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Princeton panel talk June 2, 2006

Subject:        Princeton panel talk June 2, 2006
Date:   Wed, 7 Jun 2006 12:03:22 EDT
From:   Ray    Close

*
*This is the text of the 10-minute introductory outline that I gave at a
Alumni-Faculty Forum panel discussion held at Princeton Reunions,
Friday, June 2, 2006.
Comment:  In reading it over today, I recognize again how very
simplistic a severely abbreviated  summary of this kind must appear to
any knowledgeable critic. The panelists were strictly enjoined to think
imaginatively and to make bold predictions, but because of the need for
brevity, every point I have made obviously demands further elaboration
and deeper analysis.  My purpose was to flash before the audience an
alarming picture of the enormous variety and complexity of problems that
we face in the Middle East, emphasizing the often overlooked reality
that the Iraq situation is only one of several present and potential
crises in the area that could "turn south" at any moment.
Judging from the dismay expressed by many afterwards, I guess I achieved
some success in doing that!
Ray*

SUBJECT:  What will Iraq look like in 2010?*

I see the United States facing a short list of no less that EIGHT other
real and potential crises in the region ---_ in addition to_ the IRAQ
situation --- that are all part of the same overall picture, and all of
which could contribute significantly to the downward spiral that I
foresee for that part of the world.

These include some existing crises that I think cannot be dealt with
successfully by the United States in the next few years, and which will
therefore contribute to our failure to bring the Iraq situation to a
satisfactory conclusion in time to meet the 2010 analytical timeframe
that we have set for ourselves in today’s discussion.

In most of these cases I recognize critically important factors that
fall into the category of Catch 22’s --- where every apparently
satisfactory route to success is blocked by an unavoidable obstacle that
dooms it to failure.

First, three (3) situations that are currently defying satisfactory
management, and where I believe we stand absolutely no chance of
achieving US national objectives in the long run (_as those objectives
are presently defined_), and which will_ certainly_ continue to be
critical threats to regional peace and stability for the next 4-5 years,
at the very least:

    AFGHANISTAN
    IRAN
    ISRAEL-PALESTINE

    Then there are four (4)_ potentially_ dangerous situations that
are, for all practical purposes, only one violent incident away from
chaos, meaning that the sudden collapse or death of the country’s
leadership would immediately create internal instability of crisis
proportions, quite possibly leading to calls for urgent outside
intervention:

   _ PAKISTAN_  (think assassination of Musharraf, threatening
acquisition by Islamist radicals of nuclear weapons with long-range
delivery vehicles;  think also of other possible consequences of a
Pakistani internal crisis: much more active support from Pakistan for
Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, and greatly increased danger of
hostilities, perhaps on a nuclear scale, with India)

   _ EGYPT_  (think about the turmoil that would follow the sudden
demise of Mubarrak, increased influence of Islamist radicals, possible
abrogation of Egypt's peace agreement with Israel)

   _ JORDAN_ (in a succession crisis, think of immediate Israeli
intervention, Palestinian civil conflict)

   _ SAUDI ARABIA_ (think of possible royal family dissension,
terrorist threats to oil facilities, Shia unrest in the Eastern
province, oil prices at $300 a barrel, urgent calls for US military
takeover of the oilfields to ensure continuity of supply)

Now we’re at seven (7).  I haven’t even discussed in any detail the
fragile and ominous situations in Iran or Palestine, either one of which
could transform Iraq’s internal troubles into a huge regional
conflagration.  What if Iran cannot be deterred from acquiring nuclear
weapons by any means short of preventive war?  How can we broker a
peaceful settlement between Palestinians and Israelis when the prospect
of a viable Palestinian state is patently unrealistic in political,
economic and geographic terms?

There's one last big gorilla in the kitchen  ---  the strong possibility
(some in Washington call it a virtual certainty) that there will be
another major terrorist incident here in the United States in the next
two years, for which we are tragically unprepared, which will be
perpetrated by individuals or organizations whom we cannot identify (so
there’s no Afghanistan or Iraq against which to retaliate), that could
have widespread disruptive effects on the American economy, and which
could enrage and frustrate the American public, the Congress and the
executive branch of government in a way that might seriously distort US
national policy management of all or any of the other problems that I’ve
enumerated above. Think stock market turmoil, think economic recession,
think more radical curtailment of civil liberties.

Let me take my last two minutes to mention in very abbreviated form the
conditions that in any case,_ even without the occurrence of any of
these other dire happenings_, will prevent satisfactory solution of our
Iraq problem before the end of Bush’s term in 2008, and that will leave
Iraq in virtual anarchy at least until the year 2010.  My points are
radically abbreviated, and therefore may seem overly simplistic.  I can
flesh them out in the Q & A period if you’re interested, of course.

    1. _ FIRSTLY_:  At the moment, a continued large US military
presence in Iraq is the most effective barrier to a complete breakdown
into civil war. To put that proposition another way:  I do not buy
Congressman Murtha’s argument that immediate and precipitate withdrawal
is either practical or indeed conscionable in terms of our
responsibilities and obligations to the Iraqi people.  Much of what we
are struggling to accomplish in Iraq today is generally admirable and
praiseworthy on the tactical level, and will continue to be essential on
the strategic level for the immediate future.

_CATCH-22_:  The American military presence is also the main cause and
inspiration behind growing opposition BOTH to the US occupation AND to
the credibility and legitimacy of those leadership elements in Iraqi
society on whom a future of unity, stability and political moderation
critically depend.  I have always maintained that in the final analysis,
the person or the group that ends up running Iraq, if the country
remains in one piece, will have established his or its credibility and
legitimacy by the degree to which it has  successfully DEFIED and
OPPOSED the American military occupation, not cooperated with it.

    2. _ SECONDLY_:  Before a strong and stable central government can
be established and economic recovery sustained, the violent insurgency
and general lawlessness must be brought under strict control, and the
central government must command and control the loyalty of security
forces that can function independently of US occupation forces. Stated
differently, organized governmental authorities must possess a monopoly
over the employment of lethal force in the society, or effective
governmental authority will never exist.

_CATCH-22_: The only forces even potentially capable of establishing
order are the fiercely competitive and mutually hostile ethnic and
sectarian militias, which are growing larger and more powerful every
day, and which are becoming more and more determined to maintain their
independence of action as each respective ethnic or sectarian group
feels threatened by the others.  At the same time, many individuals and
even organized units of militiamen who owe their loyalties primarily to
competing factions in society have become embedded within the existing
government security and military organizations, to the point where an
attempt to weed them out would destroy the cohesion and the
effectiveness of the central government’s already weak and very limited
forces. The United States cannot and will not disarm these rogue
militias by itself, either by force or by persuasion.  In many cases, of
course, they are the most efficient and reliable forces in the country,
as is particularly true in the case of the Kurdish Peshmerga. And the
United States cannot make common cause with one Iraqi faction against
another without provoking civil war. Even standing by as passive
observers of this situation has its serious risks and drawbacks.

    3. _ THIRDLY_ and finally: To do the Iraq thing right, either
militarily or in terms of economic reconstruction and political
institution-building, will take many more years, even under the best
possible conditions.  No one, American or Iraqi, supporter or critic of
the Bush Administration, has predicted anything less than several years
of continuing struggle to overcome the many obstacles that presently
stand in the way of a stable and unified Iraq.

_CATCH-22_:  The American people are already rapidly running out of
patience.  They will not tolerate the expense and the tragic loss of
life, both Iraqi and American, long enough to accomplish the job.  So
where a “cut and run” strategy threatens to cause the whole undertaking
to disintegrate, a “stay the course” alternative that looks beyond the
next two or three years holds no more chance of bringing satisfactory
results. Simply stated, expectations and objectives, however nobly
inspired, bear no reasonable relationship to time availability.

Finally, remember my point that failure in Iraq will make every single
other potential disaster in the region much more likely to occur and
much more apt to produce equally tragic and wasteful results.
Unfortunately, that true vice versa, as well.

I’m VERY sorry to be such a harbinger of gloom just at the beginning of
such an otherwise happy Reunion weekend.

--
--
Robert V. Keeley

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