All the king?s horses and all the king?s men...

Published on Nov 25, 2006 12:20 AM IST

Several groups, official and non-official in Washington, are at work to devise ways to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in Iraq.

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The midnight oil being burnt in Washington is lighting up its entire skyline. Several groups, official and non-official, are at work to devise ways to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in Iraq. The escalation of sectarian violence, featuring daily massacres of innocents by armed Sunni and Shia gangs, is precipitately driving the country to civil war and partition. A top secret military study commissioned by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Peter Pace has come up with a set of three options: send in more troops, shrink the force but stay longer, or pull out. Since the last named would almost certainly tip the balance towards civil war, the only real option is to go in for a short term surge of deployments to break the momentum of violence, followed by a process of shrinking the US presence, along with a sharp boost to efforts to train Iraqi forces.

One problem for the US forces is that they viewed their task as being ‘anti-insurgency’ rather than ‘counter-insurgency’. The difference is that while the former is weighted heavily on the side of military options, the latter emphasises a balance of means — restoration of civic services, reopening of schools, rehabilitating infrastructure, along with military measures to restore law and order. Part of the problem lay in the faulty war fighting doctrine of the Pentagon, and part was political. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld and his neoconservative advisers were convinced they would be welcomed as liberators and so there was no need for any special post-war planning.

However, the Pentagon’s decisions are likely to await the report of the blue-ribbon Iraq Study Group (ISG) set up by Congress and headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton. While the panel, which began its work in March, can only recommend, not make, policy, its influence comes from the fact that it was set up by Congress. In the present circumstances, the Republicans are desperate to provide a bipartisan veneer to the Bush administration’s Iraq policy. The ISG, too, is likely to suggest some kind of phased withdrawal, training of Iraqi forces, along with moves to open a dialogue with Syria and Iran. Outside this circle of official policy, no doubt there are shadowy groups trying to work up fantastic schemes to enable the US to somehow salvage something out of the Iraq fiasco without conceding anything to anyone. The US has been blinded by power and what its strategic community really needs is, in the words of TS Eliot, to learn “the wisdom of humility”.

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