Richard Armitage served as Deputy Secretary of State in the Bush administration, from 2001 to 2004, resigning on November 16th, 2004, a day after Secretary of State Colin Powell announced his own resignation. As one of Powell's men, Armitage was about the closest thing to a "moderate" and a "realist" within the Bush administration circa the beginning of Gulf War II. Hence his current views on the Iraq situation provide a chance to get beyond the Bush Administration spin. Not surprisingly (the man is a Realist) his views tend towards pessimism. From The Australian:
THE level of violence in some areas of Iraq is worsening dramatically and US
forces may soon be asked to leave by the Iraqi Government.
"The British used to make a big deal of walking around in their berets in
the south," he said. "Now they won't even go to the latrines without their
helmets. The south has got much rougher, it's mainly Shia on Shia violence."
Should the U.S. withdraw from the area, the best situation to be hoped for would be that:
...Iraq would become a loose federation - although the term federation
would not be used because it upsets neighbouring Turkey - with a weak central
"The difficulty then will be to stop them (the Iraqis) causing violence
for their neighbours," Mr Armitage said.
This was because almost all of Iraq's neighbours had restive Shia
minorities and the governments of both Iraq and Iran would come under pressure
to intervene on their behalf.
The problem I have with even this rather gloomy analysis is that I cannot imagine a significant American troop withdrawal that does not see Maliki and the rest of his government ending their political careers swinging from a lamp-post. The Iraqi army has been infiltrated by insurgents and/or is in the control of militias who owe little or no allegiance to the Central government. Furthermore, U.S. attempts this year to hand over the fight to homegrown forces has generally proven a failure, and U.S. casualties have troughed and peaked as duties have been transferred to Iraqi troops, then taken back when these troops have not performed up to expectations (either in fighting the insurgents or preventing sectarian violence).
So any significant American troop withdrawal is likely to result, not in a "loose federation", but with a bloody collapse of the Central government, then three mini-states (Kurdish in the North, Sunni in the Center, and Shia in the South) fighting it out for oil and other resources, exchanging waves of refugees through successive bouts of ethnic cleansing. At this point, both Iran and Turkey might see fit send their own troops in to carve up what's left of the pie.
My own suspicion is that the Bush administration will attempt a "phantom withdrawal" in the run-up to the November mid-term elections, do enough so that it appears to the folks at home that "victory is at hand", and then send more troops back in when the voting is done.
Not that the grim situation is an argument against a real withdrawal. Whether the U.S. pulls out in 2006, 2016, or 2060, the result is very likely to be the same. The Iraqis will need to have their civil war before they can get past it. However, such a move will almost certainly result in the collapse of the current Iraqi government, and would be admission of failure on the part of the Bush administration so, most likely, we will see things chug along in the current hideous fashion until 2008, when Bush palms this problem off on his successor. If the Democrats take over one or both houses of Congress in November, mind you, something might happen a little more swiftly.
But the End will be the same in either case.
Mr. Armitage is equally gloomy in his assessment of Afghanistan:
"Five years after the overthrow of the Taliban, the ordinary people don't see
much change in their lives."
Several factors were driving the renewed violence in Afghanistan including
drugs which provided money for numerous warlords.
"At the same time, some in Pakistan may believe that the Taliban may come
back. The Talibs also see us handing over to NATO and they see some NATO
countries as weaker than us."
Some of the talk that you hear about the current Taliban offensive in the South--that we are beating them on the battlefield and that most of the casualties have been on their side--is irrelevant. If coalition troops are able to slaughter larger concentrations of fighters, this means that the Taliban are confident enough about their numbers and commitment that they are willing to risk larger numbers of fighters.
Note: I am not entirely in control of the "block quote" function on Blogger. Mr. Armitage was not speaking in free-verse.