Thursday, March 01, 2007

The American predicament

There's an interesting article in the Guardian today about the brains trust advising the top US General in Iraq, David Petraeus. They believe they have six months to turn the situation around. It is not an enviable predicament, because they are fighting for hearts and minds not only in Iraq but in America as well. The problem for the commanders on the ground is that they are having to launch dangerous urban operations to clamp down on the militias in Baghdad, which they know will inevitably lead to more US casualties, just as domestic public opinion in the United States is softening. And they are having to do so without the necessary number of troops: effective counter-insurgency is very labour-intensive. The question is whether they can accomplish the task before public support completely evaporates, given that the harder they try to tackle the militias the more US deaths there will be, and the more US voters will turn against the policy.

Added to this dilemma is the fact that any American military action in Iran would only worsen the problem. Boris Johnson covers this vividly in the Daily Telegraph. The problem is, I suppose, that if the Iranians correctly recognise the fundamental weakness of the American position, ignore the sabre-rattling and persist in their nuclear ambitions, they will make belligerent action against themselves more likely. And bearing that in mind, an American offensive against Iran would be a sign of weakness, and not of strength.

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