Here's a sober way to begin the long Memorial Day weekend. Juan Cole, a history professor at the University of Michigan, writes a challenging blog called Informed Comment, offering his expertise on what happening in the Middle East. Often readers ask him for answers, not just questions, about the quagmire that is Iraq. His latest post tries to help, beginning, "there aren't any short-term easy solutions to the problems in Iraq.
"The US military cannot defeat the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement any time soon for so many reasons that they cannot all be listed." But he gives it a go, contending:
The US has only 10,000 troops for the entire Anbar province, a center of insurgency with a population of 810,000. He cites estimates from an Iraqi official that 40,000 guerrillas are active, and another 80,000 people closely support them.
The guerrillas know the clans, the terrain and the urban landscape. They know Arabic and are Muslims, which gives them sympathy from other Muslims. "American audiences often forget that the US troops in Iraq are mostly clueless about what is going on around them, and do not have the knowledge base or skills to conduct effective counter-insurgency," he writes. Outside Kurdistan, the Americans are widely distrusted, and are seen as Christian occupiers.
More problems: US military tactics of replying to attacks with massive force, increasingly alienate Sunni Arabs. Cole contends it will take the new Iraqi troops three to five years before they can acquit themselves well against the militants. It doesn't help that they are largely Shiite and Kurdish. Even so, "there is every reason to believe that the new Iraqi military is heavily infiltrated with sympathizers of the guerrillas."
What does this mean? That the United States is stuck in Iraq for the medium term, and perhaps the long term, he concludes. He sees the guerrilla war raging for at least a decade, maybe 15 years.
In the long run, say 15 years, the Iraqi Sunnis will probably do as the Lebanese Maronites did, and finally admit that they just cannot remain in control of the country and will have to compromise. That is, if there is still an Iraq at that point.
Before we fire up the grill, how about a ray of hope.
Or a sense of place that didn't make the paper.
Or a little about bloggy Arabia.