jonst poses a good question, one that echoes other arguments made about the Iraqi insurgency:
I would argue there is nothing in Iraq’s history…at least since the fall of Ottoman Empire, that indicates occupation by outside (non-belivers at that)forces it will be met by anything other than resistance.
There’s something to be said for this, but I think it’s wrong. Given that I sat on a panel on the future of the Iraq War put on by the College Democrats and UK Leftist Student Union (who knew?) on Friday, it’s probably worth working through why.
First, I’m suspicious of any argument about inevitability. I think that there was more cause to view widespread Afghani resistance to occupation as likely or inevitable than Iraqi resistance. However serious the conflict in Afghanistan remains, we have not seen a widespread anti-US insurgency. The elements fighting against the central government in Afghanistan would be fighting regardless of the presence of American and European troops. Indeed, the relatively wide acceptance of US and European occupation in Afghanistan has been the (only?) pleasant surprise of the War on Terror. It’s very hard to argue that national resistance was more likely in Iraq than Afghanistan.
More importantly, we simply haven’t seen a national resistance movement in Iraq. It’s possible that, if the United States remains there for ten years, wide swaths of Shiite and Kurdish opinion will turn against the occupation and people will begin to take risks to force it out. However, with the exception of some flare ups in Shiite areas, this hasn’t happen. Shiites may not like the occupation, but by and large they seem willing to tolerate it, especially as it is consistent with their own political goals. Now, I think that the United States could do a lot of things that would result in Shiite opposition, but that hasn’t happened yet. So, in answer to jonst’s point, the occupation already has been met by reaction other than resistance.
Right now the war is not between the United States and Iraq. It is between the United States, US allies in Shiite and Kurdish regions, and a Sunni insurgency. That’s not national resistance; it has the character of a civil war with an ethnic/religious component with control of the Iraqi state as the spoils. In this context, tactics and operations matter. We’re not fighting all Iraqis. The Iraqis we are fighting are popular with some elements of the Iraqi population and not popular with others. It’s possible for the US Army and Marine Corps to adopt and execute tactics that will be more likely to defeat elements of the insurgency.
None of this means that withdrawal from Iraq isn’t the best option. I think that it probably is. Counter-insurgent forces will be weaker without direct US support (although I believe that, in any case, the United States will continue military support for Shiite and Kurdish factions), but insurgent forces may also be considerably weaker. The Sunnis cannot win in the long term, if winning means taking back control of the Iraqi state. Without the occupation to inflame Sunni (and Shiite) opinion, some form of reconciliation may be possible. Moreover, a continued long term occupation may (and I think will) test the tolerance of the Shiite population of Iraq. Its goals are currently similar to our goals, but that situation may not hold if we give no indication of a willingness to leave.
The panel Friday went well. The speakers included two anti-Iraq War liberal hawks and two scholars whose views could be characterized as more dovish. My biggest applause line was, oddly enough, a stirring defense of Canada’s record in the two world wars. Who knew that Canada had so many friends in Lexington?