I think the hypotheticals and speculation in the second half of the article get a bit out of control, but Douglas MacGregor’s basic concerns about where we’re really heading with our “sheikhs for sale” approach to relations with Iraq’s Sunni Arab community are sensible, and it’s interesting to hear from some officers with experience in Iraq who share concerns I’ve heard from a lot of outside analysts. The basic issue is that it seems likely that sooner or later our new friends will decide that it’s time to once again step up activities — maybe against the Shiite government, maybe against US forces, maybe against the Kurds in Kirkuk or Mosul — that will create problems for us.
MacGregor spins out a scenario where things get totally out of hand and the American position becomes unsustainable. And that could happen. But I think it should be acknowledged that the military’s been pretty savvy about always managing to pivot pragmatically to avoid that outcome, even though it’s seemed to be approaching several times (most famously, during the dual Falluja and Najaf insurgencies). That pattern could break down in the future, but it could also hold up. The trouble is that the war’s rationale has become circular — “success” means success at putting the military engagement on a sustainable basis. We’re fighting for the ability to keep on fighting. But sustaining that posture keeps making the United States and our position in the world as a whole weaker and weaker.
Still, MacGregor’s specific concerns is one of the ways in which that’s the case. We’re strengthening groups that don’t share any particular loyalty to the United States and with whom we don’t have any particular deep bonds of culture, values, or interests. That strength could just as easily be directed against us or our friends tomorrow.