Sunday, 20 January 2008

Iraq's Future and the race for the US Democratic Nomination

I write this from a left-wing political perspective and as one who is hoping, after the disaster of the George Bush years, that America chooses a Democrat as it's next President. But not as much as I might have done and this is all because of Iraq.

Iraq has become a nightmare, the nightmare nearly everyone could see and warned about ahead of the invasion. We should never have gone in, but now we are in and we can't get out again. And the politicians who were happy to support the invasion are now trying to bring the troops home as quickly as they can without losing face. But is this right?

It is slightly ironic really but it seems to be the US military that has made the difference in recent months. They seemed to grasp that their Commander-in-Chief was worse than clueless and taken the development of strategy into their own hands with surprising success. They have used the 'surge' to focus their efforts on protecting the Iraqi population and that this has produced a considerable fall in the level of day-to-day violence. Or maybe I've just been duped by US propaganda, yes I know. But the problem now is this: that George Bush has committed to bringing home the extra troops that made the recent difference in six months time, which will only return the situation to what it was six months ago. Iraq will once again head towards civil war and there will be a general wringing of hands in the west.

So what do the two leading Democratic candidates have to say on all this? Well, last March Hillary Clinton said 'This is an Iraqi problem; we cannot save the Iraqis from themselves'. Barack Obama wants to withdraw the troops, but send them back again as part of an international force if it becomes apparent that there is wholesale genocide. 'It is conceivable that there comes a point where things descend into the mayhem that shocks the conscience and we say to ourselves, 'This is not acceptable'' he said in November talking about his post-withdrawal strategy.

Given a choice between those two positions, I'm more comfortable with the latter, but I find it hard to see any other result from an initial withdrawal than that the situation would then demand we returned. And all this just reinforces the fact that the 'coalition' have no more strategy for post-invasion Iraq now than they did before we went in. Here in the UK the government is keeping it's head down, and bringing troops home as and when, just hoping the problem will go away. As for Afghanistan, it's even worse, as the situation is deteriorating and troops pulled out of Iraq will simply end up re-deployed there.

But it's the US who are the big player in all this. And, like here, the politicians find themselves dancing to the tune of a public opinion which shares the 'let's leave them to it' sensibility of Ms Clinton. It's sad that the need for coherent long-term strategy doesn't yet seem to have been grasped and developed to a point where it enjoys a broader consensus of support after even after all this time. Because then foreign policy would not be about to be determined by the short-term prejudices of an unpredictable US electorate.

I suspect that Clinton will be the candidate, and that Obama is the person who should have been.

It would be remiss of me to post about Iraq and not point you to an excellent article that appeared in the lrb - 'It's the Oil' by Jim Holt.

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