[Marxism] The Iran-Syria exit strategy

Marvin Gandall marvgandall at videotron.ca
Fri Nov 17 09:43:18 MST 2006

(Jenkins is a Guardian columnist and former editor of the London Times)

Why stop the Great Satan? He's driving himself to hell
Tehran can sit back and watch its tormentors sweat. But the US and Britain
must start from diplomatic ground zero

By Simon Jenkins
Wednesday November 15, 2006

For axis of evil, read axis of hope. The frantic scrabbling for an exit
strategy from Iraq now consuming Washington and London has passed all bounds
of irony. Help from Syria and Iran? Surely these were the monsters that
George Bush and Tony Blair were going to crush, back in 2003? Surely the
purpose of the Iraq adventure was to topple these terrorism-sponsoring,
women-suppressing, militia-funding fundamentalists in favour of stability,
prosperity and western democracy? Can the exit from Iraq really be through
Tehran and Damascus? Was that in the plan?

I remember asking a western intelligence officer in Baghdad, six months
after the American invasion, what he would advise the Iranians to do.
"Wait," he said with a smile. Iran has done just that. If I were Tehran I
would still wait. I would sit back, fold my arms and watch my tormentors
sweat. I would watch the panic in Washington and London as body bags pile
up, generals mutter mutiny, alliances fall apart and electors cut and run.

As Blair's emissary, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, comes to me cap in hand, I would
pour him tea and roar with laughter. I would ask him to repeat to my face
the insults and bile his American taskmasters hurl at me daily. I would say
with Shylock: "Hath a dog money? Is it possible a cur can lend three
thousand ducats? Fair Sir, you spat on me Wednesday last; you spurned me
such a day; you called me dog; and for these courtesies I'll lend you thus
much moneys?"

As we approach the beginning of the end in Iraq there will be much
throat-clearing and breast-beating before reality replaces denial. For the
moment, denial still rules. In America last week I was shocked at how
unaware even anti-war Americans are (like many Britons) of the depth of the
predicament in Iraq. They compare it with Vietnam or the Balkans - but it is
not the same. It is total anarchy. All sentences beginning, "What we should
now do in Iraq ... " are devoid of meaning. We are in no position to do
anything. We have no potency; that is the definition of anarchy.

>From all available reports, Iraq south of the Kurdistan border is beyond
central authority, a patchwork of ganglands, sheikhdoms and lawlessness.
Anbar province and most of the Sunni triangle is controlled by independent
Sunni militias. The only safe movement for outsiders is by helicopter at
night. Baghdad is like Beirut in 1983, with nightly massacres, roadblocks
everywhere and mixed neighbourhoods emptying into safe ones. As yesterday's
awful kidnapping shows, even a uniform is a death certificate. As for the
cities of the south, control depends on which Shia militia has been able to
seize the local police station.

The Iraqi army, such as it is, cannot be deployed outside its local area and
is therefore useless for counter-insurgency. There is no central police
force. There is no public administration. The Maliki government barely rules
the Green Zone in which it is entombed. American troops guard it as they
might an outpost of the French Legion in the Sahara. There is no point in
patrolling a landscape one cannot control. It merely alienates the
population and turns soldiers into targets.

To talk of a collapse into civil war if "we leave" Iraq is to completely
misread the chaos into which that country has descended under our rule. It
implies a model of order wholly absent on the ground. Foreign soldiers can
stay in their bases, but they will no more "prevent civil war" than they can
"import democracy". They are relevant only as target practice for insurgents
and recruiting sergeants for al-Qaida. The occupation of Iraq has passed
from brutality to mere idiocy.

It is possible that a shrewd proconsul, such as America's Zelmay Khalilzad,
might induce the warring factions to agree a provisional boundary between
their spheres of influence and assign militias to protect it. But my
impression is that Iraq has passed beyond even the power of the centre to
impose partition. If civil war means armies invading territory, there is no
need for that in Iraq. If it means ethnic massacres and refugees fleeing
into enclaves, it is there already and in abundance.

The form of the western retreat from Iraq is already taking shape. If all
politics is local, none is more local than the politics of anarchy. Britain
is already withdrawing from towns such as Amara and bases in Basra, leaving
local militias to fight over the territory left behind and regional leaders
to try to discipline them. This cannot begin until the troops leave.

American withdrawal will take the same form in the north and west. The chief
cause of British and American casualties at present is incoming commanders
going on unnecessary patrols to show they can "kick ass".

Next month's Baker/Hamilton inquiry - surely the strangest way an army has
ever negotiated its own retreat - will call for a hastening of such
"redeployment" away from centres of population to giant bases in the desert.
They can stay there to save face as Iraq's factions and provinces reorder
themselves messily in the towns and cities. Units can then slip quietly away
to Qatar by the month.

It would clearly help Bush and Blair were such a redeployment to be covered
by some international conference. But the idea that Ba'athist, Sunni
Damascus and clerical, Shia Tehran would jointly guarantee the safety of a
power-sharing regime in Baghdad is beyond credence. They might gain regional
kudos by attending such a conference, and even by pretending to rein in
their co-religionist militias. But any idea that they will stop sponsoring
Hizbullah or stop enriching uranium as part of some deal is bizarre. As for
Bush promising to "do something" about Israel and Palestine, he promised
that in 2003 to no effect. Yes, these leaders would like good relations with
the west, but they can survive without them. The axis of evil has done them
no harm.

Bush and Blair are men in a hurry, and such men lose wars. If there is a
game plan in Tehran it will be to play Iraq long. Why stop the Great Satan
when he is driving himself to hell in a handcart? If London and Washington
really want help in this part of the world they must start from diplomatic
ground zero. They will have to stop the holier-than-thou name-calling and
the pretence that they hold any cards. They will have to realise that this
war has lost them all leverage in the region. They can insult and sanction
and threaten. But there is nothing left for them to "do" but leave. They are
no longer the subject of that mighty verb, only its painful object.

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