As I work on a more comprehensive, global forecast for the next ten to fifteen years, I try to avoid spending time on matters of immediate media interest. The war in the Ukraine is an example. I will make an exception today as the topic is simply too important to ignore – war in Iraq.
When I wrote a guest editorial on the second Iraq War for Barron’s in June of 2004, Talking the Talk – Communication is the real failure in Iraq, my first paragraph pointed the finger at the person responsible for that war.
“Who’s being blamed for failure in Iraq? The list is long. George Bush. Dick Cheney. Donald Rumsfeld. Colin Powell. Paul Bremer. An assortment of generals and diplomats. Europeans. Iraqis. Other Arab leaders. And let’s not forget Saddam Hussein, without whose lunatic regime none of this would have been possible.”
Well, the Islamic State has replaced Saddam Hussein. Saddam used to love to pretend as if he was the innocent victim of American lies. Fortunately, in a perverse way, the IS has left no doubt as to its real nature. They have the YouTube videos to prove it and so do we.
Okay, but what “preparations” am I talking about? For those like myself, who follow events in Iraq on a daily basis, this is no surprise, but it will be for many people. Making my job much easier, Stratfor provides a brief, but excellent, overview of this coming Third Iraq War. My comments from hereon will assume you have taken the five minutes necessary to read their summary. Please do that. It is worth it.
Okay. Do I need to explain that this could be a genuine catastrophe if they blow it? I don’t think so. I can’t say I blame the anonymous source at DOD for “leaking” this info to Stratfor. They must be beside themselves with anxiety. After all, if it fails, they will take a hit, and the potential for failure is clear. The “coalition” they have to work with is totally unlike the two they worked with in earlier wars. In the past, we never had to worry about our coalition partners fighting with each other, much less killing each other.
I am not going to waste space and my time discussing the political consequences in the US. Let it suffice to say that if this occurs prior to November of 2016, as is clearly planned, then the coming campaign season will be an interesting one indeed.
Let me be clear. I have no doubt that, unless there is an internal break-down within the IS, there will be a war. They want a war, as Graeme Wood explains so well in his Atlantic article, What ISIS Really Wants, and they will get it. It’s already underway, if on a small scale compared to what we are discussing here. And there is no question that Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, must be taken away from the Islamic State. I do not favor war, but I do understand that it is almost a certainty at some point and that we cannot wait for two years. But if we are going to do it, we have to win it.
My fears are simple.
First, although there hasn’t been a census in more than a decade, Mosul and the nearby cities surrounding it represent roughly 3,000,000 urbanites. This will be an urban war and there will be plenty of civilian casualties under the best of circumstances. This will not be a pretty war in any way.
Second, and even worse, those lives may be lost in our defeat, not the defeat of IS, if we are not prepared. I am sure you remember that one major criticism of the G.W. Bush administration was that they had not prepared a sufficiently powerful force to successfully complete what they were contemplating. But I can barely imagine what a disaster it would have been if Bush had depended on a coalition of the Shi’a, the Kurds, disgruntled Sunnis, and the Iranians without any American “feet on the ground”. That kind of scheme would never have gotten Senate approval at that time and for very good reason. But make no mistake about it. Perhaps the US could claim not to be a belligerent in this war, but it will provide the leadership, try as we may to hide that obvious fact. None of our “coalition partners” could possibly take that role. We will hold responsibility.
Third, failure is not an option. Even a long, drawn-out battle for Mosul that stretches over many months is not an option. It must succeed or the consequences will be too many and too negative to contemplate right now. This war cannot “get out of hand”.
One thing that definitely must be dealt with is securing the support of the American people. Thanks to the IS and its public thuggery, the foundation is in place as is shown by this list drawn from a Gallup report of two weeks ago.
That foundation may be sufficient to support current bombing raids, but its strength is very questionable for something far more dramatic and far more dangerous.
I will leave it at that for now. There is much more to be said and to be heard on this topic. And no doubt about it, it will be said and it will be heard. At the very least, we should be prepared.
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