Thursday, December 14, 2006

All In or All Out?

This may not be the best post. I have a lot the say and I am going to wrap a metaphor and bad song around it.

The Bush administration seems to have been privately pushing an 80% solution in Iraq. Throw US support to the religious Shiites and just forget the Sunnis.

The other popular consideration is the "double down" plan of building up the military and concentrating them in the short run to beat back the insurgency. This is badly named as there are barely enough available troops to increase them 15% for a few months with a big effort.

It looks like both plans will be pursued. A better name for both of these two plans comes from a different game than Blackjack. It is "All In" from Texas Hold'em.

The increase troop strength to maximum for a few months in hope that they break before we will is only a bad idea unlikely to work. When we increased troop strength in Baghdad resistance got stronger, not weaker. When we killed more we created angrier relatives and friends more willing to die.

The 80% solution is an insane idea that can only have come from neo-conservatives. Turns out, they had suggested it as part of their grand hubris scheme "spreading democracy except for women, gays and secularists" plan. According to TPM, some neocons believe the Shiites in Iraq would decide the Great Satan America's democracy was better than the theocracy they had in Iran and help start a revolution there.

There is a crazy symmetry to that dream - Fundamentalists in the United States and the Arab World Unite! But the fundies in the U.S. have just lost big, even if large numbers of them haven't accepted that. And the two groups hate each other. This is also why this 80% solution is such a desperate gamble in Iraq as well. The leaders of the Shiites are the religious fundamentalists that hate us. Why would the US favoring them in a game we are losing change that?

One other reason this is such an insane idea is that Saudi Arabia is dead set against it. This explains the Saudi royalty summoning Cheney, their US ambassador's resignation, and statements they will arm and support the Sunnis in Iraq against attack. When the Saudis determine that this is the plan Bush is proposing expect no special favors on oil prices and the Sunni resistance to get much better weapons.

Considering this option means that you have no other alternatives left than to go with the last remaining idea that someone had suggested to salvage this. All the other ideas hadn't worked, let's throw this insane idea out and see if this changes things. When the Sunnis see we are prepared to do this maybe they will back down and it might give the Iranian Shiites pause.

Facing reality - Iraq looks like a civil war stage one right now. Do we want our troops patrolling a failed state in stage two with many strong neighbors all arming different factions that may explode into an even larger conflict? We also shouldn't forget the Turkish threats against the Kurds if they gain too much control either. Add Israel and Syria and Iran with active intelligence and smuggling operations and vital interests at stake.

Why the new strategy? The Gambler.

In many ways, the neocons and the Bush administration seem like incompetent foolish gamblers playing at Middle Eastern policy. In Texas Hold-Em when things go bad there is the temptation of going "all in" and hoping the other players back down and so steal the pot. Both the 80% solution and the badly misnamed "double down" military strategy are different versions of "all in." You are putting all your resources into what looks like a long shot because you will lose what you have put in the pot already otherwise and the other players may back down allowing you to steal it.

Unfortunately for Bush, that strategy depends on your opponents not knowing how bad your hand is. Everyone in the world except a few die hard Republicans knows Bush hardly has a pot to piss in now.

The Iraq Study Group plan, as bad as it is, is at least a continuation of past US policies, pursued by Baker among others, of favoring Saudi interests and control of oil. This is the favorite conservative Washington consensus that has been wrong before but at least it is not a radical plan and it doesn't embarrass anyone too badly. The new policies being considered seem more desperate risky hallucinations.

Elements of the strategy even appear to be in conflict. The military plan is to use the more troops to go after the more radical of the Shiite leaders. Yet the long term 80% plan calls for the surviving Shiite leaders to ignore that and accept that we support them and are better than Iran.

You've got to know when to hold'em, know when to fold'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.

Right now it is fold'em and walk away time. If we don't acknowledge that relatively soon - we will later have to see a run strategy of evacuating thousands of people under fire.

UPDATE: I found others thinking of the same song recently.

And the night got deathly quiet
And his faced lost all expression
He said, "If you're gonna play the game, boy
You gotta learn to play it right

You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done

Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin'
Is knowin' what to throw away
And knowin' what to keep
'Cause every hand's a winner
And every hand's a loser
And the best that you can hope for
Is to die in your sleep"

No comments: