The Best Defense

Playing Iraqi base bingo: Where might Uncle Sam land? Ambassador Crocker says it is high time to begin the talks

Here a Foreign Service officer speculates on which bases the United States government might like to keep in Iraq after this year. But I disagree with his notion of forward bases on the doorsteps of Iran and Syria.

I agree with him on "Liberty/Victory," those overoptimistically named garrisons on the east side of the Baghdad airport, which is where you might want to base your anti-coup/force protection/QRF mechanized infantry brigade. But I think for a big central base, you'd want Balad, for the airport and the relative safety of the place. Plus you probably want one more in the north, maybe at Kirkuk, to keep the Kurds and Arabs on the straight and narrow, and perhaps one in the south, probably Tallil, just to the west of Nasiriyah.

But the south is increasingly problematic. I've been thinking that the next (and for Americans, perhaps the last) phase of the war may be from Baghdad south. Over the last seven years, Americans haven't paid much attention to south-central Iraq. But looking at where U.S. forces are being attacked, in very small numbers, I suspect something is going on down there, and may intensify this fall. The Sadrists filed notice the other day that they will oppose a continued American presence.

Meanwhile, here is an excerpt from a good interview Ambassador Ryan Crocker did with in the Houston Chronicle the other day, in which he says it is time to get talking about all this:

What I am hoping is that in the next couple of months the Iraqi government will come to us very quietly and say, 'Hey you know that 2008 agreement that that idiot Crocker negotiated that called for the total withdrawal of all U.S. forces by the end of 2011? Let's see how we might creatively modify that.' The agreement will have to reach its fruition. It can't be renegotiated. It would be politically impossible for both administrations. We couldn't do it, either. I mean, you could not have Obama extending a Bush deadline. But there are still lots of creative options, and you can call it whatever you want, but I think -- what I hope -- we're doing is a lot of in-house work on what a range of acceptable options to us might be, what a range of acceptable agreements might look like, and acceptable force levels.

Speaking of Iran, here is a new radio show all about it.

The Best Defense

In the chaos of the Mideast, the huge question remains the fate of the Saudis

And, as I paid $71.38 to fill my Toyota Highlander's gas tank this week, I thought that this also is a question that hits close to home. I think U.S.-Saudi relations are going to get real interesting in the coming months. Mega-reporter Karen DeYoung has an interesting article about a supposedly conciliatory letter President Obama has sent to Saudi King Abdullah. But I think the Saudis sense (correctly) that Obama's heart is not on their side. They saw how he jumped on the freedom train in his Libya speech, and they fear that train is steaming straight at Riyadh.

By Charles A. Krohn
Best Defense guest columnist

How can an informed American keep his or her head from spinning out of control, given reports of Mideast violence and conflicting claims from good guys and bad?

One day we are mesmerized by demonstrations in Cairo that Egyptian youth hope will herald in a new era of democracy and domestic tranquility. The next day we learn that the Islamic Brotherhood that earlier shunned revolution and kept its distance from rebels is now supporting elections later this year. Is it possible that some Islamics hope to gain power via the ballot box? In the meantime, rebels who toppled the Musharraf regime are back in the streets, calling for the ouster of army leadership, based on the army's repression of new demonstrations. Can "students" really challenge the institutional army with any realistic hopes of winning? If not, are endless demonstrations the wave of the future? 

Who will stand and tell us what Egypt will look like in a year, maybe less? I don't expect to see any official predictions in writing, given the political differences, social mess and regional psychology.

Meanwhile, it looks like the outcome of the civil war in Libya is far from certain, downgrading the ebullience of the rebels and their allies, including the United States, of just a week ago, when it appeared the rebels' path to Tripoli was nearly open. At what point does President Obama decide who will have access to the estimated $100 billion in Libyan assets frozen in the rush to isolate Qaddafi?

Should Qaddafi win the civil war, which appears likely at the moment, some international precedent must exist that will refund the money to the legal head of state. And can we deny he's the head of state, if the rebels only control a small portion of the country? Should the plan to topple Qaddafi fail, seizing Libyan assets only to release them will make us look pretty silly. But all things being equal, the silliness may be lost in the noise level of setbacks elsewhere. Will the European interest fade or mobilize?

The news from Afghanistan is mixed, at best, and it's not much better from Pakistan. The hard part for many is to separate the linkage to identify winners and losers. It seems we may not have visibility into the process for years to come. That may be the best case, because it looks like our ability to influence the outcome is waning by the hour. I wish this weren't the case. General Petraeus is a great warrior, and certainly a model of honor, but he's no sorcerer, dammit.

I hope the resumption of Hamas attacks from Gaza is a temporary phenomenon, but one wonders if the rising blood isn't triggered by the hopes of its supporters in Iran and Egypt, via Syria. And who knows where that ends? One can visualize a far more virulent Hamas, with little effort, and more retaliation from Israel that could trigger events nearly unimaginable.

Saving the worse for last, what happens if sinister forces in Iraq (hardly a surprise, of course) are determined to make our departure later this year an exercise in chaos, just to humiliate us during what should be our finest hour? Images of rooftop evacuations come to mind, possibly returning our nation to the days of great malaise last experienced in 1975.

After Vietnam, we crawled back into our cave, as it were, hoping a renewed focus on the Soviet Union would draw Americans together against a common and very powerful foe. We didn't venture from the cave until 1991, when we responded to Saudi concerns about Iraq invading Kuwait. Saudi Arabia wasn't the only interested party, but the one with the deepest pockets and most to lose, should Saddam succeed in spreading his power. 

As we slowly learn that our power to influence events in the Mideast isn't what it once was, real or imaginary, the Saudis are again concerned they may be isolated by Iranian ambitions to be the dominant power in the region, now that we neutered Iran's traditional threat, Iraq. The region would be tsunamied if the Saudis thought they were in the fight, alone. At the moment, I think that ain't going to happen. But tomorrow?

Charles A. Krohn is the author of The Lost Battalion of Tet, and is now retired to Panama City Beach, Florida. He served in Iraq in 2003-2004 as public affairs advisor to the director of the Infrastructure Reconstruction Program. He later served as public affairs officer for the American Battle Monuments Commission. 

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