Keeping  Strategic Options Open


Lt. Gen. Eric A. Vas.[Retd]


Prime Minister Vajpayee is meeting President Bush on the side lines of the UN General Assembly today.  Among the points of common interest, the growing strategic relationship in our common fight against international terrorism with particular reference to Iraq will no doubt be discussed. 

The rationale behind a US-Israel-India strategic partnership was first expounded by Brajesh Misra before a responsive audience at the American Jewish Committee in May 2003.  Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to India reinforced the strategic ties between India and Israel within a broad frame work of a US-Israel-India alliance.  Though the press handouts after the Delhi talks made no specific reference to Iraq, one cannot help asking, do these moves indicate that India will soon send troops to Iraq?

Having got rid of Saddam's regime the US are faced with building a new Iraq from scratch. Listening to critics one gets the impression that the US has upset some Baathist paradise in Iraq and is therefore now facing Arab wrath.  But the fact is that both Talibanism and Baatism, have been historical failures.  Independent observers state that the vast majority of Iraqis are pro-Coalition forces.   Nevertheless it must be admitted that the US apparently failed to assess the full implications of their tasks in Iraq.   Not only has Saddam's army, party and bureaucracy collapsed, but so also has the internal balance between Iraqi Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds which was held together by Saddam's iron fist.  In this situation, the US faces three separate tasks.  First, to deal with guerrilla terrorists and provide peace and security to the people.  Second, to provide minimum essential services, ;aw and order, electricity, water, hospitals and schools.  Third to establish an Iraqi Governing Council [IGC] and name a Cabinet so that Iraqis could see that their people are running the state.

The formation of a 25-member IGC and Cabinet is a step forward in self-governance, but it remains subordinated to the authority of the US representative, Paul Bremer.   Harvard president Larry Summers's much-quoted dictum comes to mind: "In the history of the world, no one has ever washed a rented car".  Most Iraqis still feel that their country is rented- first to Saddam and now to the US.  They have to be given a greater sense of ownership.  The IGC has begun the process by accelerating the recruitment of local soldiers and policemen who had served under Saddam, for the new Iraqi army, police and security forces.  Paul Bremer is confident that over time, with good governance, the people will see that the essential services are working, and the IGC will be accepted as a legitimate Iraqi institution.

This is not to deny that internal security remains an urgent problem. Like Iraq in 2003, the Afghan War of 2001 was a military walkover. The problems have arisen after the war.  US Coalition forces in Iraq are strong enough to deal with Saddam-loyalists. However, Iraq is turning into a magnet for all zealous Islamic extremists yearning to wage global jihad against infidels, just as they did [with American help] against the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan in 1980.  Though the number of infiltrating jihadis may be small but they, along with remnants of Saddam's regime, have proved their effectiveness.  They have been blowing up oil and water pipe lines, a UN Headquarters, a Shi'ite assembly killing the most prominent pro-US cleric, attempting to assassinate a member of the IGC, killing two Coalition soldiers every day and wounding twice as many daily. Over and above these battle casualties, 5000 soldiers have had to be evacuated as non-combat casualties.     Obviously Coalition soldiers in the field cannot carry on without some rest and relief.  For internal security tasks to be carried out efficiently the Pentagon estimates that another 150,000 troops must be inducted into Iraq. Civilian defence experts disagree and estimate that another 50,000 would suffice.

Whatever be the number required, there are only two ways that the US can meet this shortfall.  Its armed forces are composed of voluntary soldiers.  These are stretched to the full all over the world. Iraq may not be another Vietnam but the Bush Administration needs at least another 50,000 troops and more money to shoulder the burden of Iraq.  It is unlikely that the American people be willing to accept the drafting of more Americans for a long and expensive campaign in Iraq.  Thus the US is looking for outside reinforcements. India has been invited to provide a division [15,000 troops]. The Government of India had insisted that any commitment would only come if the UN authorises a force in Iraq at least on the lines of the Afghanistan model.

The UN has authorised the International Security Assistance Force [ISAF] for Afghanistan, which operates under the overall supervision of US Central Command [Centcom].   The ISAF is composed of about 5,000 British, Turks, Dutch and German soldiers. It operates in and around Kabul under command of NATO.   A 12,000 strong American-led coalition force continues to operate separately in the country.  Apart from this, Provincial Reconstruction Teams [PRT] composed of lightly armed soldiers have been formed to assist in rebuilding and reconstruction tasks.  PRTs are nation-based.  Americans are manning several PRTs.  Britain, New Zealand and Germany have established one each. PRTs are not part of the coalition forces but can call for air support when required.  They are not part of ISAF but can draw on ISAF experience.  All these elements operate under the overall command of US Centcom

.  American planners were confident that they could recreate a new Iraq on the same lines to serve as a model in the Arab world. No one denies that Afghanistan minus the Taliban, and Iraq minus Saddam is better off now than they were before. But both countries are still in a mess and proving very expensive.  Afghanistan has already cost the US tax payer $70 b.  Rebuilding Iraq will add up to $600 b.  Having destabilized Iraq, the US is faced with an unexpected degree of violence. In the last week of August 2003, the number of dead casualties in Iraq inflicted due to guerrilla action overtook the total number of US such casualties suffered during major combat.  Critics claim that the US invasion of Iraq is a failure because all it has done is attract Muslim terrorists into Iraq and generated hatred toward America and those who support America.

President Bush knows that he must continue to hold American public confidence and win the support of more allies if he is to succeed in Iraq.  He now seeks troops from other nations to help the Coalition stabilize the situation. The five permanent members of the Security Council began long tortuous negotiations over a draft US resolution aimed at establishing a multi-national force in Iraq.  The draft seeks troops and money from other countries but without America ceding authority in any field, including military operations and political process. Both the veto powers in the Security Council, Russia and France, have insisted that the "occupying forces" label, pinned on the US-UK Coalition by the Security Council resolution 1483, must first be abolished. The Americans wanted to get their new Resolution approved before September 23 when President Bush is scheduled to address the annual session of the UN General Assembly.

Once again, France has proved a stumbling block to the US.  It has agreed to the military aspects of the US draft but insists that the time schedule for the hand over of power to the Iraqi be quickened.  This suggestion was turned down as being unrealistic.  Enraged Americans have said that "France wants America to sink in a quagmire in Iraq in the crazy hope that a weakened United States will pave the way for France to assume its 'rightful' place as America's equal, if not superior, in shifting world affairs."

Iraq's six immediate neigthbours, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria, are closely following these developments.   They know that what's happening in Iraq is not merely a question of weapons of mass destruction and oil revenues.  They know that this war is also over ideas, values and governance. Iraq contains within itself the main strands of West Asia- Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds.   They know when the guerrilla war ends, Western powers, helped by the UN, will establish themselves in the heart of their world to promote more  open, tolerant, woman-friendly, pluralistic governments. They fear that a flourishing democracy on their doorstep will pose a threat, by example, to their own authoritarian regimes. 

Although the Government of India has welcomed a strategic US-Israel-India anti-terrorism alliance, it does not wholeheartedly support US strategic doctrines of pre-emption and counter-proliferation. At the same time, India wants the US to triumph in Afghanistan and Iraq.  If the US bogs down there, the morale of terrorists would be boosted with the knowledge that they had routed one super power [the Soviet Union] in Afghanistan and are now successfully blocking the other remaining superpower [US] in Iraq.  This would mean a bloody resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism.

 Prime Minister Vajpayee will be forced to take a stand on the proposed draft when he meets the US President on 23 September. If a new UN resolution is announced before the two leaders meet, the PM is likely to explain why an immediate announcement of the deployment of troops has to be deferred for domestic reasons till the elections for five states is completed in November.  If there is no agreed resolution before they meet, the PM can once again explain no deployment of troops is possible.  Either way, the PM is going to keep all his options open till the end of the year.