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Iraq: Best-Case, Most Likely, and Worst-Case

Original post made by SkepticAl on May 29, 2007

Over the next few days, I'll post a few expert opinions offered to Tim Dickinson (Rolling Stone, 3/22/07) regarding the range of scenarios for Iraq, from best to worst. Let's start with the best, if you can call it that.

- It's not a question of whether we're going to leave Iraq - it's a question of when. And everybody in Iraq knows that. So they say, "Fine. We'll stock arms and wait for you guys to leave. And then we'll do what we want." - Gen. Tony McPeak, member of Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War.

- All the things they say will happen are already happening. Iraq is a base for terrorists; there is already civil war. We've got 150,000 troops there now and we can't stop it. - Richard Clarke, Counterterrorism Czar 1993-2003

- Even in the best-case scenario, the disaster we're seeing now is nothing compared to the disaster that we'll see after we leave. The real issue here here is American interest: The longer we stay, the more people we get killed. I don't think the longer we stay, the better we make Iraq. Proably the reverse. - Michael Sheuer, Former Chief of CIA's Osama bin Laden unit

- There's going to be a genocide of Sunnis in Baghdad. The Shia have the numbers to do it; they can absorb all the Sunni car bombs it takes. The Americans aren't capable of stopping it; they can't tell a Sunni from a Shia. The best you can hope for is that it doesn't spill into the neighboring countries. - Juan Cole, Prof. of modern Middle East history, U. of Michigan

Comments (24)

Posted by Dave, a resident of College Terrace
on May 29, 2007 at 7:45 pm

in iraq, there are only terrible case scenarios and catasrophic cse ones. one of many things americans don't understand about arabs is that they are very patient, they don't forget and never forgive. the shia will never forgive the sunni for the way they had been treated for generations. the sunni have never accepted their demise as the ruling minority. their onlt common ground is their undying hatred for the americans who they consider as the new crusaders. the talk about a democracy evolving in iraq is the most absurd notion of the last 100 years. they will patiently await our departure and then the 'fun' will begin. it's impossible to predict the final outcome, accept that i would bet the farm that we will look back on the thuggish saddam regime and miss it terribly.


Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 29, 2007 at 7:54 pm

The best case is that we leave Iraq by using it as a base for taking out Iran.


Posted by Americanhubris, a resident of Midtown
on May 29, 2007 at 8:33 pm


R Wray:

"Take out Iran" like we "took out" Iraq ?? (never mind that it is even more populated and better armed than Iraq, by the way)...

lol


Posted by R Wray, a resident of South of Midtown
on May 30, 2007 at 11:39 am

Iraq was lost in Washington. Our military has done everything asked of them exceptionally well and can easily handle Iran if it has our support. (It will be more difficult after Iran has nuclear weapons, and it will probably cost us an American city or two.)


Posted by Jim, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 30, 2007 at 12:19 pm

Iraq is not "lost". Far from it. It is a long hard slug, but it is worth the effort.

Saddam is dead. WMD are no longer a threat from Iraq. A sprouting democracy is taking place.

Why run now?


Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on May 30, 2007 at 7:35 pm

Jim - thanks for the expert opinion. WMD are "no longer" a threat? When were they last a threat? Not at any time that has anything to do with the current war. "Democracy is taking place"? There may have been an election, but this is hardly a functioning government. Is there any concept of loyal opposition? Do you think the majority will protect the minority? What are your dreams based on?

AND NOW for the "most likely" scenario from the real experts.

- We're going to see a full-scale intercommunal war that may not burn out until one side is all dead, all gone. ...Iran's influence will have been increased geometrically. We're already the losers in this, and now we become the big-time losers. - Gen. Tony McPeak (ret.), member of Joint Chiefs of Staff in Gulf War

- The most efficient way to avoid mass killings is to help the Shiites win fast, consolidate their damn dictatorship and get the hell out. The level of anarchy and hatred and emotional disturbance is such that it's very hard to imagine anything except a Saddam-style reign of terror succeeding in pacifying the place. ...The net effect of our policies has been to make the area safe for Iran, which I guess is why we're now threatening attacks on Iran. - Chas Freeman, Amb. to Saudi Arabia during Gulf War; president of the Middle East Policy Council


Posted by Dave, a resident of College Terrace
on May 30, 2007 at 8:04 pm

Iraq is going to end up with a Saddam like strongman,maybe splintered into a few states, very possibly as a Shia theocracy-it will not become a democracy-every Iraqi will tell you this and every person in the entire world knows it with the exception of th neocons, Bush and Cheney. The talk about a sprouting democracy in Iraq is so astoundingly absurd, I sometime get the sense it's coming from Martians who nothing about our world.


Posted by Jim, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 30, 2007 at 10:01 pm

Al, WMD in Iraq were last a major threat sometime in the mid-90s. This was several years after the UN inspectors (Hans Blix) declared them not be a threat. Since Blix got it so wrong, and the UN inspectors never stood a chance vs. Saddam, the only way to be sure about it was to invade. We have now established that WMD are no longer a threat from Iraq. And Saddam isn't around anymore to start up the effort again. That's good news.

On the question of democracy, I am willing to bet the ranch that the next national election in Iraq will have a higher turnout rate than the U.S. election for president in 2008. It will take a long time for the central government to consolidate power, but that's not the end of the world. Local and regional councils will (and have) formed to take care of business. There will be all sorts of fights and haggles, but that's democracy. It ain't pretty.

Such fledgling democratic movements have the curious effect of making people think that they SHOULD be able to vote, and have a say. When it reaches this stage, even autoritarian leaders (e.g. Putin) or military coup leaders (e.g. Musharraf) are forced to moderate their approach.

Dave, Your racist rant against Iraqi inability to form a democracy was put to the torch by the incredible expression of those standing in line to get their fingers painted purple - despite death threats. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on May 30, 2007 at 10:16 pm

"all sorts of fights and haggles" - that's rich. Now read what I posted again, please. And stay tuned tomorrow for the experts' "worst case scenarios."


Posted by Jim, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 30, 2007 at 10:25 pm

Al, OK I'll wait for your 'experts' to set me straight. I will probably provide some of my own. That's fair, right?

I would like to continue the discussion about WMD, since you seemed to dismiss it in an offhand manner. Al, how would you have established that Saddam no longer had them?


Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on May 31, 2007 at 10:01 am

Jim -

Yes, please gather your expert opinions, as long as they're not currently in the administration or Pentagon. Two reasons - one, they're not really free to speak their minds, and two, the administration has no credibility whatsoever anymore. Are there outside experts who will suggest that we just need to hang on to this so called "surge" strategy a bit longer and everything will turn out okay? Is the insurgency in its "last throes?"

As for the WMD question, I don't have the answer. It's not my job to review the intelligence or chart military strategies, and I have no expertise in it anyways. My goal here is not suggest that I personally had the answers, or to say "I told you so." Who knows - I might have made the same mistakes. I'd like to think that if I had, I would have the humility and the decency to acknowledge my mistakes, to adapt, to seek new advisors, and if necessary, to resign. But my goal online here is to remove any doubt that our current leadership has been an utter failure, has been entirely unaccountable (with the exception of the much-too-late departure of Rumsfeld), has continually denied or distorted realities in Iraq, and should not be trusted to continue the prosecution of this war.


Posted by Dave, a resident of College Terrace
on May 31, 2007 at 1:06 pm

Everybody makes mistakes. Rational and decent people, once they recognize their mistake, admit it, correct it and try not to repeat it. Some of the Democrats who voted for this criminal war had done it as an honest mistake. They were given rigged and fraudulent information, and some just didn't have the I.Q required to realize it. It is the Republicans, along with their collaborator Lieberman and with the with the exception of Hagel, who are so terrifying. Almost all of them know that the longer we stay, the more enemies we are going to make and the more casualties we will take, but they still enable the criminal-in-chief to continue with the war.


Posted by Jim, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 31, 2007 at 4:33 pm

"Rational and decent people, once they recognize their mistake, admit it, correct it and try not to repeat it."

Dave, would say those people who were wrong about Fallujah and Al Anbar, when they claimed it was permanently in the hands of Al Qaeda and/or the Sunni insurgents, should admit their mistake and try not to repeat it?

If Iraq succeeds as a democratic state, will you admit your mistake and try not to repeat it in the future?


Posted by Jim, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 31, 2007 at 5:27 pm

Al, Probably the best expert on the situation in Iraq is Patraeus. I won't allow you to limit my sources, so you will just need make a judgement without prejudice.

Here is a sample of what his current views are:

Web Link

"As for the WMD question, I don't have the answer"

That is a fair statment, Al. You have no answer to the critical question of whether Saddam still had his WMD, and if, once freed from significant external pressure (as was happening, fast), he would restart exisiting programs. I cannot think of a single reliable answer to this question other than an actual invasion. I asked you for your approach, and you punted. Please re-think it and come to an alternative answer to mine. If you can, I will listen.




Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on May 31, 2007 at 10:39 pm

Jim,

I respect Patraeus' record and views, but can you offer any other sources? I've already stated why I'm less-than-entirely convinced by the views of those whose job is to do the bidding of the President.

As for your feeling that I "punted," that's fine. I'm not interested in rehashing the debate about who knew what when, and I'm admitting I don't have the answers. I do know that the executive branch manipulated evidence and cherry-picked information to make the case for war appear stronger than it was.

However, now that we know the administration and Pentagon were wrong about WMD, woefully underprepared for the aftermath of war, ill-equipped materially and strategically for the insurgency, etc., etc., I'm asking the question: why should we believe anything they say? Why should we trust them to carry on in this war? Why shouldn't we demand accountability?


Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on May 31, 2007 at 11:04 pm

And now the "worst-case scenario." I'm not even repeating the most inflammatory statements (about nuclear war). Experts repeated from above are not described again.

- This could become the Islamic equivalent of the Thirty Years War... a religious schism that blossoms into overt mayhem and murder and massacres and warfare. ...It will be a free-for-all that spreads beyond the anarchic zone of Iraq. - Chas Freeman

- The Shiites in Iran will not tolerate the re-emergence of a Sunni government in Iraq. And the last thing... the rest of the Sunni-dominated states will tolerate is letting the Shia control another oil-rich state in the Muslim heartland. So you're going to see those states running guns and money to Sunni fighters in Iraq. For Jordan and Egypt, this is a golden opportunity to send their young firebrands to fight in Iraq.... It's a kind of pressure-relief valve for Sunni dictatorships. - Michael Sheuer

- You'll soon see Sunni militias destabilizing countries like Jordan and Syria.... It took about ten years for the Palestinians to become politicized and militarized when they were first expelled from Palestine. You're likely to see something like that occurring in the huge Iraqi refugee populations in Syria and Jordan. King Abdullah of Jordan is resented for being an American stooge and an accomplice with Israel. I'm convinced that the monarchy in Jordan will fall as a result of this, and Israel will be confronted with a frontline state on its longest border with an Arab country. - Nir Rosen, Author of "In the Belly of the Green Bird" about Iraq's civil war, has been interviewing Iraqi refugees in Egypt.

- This is a dark chapter in our history. Whatever else happens, our country's international standing has been frittered away by people who don't have the foggiest understanding of how the hell the world works. America has been conducting an experiment for the past six years, trying to validate the proposition that it really doesn't make any difference who you elect president. Now we know the result of that experiment. If a guy is stupid, it makes a big difference. - Gen. Tony McPeak (retired)


Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on Jun 1, 2007 at 12:07 am

Jim - on second thought, you might have offered the actual author of that article rather than just Patraeus. It all sounds good, though that author seemed to gush a bit. His tone is a bit... "We put up some concrete barriers and now the markets are thriving and life is good." In his time in Iraq, this reporter must have been lucky though - he mentions no terrorist activity from his visit, though 81 American soldiers were killed that month, 604 wounded, and 2977 Iraqis were reported killed (96/day). I honestly hope it turns out as well as this article suggests it could. Seems to me the success Patraeus hopes for will require more time and more soldiers than we're committing if it's going to have a lasting effect throughout Iraq. Surely you must understand why no one is going to buy any "insurgency in its last throes" kind of arguments any more without long-lasting undeniable results to back it up.


Posted by Jim, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 1, 2007 at 11:35 am

"Surely you must understand why no one is going to buy any "insurgency in its last throes" kind of arguments any more without long-lasting undeniable results to back it up."

Al, I agree with you on that point. I think the war in Iraq has been oversold as a success, too soon. The undeniable results you speak of will take a long time to achieve. It will be a slow process. Almost all counter insurgency campaigns are long affairs.

The road to success in Iraq will require political compromise, slowly improving Iraqui army capabilities, taking and holding territory, U.S. involvement for a long time, although not, necessarily, more U.S. troops. It is worth the effort, and we should stay the course. On this, Bush is right, and his critics are wrong.


Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on Jun 1, 2007 at 1:41 pm

Jim -

I appreciate the tone of the debate here. I might even agree about the long term goals and the "worthiness" of them. But that's where it looks to me like you misread Bush critics and/or me: while there might be some debate about the long-term vision, there's no debate about past ineptitude and the total crisis in leadership right now. Given our past and present realities, I have no confidence in where we're headed.

Still hoping you can throw some more expert opinions behind your view.


Posted by Jim, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 1, 2007 at 2:28 pm

Al,

Here is an NPR interview with Jack Keane (ret. general). I heard it when it first played (couple of months ago). I thought it was fairly realistic.

Web Link

I know you have a hard time with Bush, but I think it would be best to put him into some context. For instance, Linclon was a hard liner on the slavery issue, and ended up pushing the U.S. into a civil war. England got rid of slavery without a civil war. The Civil War was a great national tragedy for this coutry. Was it worth it? My answer is "yes", becasue it got the job done quickly. Was it necessary? Probably not, becasue slavery would have slowly faded away by the end of the century, as the industrial revolution provided a substitute for slave labor. Lincoln was also severely criticized for his handling of the war. If you think Bush is a dunce, it is nothing compared to what Lincoln was called. Nothing was going right, and the deaths were in the hundreds of thousands, and the generals were incompetent, and every lost battle was criticized as a lost opporunity or a major blunder, etc. Then along came Grant.... He saved Linclon. We remember Lincoln as a great president because he preserved the union, and he wrote great prose. He, reportedly, was not a great public speaker - his speach at Gettysburgh was a big disappointment at first. But he had compelling ideas, and was willing to drive them - in the end, that's why we admire him.

I think the Bush decision to invade Iraq was a good one. I have already talked about why I think so in previous threads. I think the creation of a democratic Iraq would be an earthquake in the Arab world, in the positive sense. I don't think the cost of the war, thus far, has been great, in fact, it has been relatively small. I think a failure in Iraq would be a disaster.


Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on Jun 3, 2007 at 11:04 pm

Jim,

Sorry I haven't had the time to sit through Talk of the Nation. However, a couple days I ago, I think there was a report on The News Hour that suggested some improvement specifically in Anbar, where local sheiks decided al Qaeda is worse than the US. Apparently they're sending their young men to join the Iraqi police force, they're informing on al Qaeda when they can, and making some small progress in attempting to export this model beyond Anbar.

And let it never be said that I'm such a partisan that I will ignore the strengths in the other sides arguments when they exist. Am I the only one on this forum?

However, I'm not convinced yet that this is a step towards democracy as much as a step towards stability, and not based on democratic ideals. If the demographics were to change, I'm hardly convinced that these sheikhs would agree that if they become a minority they must live with majority rule.

An earlier report on the News Hour examined the costs of the war. I can only assume you mean it hasn't cost much in lives lost, when compared to other extended conflicts, and I'll grant you that. However, the injury rates are much higher than in previous conflicts, and the injuries people are surviving are much more debilitating. Some of these survivors will live out their lives with permanent cognitive impairments and personality changes/disorders, not to mention their physical injuries. The costs of their lifetime medical care, along with the cost to our nation in lost productivity, and the interest on the debt we're accumulating because of misguided fiscal policies around this war, have led experts to suggest that the actual price tag on the operation is a small, small part of the $1-2 trillion total loss. But Bush dare not suggest that our nation sacrifice *anything* to support the war or the troops. Tax cuts tax cuts full speed ahead, buying a fake economic recovery on our children's credit while poverty grows and grows. What a moral leader, our brave George.


Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on Jun 4, 2007 at 10:10 am

See Rosa Brooks latest op-ed piece too, in the Merc. today. With all the focus on US military casualties, she notes that among civilian contractors, there are 917 dead and 12,000 wounded. That information was not offered by the government, by the way. That's how they honor the dead, I guess. The NY Times had to use a Freedom of Information Act request to force that info out of the Dept. of Labor.


Posted by Draw, a resident of Stanford
on Jun 5, 2007 at 6:21 am

Skeptic:

How long will it take for everyone to learn that fewer taxes=more tax revenue? You haven't noticed in the last 30 years that more taxes=Carter/Clinton resulted in ( after a few years for the downward slide in employment to begin) decreasing fed revenue, and tax cuts (Reagan, Bush) resulted in increased tax revenue? Look at countries around the world, the higher the tax rate, the higher the nanny state, the closer to bankruptcy is the govt. Higher taxes/more nanny discourages employment.

I suggest you read Sowell's Basic Economics or Applied Economics.

The best way to protect our kids from our excesses is to stop voting ourselves government "guaranteed" retirement benefits (of which our payments the govt immediately spends, not investing, which is the big myth), and start allowing us to put even some of the money into private accounts. Every country that has done that has seen an increase in retiree wealth, and a decrease in govt debt. Govt does not "invest" our social security payments, it spends it. I have no doubt at all most of us living here will not see any social security benefit. It is simply another tax, because we will be "means tested out" of the equation, because WE invest money into our retirements outside of SS.

People who put even 25$/month away from age 22 to age 65 into even the lowest risk Mutual Funds retired with $1,000,000 in personal retirement funds, which can be passed on to anyone they wish if they die before they spend it. Just living off the interest got them $30,000/year in payments. Our govt took at least double that much their whole lives, and they get $8,000/year, that disappears when they die. And we,their chidren, are paying it, because the govt spent THEIR payments as it got it.

Sit on it for awhile before you answer and think about it. It is mind blowing, once you understand it. I was nearly a full socialist at one time, because I believed the whole "govt knows better" stuff...then I traveled the world and saw what happens to countries where "govts" are in charge of taking care of people, not individuals. The funny thing was that the poor were poorer, the more socialist the country, than the poor in the "capitalist" countries. The poor in former "capitalist" countries which became more socialist got...poorer.

It was quite a revelation, and completely contrary to everything I believed to be true.

It is probably too late to reverse this trend in our country. Once a country has more people recieving from the "govt" than giving to the "govt", the majority of people will vote in officials who will "give them" more, ie take from the minority of Americans to give to the majority.

Last year was the first year that 51% of adult Americans received more than they gave in taxes.




Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on Jun 5, 2007 at 9:37 pm

Draw,

Thanks for the lesson. You must be a well-traveled individual. Wealth is a good thing - I mean that sincerely. But the trickle-down theory just doesn't wash. The poverty rate in this country is growing. The income and worth of the wealthiest in our nation grows at an obscene rate relative to the decreasing real wages of middle and lower class workers - you know, people who actually WORK? I look at our health care quality, per pupil spending, infant mortality rate, and lots of other indicators that our wealthiest people are immune to. The laissez-faire approach is immoral, because it bases its supposed morality on combinations of behaviors that have never happened and will never happen but could in theory happen, allowing the laissez-faire crowd to supposedly wash its hands of the mess it would make. The free market advocates always say "if we had a truly free market, we'd see these problems work themselves out" but, we will never have a truly "free market" as long as you like the idea of having any government, and furthermore, the obvious greed and imbalance of power in the free market do not suggest any remotely realistic chance at equity or economic justice. Look - I don't want to see government do everything for us, but I have a lot of trouble looking at all these problems and then looking at one tax cut after another for the rich, with NO real growth in wages, savings, or wealth for the middle or lower classes. And FYI, I'm one of the rich getting richer.


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