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Commentary Last Updated: Feb 26th, 2007 - 00:49:42

How long will we be in Iraq?
By Patrick F. Morris
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Feb 26, 2007, 00:47

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Once a fight you started turns into a riot, it�s hard to step back from it and coolly examine whether you still have a stake in the outcome or whether the changed circumstances may also have changed your own interests and objectives.

In the case of Iraq, it may be that President Bush and most members of his administration have personally invested so much in a particular outcome that it is impossible for them to see clearly that US objectives have indeed changed and that our long-term interests are in jeopardy without a serious change of course.

Even though the most recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the war in Iraq has confirmed what has been obvious for at least a year, that the country is in the middle of a civil war, nothing in the supposedly new �surge strategy� of the administration seriously takes that into consideration. And while the NIE is pessimistic about action by the Iraqi unity government to address fundamental problems that fuel the civil war, and stoke sectarian violence, the surge promoters emphasize a short-term effort to quiet the most violent neighborhoods in Baghdad, avoiding any discussion of longer-term goals. This leads opponents of the surge to conclude that either there is no long-term strategy or that the administration is still clinging to its original �pie-in-the sky� dreams of a flourishing democracy in Iraq.

Yet, opponents of the surge have been curiously reluctant to openly confront administration witnesses who testify before Congress about what to expect if the surge succeeds and more importantly what to expect if it fails. In other words, how long will we have US troops in Iraq. Of course, as the situation has gone from bad to worse with mounting US and Iraqi casualties, the administration has urged that we �stay the course� and painted a picture of total disaster and expanding regional chaos if we pulled out, intimating that there are no other alternatives. We continue to get a tired �We must win there� without any real long-term strategy indicating �How we are to win there.� That is not enough and must not be allowed to stand.

In order to develop a new strategy we must accept the conclusion of the latest NIE that Iraq is in a civil war and that the prospects for the unity government to make fundamental changes to address that reality are close to nil. We must also accept the fact that the civil war is an internal Iraqi struggle and will continue until all the parties and factions engaged in it find some basis for reconciliation. We must also realize that, when the stakes are as high as they are in Iraq, civil wars are not short-term affairs. It likely to go on for decades, if not generations. There will be ups and downs, periods of intense conflict and others of lower-grade violence.

Witness some of those struggles in our contemporary world: Sri Lanka 1985 to the present day, over 20 years, Algeria 1965 to the present, over 40 years; Colombia 1965 to present over 40 years; and southern Sudan 1955 to 1972 and again 1983 to 2005. In such conflicts outside military involvement can have only limited and marginal effect. Of these only the Indians attempted briefly to determine the outcome in Sri Lanka before realizing that it was a losing proposition for them.

The US military is an outside occupying force in Iraq whose influence also will be limited and marginal. Even if the present surge is one hundred percent successful, it will have little effect on the longer-term outcome. This also holds true for other interested regional countries such as Iran, Turkey, Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia that may be supporting or sponsoring activities there. This doesn�t mean that we abandon our legitimate interests in Iraq or the region, but that we adjust our planning and actions to the reality of civil war. This means we cannot bring the war to an end, we can only hope to protect our most vital interests while working hard to influence the warring parties to come to terms.

The American public has already given strong indications that it will not support the continued massive involvement of US troops in Iraq and the resulting never-ending casualties. Therefore, the vague and fuzzy rhetoric about winning the war in Iraq, must give way to specific and achievable short and long-term objectives aimed at protecting targeted US vital interests in the area during an extended period of continuing civil war in Iraq. Such a strategy must begin by recognizing that our present occupation of Iraq is not and cannot accomplish those objectives. Therefore, as finite objectives for protecting specific US interests are developed, troops can be drawn down and redeployed to accomplish those limited objectives while our remaining forces are returned to the United States.

Patrick F. Morris is a combat veteran of WWII and a retired Foreign Service Officer. He writes articles, novels and plays. His regional history of the growth of the Montana copper industry is Anaconda Montana : Copper Smelting Boomtown on the Western Frontier.

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