunch Bush loyalist said: “The costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved….Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term.”
Lugar told reporters that President Bush had limited time to change the course of the war because of the 2008 presidential campaign.

“We’re heading into a very partisan era,” he said. “The president has the opportunity now to bring about a bipartisan foreign policy. I don’t think he’ll have that option very long.”
Lugar’s message was abundantly clear even though the White House is publicly ignoring it: it is time to make a deal in Iraq and to start bringing American troops home. When someone like Richard Lugar abandons his support for the Bush stay-the-course strategy in Iraq it means that the American political establishment has reached a consensus that the war has failed and has to be brought to an end.
* A few days ago, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai blasted the U.S. and NATO forces for their indiscriminate killings of civilians and demanded a change in military tactics. Karzai, who has long insisted that a deal needs to be made with the factions of the Taliban that are made up of Afghans as opposed to those tied to Al Qaeda, is as good at reading the tea leaves as anyone else. He knows that Western missions in Afghanistan don’t enjoy much public support in their own countries. He wants a deal, and he wants it soon.
* Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper mused that for Canada to continue its mission in Afghanistan after February 2009, there would have to be a broad political consensus in favour of the refitted mission. Harper knows that Canadians have no appetite for a continuation of their military role in southern Afghanistan beyond February 2009. He’s been on the wrong side of public opinion on the war from day one, which is a major reason his party is stuck with about 33 per cent of voters telling pollsters they would vote Conservative. Harper is softening the message so he can get back on track to the 40 per cent range he needs to win a majority of seats in the next election. If a conservative spear-carrier like Harper has figured out that change is in the wind, it is a sure sign that even those in the lower ranks of decision-making within the Anglo Sphere have been brought into the picture.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been sold to the public as struggles in the world-wide War on Terror and as theatres in the combat between freedom and the enemies of freedom. In fact, both struggles have been imperial wars, launched by Washington, with the support of the coalition of the willing in Iraq and NATO in Afghanistan, to secure control of strategic resources and territory. In both cases, the Bush administration’s strategy has imperiled the U.S. position in the region and in the world. The American political establishment has had enough. For the sake of the ability of U.S. petroleum companies to operate in the Middle East, and to sustain the U.S. strategic position in the region, the war in Iraq has to be wound up. In Afghanistan similarly, the U.S. establishment has concluded that the war is not worth the risk of a showdown with Pakistan, which would be needed to defeat the Taliban. The Pakistani regime of Pervez Musharraf is already imperiled for domestic reasons and Washington cares much more about Pakistan than it does about Afghanistan.
The U.S. is likely to wind down its operations in Iraq following a political deal with Iraqi and non-Iraqi players that will allow the Americans to save face and to pull out most of their troops. That does not mean that armed struggle over the future shape of Iraq will end, just that the American military occupation will conclude, perhaps with U.S. military bases left behind in the country, and certainly in neighbouring Kuwait.
In Afghanistan, the likeliest outcome is a deal between the Karzai regime, regional warlords, and elements of the Taliban to create a more broadly based government. With this, the American, NATO and Canadian missions in Afghanistan will be transformed and most western troops will go home. In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, the end of the Western missions will not terminate armed struggle over the future shape of the country.
For the sake of Western pride, the settlements in both wars can be expected to include a few undertakings about human rights, the rights of women in particular, commitments almost certainly not worth the paper they will be written on.


David Rennie said...

These criminal wars of aggression and occupation must be stopped as soon as possible. I only hope that some of the war criminals behind these wars will be brought to justice in my life time.
The world is screaming for justice in all it forms.

aly k said...

Excellent Analysis.

At one point, you say that "The U.S. is likely to wind down its operations in Iraq". This seems very likely, though I'd add the following "...and perhaps wind up its operations in Iran".

Iran's been off the news lately, but from what I'm seeing/hearing, it looks like some of the neocons are anxious to invade. The other day, I heard one insider saying they (white house) were discussing whether invading in 08 might be practical.

It may sound a little far-fetched, but then again, nothing is far-fetched when it comes to Bush et. al. And even if THIS administration doesn't invade, all the mainstream right-wing candidates (for President) seem to share this ambition. I'm almost convinced that it's only a matter of time.

Michael Holloway said...


However, when you said,

"That does not mean that armed struggle over the future shape of Iraq will end, just that the American military occupation will conclude, perhaps with U.S. military bases left behind in the country, and certainly in neighbouring Kuwait."

I believe your your calculus omits Kurdistan and the refugee crisis.

The armed struggle over the future shape of Iraq will include mounting tensions on all borders, due to the expanding refugee crisis - no where more acute and volatile than on the Turkey/Kurdish border.

I think these are important because, as you point out, this is not the end of the war, only a shift in tactics.

The end game for this New American Century is global dominance, and Tarpley's 'Strategy of Tensions' take, still reads well.

If these, particular Muslims can't be fodder towards this end, others will have to be found.

Check my blogs, war link.

I've been writing on these developments as well.


ken said...

I think the indications are quite opposite. The US is gearing up for keeping large numbers of troops in Iraq for a lengthy period. Bush is talking of victory and success as taking patience and a long time.
In Afghanistan Bomber McNeil is busy trying to show Afghans that even if they give shelter to the Taliban involuntarily they will be blown to smithereens. Karzai's complaints are ignored.
The military industrial complex is not worried about long term commitments. As long as the Democratic party refuses to force Bush to withdraw nothing will happen. Add to this the fact that many in the US and other administrations want to neutralise Iran's nuclear facilities and so you have a recipe for a renewed attack game. Harper may distance himself from more involvement if he fears the polls enough but otherwise Canada will tag along with the US.

John Murney said...

James Laxer hits the nail on the head, again!

Anonymous said...

The "War on Terror" is not a war, but a marketing theme or slogan. It is used to sell three classic imperial wars to the public; The American war to reconstitute Iraq and Afghanistan as American protectorates and Israel's war to push the Palestinians off their remaining land in the West Bank and annex these lands to Israel.

Fifty years ago the British could contest with the Mau Mau for control of Kenya and all of the death, destruction, terrorism and atrocities were confined to Kenya.

Today the globalization of colonial warfare has made the colonial powers and their client states vulnerable to the same kind of attacks at home that have always characterized this type of warfare in those lands resisting foreign control. Using these attacks and the threat of them, to justify the wars that caused them in the first place is indeed a delicious piece of spin.