February 19, 2003



Jim Henley's all over the coming betrayal of the nascent Kurdish democracy today. The evidence is growing that America didn't even wait for the war before it let the Turks start killing them.

Last August, a spokesman... for the Kurdish Democratic Party told Agence France-Presse that in one such [Turkish air] raid, 38 Kurdish civilians were killed and 11 wounded.

Posted by BruceR at 11:14 PM



The paucity of real allies, and the inability to do a real reconstruction with just their own troops, are leading America to some strange and disturbing concessions.

If Newsweek is to be trusted, we're now looking at a U.S.-Anglo-Turkish invasion as the most likely scenario, with Turkey getting what is now the northern no-fly zone as their danegeld and trusteeship, independent of any joint command... kind of like the partition of Germany in 1945 (or, less appropriately perhaps, Poland six years earlier). This is, unfortunately, another side effect of bashing international institutions... their auspices can also be used to control YOUR allies. A UN- or NATO-sanctioned Turkish army could at most have hoped to set up a UN trusteeship in the end... but if all we have is a "coalition of the willing," then any greediness is possible so long as the coalition holds.

What this means for the Kurds is, of course, too horrible to dwell on. And it would render my earlier estimate that they would rise up in 2-3 years seem rather... optimistic. It would allow the US and Britain to properly reconstruct the south of the country with the forces they have... although how you stitch the warring north of the country together with the pacified south at the end of that is a rather open question, to put it mildly.

Posted by BruceR at 01:39 PM



I am in Jim Henley's debt for this linkage: a good Nation essay summarizing the current infighting in the American military. It touches on something that Canadian soldiers have noted for some time:

"If anything," the officer continues, "the [Bosnian] locals in areas under US control viewed the GIs as imperial occupiers, whereas in other areas, under Dutch or Canadian control, they saw them more as helpers who just happened to be heavily armed."

Everyone with a foot in the peacekeeping game is aware of this tendency. Is it because American soldiers are jerks? No, of course not. As the article rightly alludes to, the force protection burden for any main-force American contingent abroad is so high they often can't effectively relate with the surrounding population. It's like the difference people have noted between patrolcar policing and "community policing" in a way.

Could Americans change their approach? Not effectively... the political value of a single American peacekeeper's life, to a terrorist or enemy sympathizer wishing to kill or capture them, is so much higher than, say, a Canadian or Indian counterpart, that a high level of force protection, and a greater degree of distance, is pretty much necessary. Americans are high-value targets just by being in the zone. In Bosnia during the UN days, some Canadian peacekeepers were held hostage by Serbs: whatever the Serbs hoped to accomplish by this was no doubt negated by the complete lack of any international response. At most such an action can restrain the moves of the forces in-theatre, but it certainly has no larger political ramifications. Contrast that to Mogadishu, where a few American casualties meant the whole Somalia picture drastically altered overnight.

This, more than anything else, is likely going to hamper Iraqi reconstruction. However it's done, the result is going to be a large number of American troops, for the first time in decades within easy reach, Daniel Pearl-range reach, of those who hate them, and forced to stay there by virtue of their need to reconstruct the country. I've said before it's only a matter of time (two years? three?) before we see Americans or American proxies putting down rebellious Kurdish and Shiite factions in a post-war Iraq. Add the inevitable terrorist strikes on vulnerable peacekeeping elements in the meantime, and we could well see a sustained "Wild West time."

Which brings us to the occupation force, again. How many troops do the Americans need? As I've said before, historically the ratio for successful military occupations has run a scale from 1 soldier per 1,000 population (Japan and Germany in 1945) to 1:100 (Ireland, Palestine). Because it's largely going to be high-value American targets doing it, attracting terrorists, because the bordering nations are hostile to the enterprise, and because the nation itself is so fractious, it's clearly going to be on the low end of that scale. But let's say 1:500 to be generous. Iraq has 25 million people. So we're talking 50,000 soldiers minimum. Currently. America can sustain about 200,000 ground troops overseas longterm. Subtract Korea and other necessary garrisons, and we're talking maybe 100,000 free for the Middle East, of which half will be locked up in Iraq. You can't do much with the other 50,000. That could mean this isn't the first step in the war on terrorism... until Iraq is "reconstructed" it could be the last.

Okay, so America does have a couple options. It could use mercenaries, as is already being bandied about in military circles. Then the Hessians will have come full circle. Or it can build up Iraq's army as a force multiplier, and start drawing down its own numbers to give it freedom to move elsewhere. The spectacular successes of the ARVN come to mind in this respect.

America has a third option, of course. Get the world behind it. Britain could do maybe up to 10,000 sustained, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland ditto, Turkey too even -- if their troops are put in the SOUTH of the country -- and suddenly you've got an occupation force that: isn't a particularly tempting terrorist target, so it can restructure Iraq faster and more effectively; frees up enough Americans for phase two, whatever that is, or even to take on the Koreans; and avoids overreliance on Iraqis or mercs, which will only eat away at the new country from within.

There would still be American leadership of course, an American administrator, American money for the most part... still at least a division's worth of American troops on the ground, but maybe 20,000 tops (civil affairs and special forces in the streets, and a strong quick reaction force kept in a well-protected sanctum to back all the peacekeepers up). The outcome could be a functioning, grateful country in three years, at which point the West could start drawing down.

That's the best-case scenario, sure. All kinds of stuff can happen. But it's worth shooting for. And maybe if waiting a couple months will bring a couple other nations with strong militaries on board to help with the reconstruction, maybe it's worth the wait. That's all I'm saying. I'm not sure I'm fully with Robert Wright, and his belief in the need for TWO more U.N. resolutions before war; but if the choice is between rushed and wrong, and reasoned and right, then I'd say wait for fall if you had to.

The counter to that, of course, one I've read frequently elsewhere, is once the other countries have seen the U.S. has done all the heavy warfighting, they'll jump at the chance to put boots on the ground as peacekeepers. To which I'd say, um, look at Afghanistan, where there's been two years of constant scratching and biting just to get a brigade's worth of good troops in Kabul. Add to that the prospect of serving under American command, which will rankle all the more, and many will stay home altogether. The only alternative to straight-out American command, of course, remains U.S. authority under the auspices of a well-respected international body, like NATO or the Security Council. But for that to be an option, someone would have to put a muzzle on Mr. Rumsfeld...

UPDATE: Angua comments. I'm not sure I'd classify this as an "anti-war" argument, as I think on the balance, I'm still a borderline "pro" on the whole issue. I just don't see great prospects of post-war success if both NATO and the UN end up getting bypassed along the way... so maybe it's better seen as an "anti-unilateral" argument.

Posted by BruceR at 01:14 PM