The corporate media, as we all know, will report undeniable, observable individual facts, but is generally reluctant to assemble them into a coherent view of reality. When it comes to explaining what the hell is going on, their job is to channel the pronouncements of the powerful -- and furthermore, if powerful people happen to make an assertion that is contrary to some of those undeniable, observable individual facts, they generally don't bother to point it out.
So it's important that today we get two summaries of expert opinion that they can channel, which do try to assemble a coherent view of reality, and which are as far as I can tell reasonably non-tendentious, although I do have to exercise proper skepticism about the first one, which is the non-classified summary of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. (We'll get to the second one, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report tomorrow, I hope.) Sure, the Directorate of National Intelligence must have faced pressure from President Cheney to fix the facts around the policy, but Mr. Negroponte, while he has shown himself unafraid to do evil, knows that the reality in Iraq is going to bite his ass very hard if he doesn't tell something at least vaguely like the truth here. So, shorter NIE:
- Prospects for the emergence of a viable Iraqi state are close to nil. The document does throw President Cheney a bone or two in the form of "If X happens things might get better," but it makes it pretty clear that X is not going to happen.
- Violence in Iraq will likely increase.
- Yes, Iran and Syria have some involvement in Iraq but that has little to do with the problems there.
- Iraq's neighbors all have interests and concerns in Iraq and the chaos there could easily widen into regional conflict.
- If the U.S. withdraws quickly, the level of violence will probably get worse faster, and it will take a few years for Iraq to sort itself out. On the other hand, if the U.S. doesn't withdraw, the same thing will happen.
Here's how it ends:
A number of identifiable internal security and political triggering events, including sustained mass sectarian killings, assassination of major religious and political leaders, and a complete Sunni defection from the government have the potential to convulse severely Iraq’s security environment. Should these events take place, they could spark an abrupt increase in communal and insurgent violence and shift Iraq’s trajectory from gradual decline to rapid deterioration with grave humanitarian, political, and security consequences. Three prospective security paths might then emerge:
- Chaos Leading to Partition. With a rapid deterioration in the capacity of Iraq’s central government to function, security services and other aspects of sovereignty would collapse. Resulting widespread fighting could produce de facto partition,dividing Iraq into three mutually antagonistic parts. Collapse of this magnitude would generate fierce violence for at least several years, ranging well beyond the time frame of this Estimate, before settling into a partially stable end-state.
- Emergence of a Shia Strongman. Instead of a disintegrating central government producing partition, a security implosion could lead Iraq’s potentially most powerful group, the Shia, to assert its latent strength.
- Anarchic Fragmentation of Power. The emergence of a checkered pattern of local control would present the greatest potential for instability, mixing extreme ethnosectarian violence with debilitating intra-group clashes.
So alright. What does this mean for policy? Pretty much what every sane person already knows: Iraq is a disaster that cannot be rescued by American warriors. There isn't even anybody for them to fight, except for everybody. The goal of U.S. policy now must be to contain the problems, to support -- and note that does not mean impose, or manage, or try to control -- some form of regional solution among the neighboring states that will avoid wider conflict. U.S. interests have already been irretrievably damaged by the insanity of invading Iraq in the first place. They cannot be recovered.
As for the people of Iraq, they are pretty well screwed too. I would say that after the conflict there has exhausted itself and some form of order appears, we will owe them big time, and I hope we will pay -- for real, competent, honest reconstruction this time, not an excuse for Halliburton and DynCorp to walk off with billions of taxpayers' money. But right now, that's just impossible.
Support our troops. Bring them home.