Adéu a Nihil Obstat | Hola a The Catalan Analyst

Després de 13 anys d'escriure en aquest bloc pràcticament sense interrumpció, avui el dono per clausurat. Això no vol dir que m'hagi jubilat de la xarxa, sinó que he passat el relleu a un altra bloc que segueix la mateixa línia del Nihil Obstat. Es tracta del bloc The Catalan Analyst i del compte de Twitter del mateix nom: @CatalanAnalyst Us recomano que els seguiu.

Moltes gràcies a tots per haver-me seguit amb tanta fidelitat durant tots aquests anys.

diumenge, 24 de desembre de 2006

Quedar-se a l'Iraq però no de qualsevol manera

"The Sunday Telegraph" publicava el dia 10 d'aquest mes un article de l'historiador britànic Niall Ferguson que ofereix una lectura diferent de la que s'ha fet de l'Informe Baker-Hamilton. Segons Ferguson, si es llegeix detingudament l'informe es pot veure que no proposa "abandonar" l'Iraq ni posa tampoc serioses esperances d'aconseguir el suport iranià o sirià per ajudar a resoldre el conflicte. Pel contrari, Ferguson creu que estem davant d'una obra de persuassió digne dels clàssics, adreçada no tant a Bush i la seva administració com a la nova majoria demòcrata al congrés i als governs àrabs de tot el Pròxim Orient amb un mateix missatge: el que més heu de témer és una retirada de les tropes nord-americanes de la regió. Les seves recomanacions estan "tan hàbilment formulades que semblen cridar a desentendre's, quan en realitat són sinònim d'un compromís millor".
Persuasion in the realm of grand strategy is more a matter of rhetorical art than science. The first essential step is to identify your target audience. Most readers of the report assume that it is directed at President Bush. That is wrong. Its principal target audience is Congress, and particularly the new Democratic majorities in both houses. And the aim is not to persuade a stubborn president to admit defeat. Rather, the report's aim is to persuade legislators that withdrawal from Iraq — no matter how much their constituents may yearn for it — is not an option. The report's other intended readership is Arab governments throughout the Middle East. The message for them is the same: an American exit from the region is what you most have to fear.

The second step in the process of persuasion is to conjure up a nightmare vision of the future if the action you envisage is not taken. In The Economic Consequences of the Peace, for example, John Maynard Keynes depicted Central and Eastern Europe laid waste by anarchy and civil war, if the 1919 Versailles Treaty were not revised and Germany appeased. In his 1946 "Long Telegram", George F Kennan portrayed the entire world subverted by a ruthless Soviet Union, if the United States did not adopt a policy of retaliation and containment. Both masterpieces of persuasion; both highly influential.

The worst-case scenario proposed by the Iraq Study Group is the one about which I have been writing since February: "Sectarian warfare, growing violence [and] a slide toward chaos", leading to "the collapse of Iraq's government and a humanitarian catastrophe". Here are the report's most important lines: "Neighbouring countries could intervene. Sunni-Shia clashes could spread … across the Islamic world. [There could be] Shia insurrections — perhaps fomented by Iran — in Sunni-ruled states. Such a broader sectarian conflict could open a Pandora's box of problems."

The consequences would be much more than a propaganda victory for al-Qaeda and a humiliation for the United States, which is what they worry about on Capitol Hill. In such a conflagration, no Middle Eastern government — with the exception of the fundamentalist Shiite regime in Teheran — could feel secure. And that is precisely why Arab rulers should dread an American exit.

Step three in the art of persuasion is to propose remedies that sound attractive to your target audience. These the ISG has produced, and in profusion. But you need to read the small print of all 79 recommendations. Consider the long-anticipated "diplomatic offensive to build an international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region". Much has been made of the willingness of the ISG's co-chair, James A Baker III, former Secretary of State, to open negotiations with Iran, once a reviled member of President Bush's "Axis of Evil", as well as with Syria, no friend of the United States.

"A nation can and should engage its adversaries and enemies," declares the report in a sentence that Mr Baker must surely have written, and should offer them "incentives as well as disincentives". Note that word "disincentives". Mr Baker's idea here is not to go cap in hand to Damascus and Teheran. Rather, as he explained to the press this week, it is to "flip the Syrians" by appealing to Sunni solidarity, and to isolate the Iranian regime by exposing its "rejectionist attitude".

In other words: get the leaders of all Iraq's neighbours into the same room and play "spot the Shia". The calculation is that if Iranian aspirations to regional hegemony can be laid bare, then it will be much easier to get broad support for some serious "disincentives".

Now for the small print on troop numbers. "By the first quarter of 2008," the report says, "all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq. At that time, US combat forces in Iraq could be deployed only in units embedded with Iraqi forces, in rapid-reaction and special operations teams." This has been widely interpreted as the first step towards the exit. It says "out of Iraq", right?

Wrong. Look more closely at some of the report's other recommendations:

• The number of US military personnel embedded in Iraqi army battalions and brigades should be increased from 3,000 or 4,000 to between 10,000 to 20,000.

• The number of US police trainers should be expanded.

• The US Department of Justice should lead the work of organisational transformation in the Ministry of the Interior.

• A Senior Advisor for Economic Reconstruction in Iraq is required.

• The State Department should train personnel to carry out civilian tasks associated with a complex stability operation… It should establish a Foreign Service Reserve Corps.

Does that sound like "out of Iraq" to you? I'd say it sounds more like "stay in Iraq". Only this time, don't screw up.