Seeds of Conflict

Alissa Rubin and Damien Cave of The New York Times take a good hard look at the Sunni “awakening” strategy and how, shockingly enough, a policy of handing out cash, training and guns to whoever’s willing to work with us could wind up backfiring:

How, when thousands are joining each month, can spies and extremists be reliably weeded out? How can the men’s loyalty be maintained, given their tribal and sectarian ties, and in many cases their insurgent pasts? And crucially, how can the movement be sustained once the Americans turn over control to a Shiite-dominated government that has been wary, and sometimes hostile, toward the groups?

Despite the successes of the movement, including the members’ ability to provide valuable intelligence and give rebuilding efforts a new chance in war-shattered communities, the American military acknowledges that it is also a high-risk proposition. It is an experiment in counterinsurgency warfare that could contain the seeds of a civil war — in which, if the worst fears come true, the United States would have helped organize some of the Sunni forces arrayed against the central government on which so many American lives and dollars have been spent.

Yes, right, exactly. In a society full of rival armed factions contending for power, you can’t achieve peace by just building opportunistic alliances with a whole bunch of separate factions. If our commanders and troops are nimble enough — and they very well might be, as they’ve demonstrated a good deal of nimbleness recently — they may be able to keep playing this dangerous game and keeping the US deployment viable, but it doesn’t really achieve anything. Achieve anything, that is, beyond a welcome reduction in American casualites. But going home would reduce casualties further, faster, and cheaper.