Plenty of Strategy, Just No Exit

"Old Europe" is blocking U.S. efforts to find an exit strategy for Iraq. Further evidence emerged on Thursday that Old Europe holds the only key to the door from Iraq marked "Exit," but don’t expect to see it used any time soon.

After the reconquest of Fallujah (Fallujah II), the field for American military options has dramatically contracted. Politically and diplomatically, "Old Europe" – France and Germany – are the ironic gainers from a pyrrhic U.S. military victory, and unless the Bush administration undertakes to forgo permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq, the exit door will stay shut.

The Pentagon’s Fallujah-based exit strategy hinged on the success of the campaign – initiated on Nov. 8 – to subdue the Sunni city. Military planners had hoped that the reconquest of Fallujah would severely cripple the insurgency and thereby herald a period of relative calm before the January Iraqi elections. It was also believed that the success of Fallujah II would preclude the necessity of calling up further U.S. troops.

Military planners anticipated that if Iraqi elections could take place amid relative calm, they would therefore be viewed as valid – relatively free of boycott and violence.

The Pentagon exit strategy presupposed valid Iraqi elections as an essential prerequisite for garnering international peacekeepers to supplement overstretched U.S. troops. In the event that the elections were deemed a success, Old Europe would be hard-pressed to refuse afterwards to participate militarily alongside the U.S.

It was hoped at the commencement of Fallujah II that the campaign would break the back of the insurgency and thereby obviate the need for calling up additional U.S. troops. But those hopes were dashed just 23 days later, when on Dec. 1, the Pentagon announced the not-previously-forecast dispatch of 12,000 more U.S. soldiers to Iraq.

Although the city of Fallujah has been almost reconquered militarily, it is now virtually uninhabitable for its 300,000 citizens, who are now refugees in their own country.

It was anticipated that Fallujah II would be the initial operation in a series of rapid reconquests of other Iraqi cities – with insurgent-held Ramadi slated to be next.

The anticipated reconquests did not take place because of the inability of U.S. forces to concentrate sufficient forces in multiple regions. Simply put, there are not enough troops to implement the envisioned reconquest of the areas controlled by the insurgency. In desperation, the military is now seeking to compensate for its manpower shortage by initiating a strategy of high-tech civilian population control.

To implement this new strategy, the same interrogation database software system currently used to manage the interrogation and cross-referencing of insurgent detainees at Abu Ghraib prison will now be applied against the entire male population of Fallujah.

Indeed, the entire city of Fallujah will virtually become a 300,000-person open-air detention center. It will be accessible only through checkpoints and will be a guaranteed car bomb-free zone since the biometrically catalogued inhabitants will not be allowed to possess private vehicles.

Politically, Fallujah II as a postmodern concentration camp can only become a public relations disaster for the United States. Militarily, the failure of Fallujah II is illustrated by the fact that after a month of fighting, the city is still a contested war zone – so dangerous that the citizens of Fallujah have not yet been allowed to return. Five weeks on, the military and political goals of Fallujah II have not been met.

Without more boots on the ground, the insurgency will continue to thrive because U.S. troops are stretched too thin. More U.S. troops are needed – unless, that is – a non-U.S. source for troops can be found.

The administration’s plan for solving the troop crisis is for the UN to endorse a NATO-led peacekeeping mission to Iraq. Such a NATO peacekeeping mission would allow the U.S. to maintain operational control of its troops on the ground while utilizing the troops of allied countries to accomplish U.S. policy goals.

One of the main U.S. policy objectives for Iraq is the establishment of permanent U.S. military bases in the country.

This is unfortunate, because continental Old Europe (France, Germany, and their close allies) will under no circumstances allow the U.S. to establish permanent military bases in Iraq.

Although the "Continentals" and the Anglo-Americans rarely discuss this disagreement in public, the contentious issue of a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq lies at the center of the diplomatic friction between the U.S. and its "Old Europe" continental allies.

As former U.S. President Jimmy Carter told CNN’s Larry King last Thursday night, there will be no multilateral solution in Iraq unless the U.S. gives up its goal of "permanent military bases" in that country.

Old Europe’s "no permanent U.S. bases" demand is non-negotiable, because it is an essential component of Franco-German foreign policy. This European demarche was again reinforced by the statements of French and German diplomats on Thursday that under no circumstances would French or German NATO combat troops be allowed to participate in Iraq.

The essential fact remains that no combat troops will be forthcoming from Old Europe to help U.S. forces in Iraq unless the United States relinquishes all claims for a permanent military presence in that country.

NATO troops cannot participate without French and German approval because NATO military missions outside of Europe are decided by consensus and require the unanimous approval of every NATO member.

If the Iraqi elections fail, either because of boycott or large-scale violence, then Old Europe will continue its objections to a UN-mandated NATO peacekeeping mission. Old Europe is quite pleased to see the U.S. twist in the wind in Iraq.

If the elections ultimately fail to produce a freely elected legitimate government, then the current insurgency may soon evolve into a form of institutionalized chaos – some combination of civil war, anarchy, and intercommunal violence. In that case, public expectations for Iraq’s future might then be lowered to accord with the new reality of "stabilized anarchy."

In accord with such a new reality, the expectations for U.S. military successes could also be lowered to just coincide with enforcement of the status quo. If Iraq slips fully into a state of stabilized anarchy, then current U.S. troop levels would be more than adequate for maintaining the predominance of the U.S. military as the ultimate arbiter of force among the contending militias and armed groups. Such chaos might further fractionate the Iraqi insurgency along ethnic, geographic, and sectarian lines and thereby act as a "force multiplier" for superior U.S. forces.

Under this scenario, Franco-German unwillingness to cooperate would be to blame for the chaos, but the continuation of a dominant U.S. military position in the country would be assured.

While a state of stabilized anarchy under U.S. military suzerainty is not a U.S. policy goal, it is viewed as preferable to the alternative – which is that Old Europe will force the U.S. out of Iraq with it tail between it legs.

While not an "exit," it is at least a strategy.