Sunday, September 23, 2007

Why We Are Winning

Robert Kaplan sees victory in Iraq coming and a wider impact in the Arab World:

What I see unfolding is that there will be gradually a very uneasy Sunni-Shiite armistice. But that will not be the end of it. Iraq is going to have major repercussions on politics in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco. It’s really going to…what it’s really going to do is in a very uneasy, messy fashion is going to usher in more openness and decentralization in the Arab world. The next generation of Arab autocrats will not be able to rule as autocratically as the current generation, because of a lot of the changes that Iraq will have imposed. In terms of Iran, I think that Iraq may turn out to be Iran’s poisoned chalice, that the Iranians have been able to be spoilers in Iraq, but it’s unclear that they can make a peace any better than we have been able to.

This will be the result of the ongoing Iraq Sunni Arab decision to finally make a deal with the majority Shias and Kurds. It took far longer than I thought it would take. It has been obvious that the Sunnis lost since summer 2004 when the Sunni (led by jihadis who the Baathists thought they could use) and Shia (led by Sadr) spring offensive was turned back.

Yet hope springs a killing urge not quite eternally. The Sunni Arabs stubbornly thought they could bomb their way back to power over those hick Shias using jihadis as unwitting pawns and getting Sunni Arab state support for their efforts. That hasn't worked out as planned, and as a result a million Iraqi Sunni Arab exiles are enjoying the hospitality of foreign Arab states. And the Shias are really pissed.

The Sunni Arab states and the jihadis they allowed to depart their countries for Iraq killed lots of Shias and provided only death and misery for Iraq's Sunni Arabs. The Sunni Arab states were not realy interested in restoring the Sunnis to power enough to seriously intervene--they were only interested in allowing American troops to kill their own Islamists in Iraq to save the Sunni governments the trouble.

The Sunni Arabs of Iraq now know that the only real help they can expect is American help. And after really pissing off the Shias, the Sunnis need our help to avoid joining their brethren already in exile. And that help requires the Sunni Arabs to cut a deal. They are now doing that. A common Persian enemy (Iran supports Sadr) will help cement this alliance further once the Sunni jihadis are crushed.

Strangely, however, in a separate piece (tip to Weekly Standard), Kaplan thinks that the Middle East will crumble:

The twin trends of a rising Asia and a politically crumbling Middle East will most likely lead to a naval emphasis on the Indian Ocean and its surrounding seas, the sites of the “brown water” choke points of world commerce — the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, the Bab el Mandeb at the mouth of the Red Sea, and Malacca.

The Middle East that will crumble is the Middle East of autocrats and dictators. Kaplan himself thinks that Iraq will help lead to reforms. But he still thinks autocrats will rule the Arab world. I think he underestimates the impact of democracy in Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, and Afghanistan on the other autocracies of the region. These democracies are hardly perfect and some are surely fragile, but they are real. And a small number of Arab intellectuals recognize that the Moslem world's problems are internal and not caused by Jews or Americans or the West in general.

This was an aside to Kaplan's discussion of how Asian states will increase their power in competition with each other, dominate the choke points of Asia, and displace American power. Kaplan thinks this competition will take place in an environment of our decline:

While the American government has been occupied in Mesopotamia, and our European allies continue to starve their defense programs, Asian militaries — in particular those of China, India, Japan and South Korea — have been quietly modernizing and in some cases enlarging. Asian dynamism is now military as well as economic.

The military trend that is hiding in plain sight is the loss of the Pacific Ocean as an American lake after 60 years of near-total dominance. A few years down the road, according to the security analysts at the private policy group Strategic Forecasting, Americans will not to the same extent be the prime deliverers of disaster relief in a place like the Indonesian archipelago, as we were in 2005. Our ships will share the waters (and the prestige) with new “big decks” from Australia, Japan and South Korea.

I have to disagree on many levels.

One, yes, our ground forces are clearly occupied in Iraq. These forces must win there. And even here we could triple our ground forces in combat for a national emergency. In World War II we did not rotate troops. We had zero strategic reserves. Even today we have twice as many combat brigades not in Iraq or Afghanistan (though most are in the Guard). I don't advocate ending the rotation policy. I'm just saying that we have options.

But more to the point regarding China and control of the western Pacific, our Air Force and Navy are not occupied in Iraq. They are very clearly occupied with China--the only one of the Asian states arming up that isn't an ally of ours.

And with allies constituting the majority of the arms build up in the region, how does this harm us? I am fine with allies being able to defend the western Pacific on their own.

In addition, there are no "big deck" carriers under construction out there. At best, our allies are building small carriers that are no bigger than the carriers our Navy operates just to haul our Marines about. Nothing in existence matches our big deck Nimitz class carriers. The French have one such ship and they and the British will build a few more--and even these are 60% of the size of our big carriers.

Finally, the only nation building their navy up that we would worry about is China. And all those other cited countries in Asia are building up to resist China. With our help to bolster these allies, fill in gaps, coordinate them, and provide offensive power, China will be toast if they push their noses far out to sea. The western Pacific is not threatened.

I will say, authors don't go broke predicting our imminent demise. I imagine it will continue to be a way to make money for decades to come.

For a big thinker, Kaplan seems to miss the major trends even as he perceives the short run local trend in Iraq. Yes, we are winning in Iraq. But no, the Chinese are not about to overtake us. And no, Asia's rise in military power does not foretell our decline since this power is largely aimed at each other.

Our continued success is not guaranteed. But we've been succeeding contrary to the prophets of doom for quite some time.