- The previous government's moral cohesion was traded for
- potential improvement in our global physical connectivity (communication with allies, enemies, and internal audiences)
- and a chance to upgrade our mental connectivity (the ability to gather untarnished information and analyze the the efficacy of new solutions).
Non-cooperative centers of gravityIn short, the election merely codified what was going on behind the scenes in the US. Growing opposition to the war was building due to the effects of a combination of strategic paralysis and a lack of internal dialogue. Both strategic paralysis and a lack of internal dialogue can be linked to a decision to an inappropriate use of propaganda to shore up US moral cohesion (inappropriate in that it neither works over the medium/long term nor does it allow strategic flexibility -- both of which were needed in Iraq). However, this election -- despite the substantial benefits of deflating the previous government's propaganda bubble -- may not provide much other improvement to our strategic situation:
- Non-cooperative centers of moral gravity now have a voice in the Congress. As a result, the moral cohesion necessary for any lengthy or costly strategy has passed. Growing dissent will now have tangible effects.
- While improvements in physical connectivity (dialogue) with internal audiences has improved, it is likely to turn into a cacophony of half-baked ideas. Also, attempts at physical connectivity to external allies and foes (via Baker) will likely not result in any substantive change -- we are in too weak a position, particularly relative to Iran, to gain any substantial cooperation.
- Finally, improvements in information gathering and analysis will likely yield little since they are still looking at the situation in Iraq through the lens of political/regional state conflict and domestic political concerns -- assume that Baker's political ISG will trump any decisions generated by Gen. Pace's military counter-insurgency group.
What this meansLooking back, the current situation may have been inevitable given the new realities of 21st century warfare (see "Playing with War" for more on this). Looking forward, we can expect the following:
- The US will withdraw to bases in Iraq (a completion of a trend that began last year to limit casualties) and many (perhaps half) of the US forces in Iraq will be withdrawn over the next year. This will likely be the only policy change that all decision makers can agree on -- as long as it is presented under the cover of a "strategy" to make it possible. As a result, violence in Iraq will spike as unsupervised Iraqi troops are unleashed on civilians and guerrillas decimate isolated Iraqi units. It won't matter to most of the people in the US as long as US troops aren't involved.
- Iraqi oil production will completely collapse as the southern pipelines are severed due to chaotic violence. This reduction of 1-2 million barrels of oil a day will cause a return of $80 a barrel oil. Spikes above that price may occur as guerrilla attacks (both Shiite and Sunni) spill over into Saudi Arabia (see my new book "Brave New War" for more on trend lines in systems disruption). A big spike, due to a full take-down of a major Saudi facility or KSA government collapse, would have global implications. It would throw into disarray many developing countries, potentially including China.
- Iran will increasingly, despite ongoing conversations with the US (via Baker?), be blamed for the violence in Iraq and the KSA. Open conflict with Iran will continue to escalate due to this and Iran's development of nuclear weapons. The multiplication and tightening of triggers for this war -- from the complete resupply of Hezbollah's ATGWs/rockets which may ignite a new war in southern Lebanon to a pre-emptive Israeli or US strike on Iran's nuclear facilities to a US engagement with Iranian forces that escalates under its own steam -- will make it almost inevitable.