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[Amb. Joe Wilson joins us for discussion in the comments.  As always, with guests at FDL, please be polite and stay on topic for the course of the discussion herein.  Please join me in giving Amb. Wilson a big FDL welcome.  -- CHS] 

Amb. Joseph Wilson has graciously agreed to join in on a discussion here today regarding the mess that is Iraq, diplomacy, regional difficulties, the potential for American soliders having to fight their way out if and when we finally do leave Iraq and a whole host of other issues surrounding the chaotic failure in which the Bush Administration has mired us.  (My words, not Joe's — I'll let him characterize this on his own in the comments.)

From Amb. Wilson's Book The Politics of Truth, we find his long record of service to this nation as a diplomat:

1976-1978: General Services Officer, Niamey, Niger
1978-1979: Administrative Office, Lomé, Togo  
1979-1981: Administrative Officer, U.S. State Department, Washington, D.C.
1981-1982: Administrative Officer, Pretoria, South Africa
1982-1985: Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), Bujumbura, Burundi
1985-1986: Congressional Fellow, offices of Senator Al Gore and Representative Tom Foley
1986-1988: DCM, Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo  
1988-1991: DCM, Baghdad, Iraq
1992-1995: Ambassador to Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe
1995-1997: Political Adviser to Commander in Chief U.S. Armed Forces, Europe EUCOM, Stuttgart, Germany
1997-1998: Special Assistant to President Bill Clinton and Senior Director for African Affairs, National Security Council, Washington, D.C. (p. 451)

While Amb. Wilson was the Deputy Chief of Mission in Iraq, he was put to the test by none other than Saddam himself:

As acting ambassador to Iraq in the run-up to the first Gulf War, he was the last US diplomat to meet with Saddam Hussein, in 1991.

He very publicly defied the Iraqi strongman by giving refuge to more than 100 US citizens at the embassy and in the homes of US diplomats – at a time when Saddam Hussein was threatening to execute anyone who harboured foreigners.

He then addressed journalists wearing a hangman's noose instead of a necktie.

He later told the Washington Post newspaper that the message to Saddam Hussein was: "If you want to execute me, I'll bring my own [expletive] rope."

It is this background that Amb. Wilson brings to the table for today's discussion — a long history of serving this nation in the field as a diplomat in the center of any number of ethnic, regional and substantial conflicts across the continent of Africa and within Iraq itself, and as an advisor to both military and Presidential national security considerations and to Congressional offices charged with providing sorely needed oversight.

With that in mind, let's look back at some historical context provided by Steve Gilliard in a post last night regarding US retreat from combat operations in the past — and what lessons we should take from those retreats for the current situation in Iraq.  As Steve concludes:

One of the things Americans have to get over is their belief in American superiority. An American army can be decimated in a retreat, even by an enemy without airpower. The problem for the US Army in any retreat from Iraq will be the thousands of Iraqis who will want to flee with them and the thousands of POG's (people other than grunts), who will be in that convoy. They might not do so well when they're attacked.

Looking at the roads of Iraq, there are only a few routes south, and they can be blocked and fought over. Which makes leaving in a fighting retreat difficult.

Which makes whatever considerations are being given to such an exit all the more critical — this cannot be done without careful and adequate planning for the worst case scenarios, something that the Bush Administration so clearly failed at doing in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq for the extended period of occupation in which we have been mired the past three years and counting.

On NPR this morning, there was a surprisingly candid and insightful interview with Vali Nasr, author of The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam will Shape the Future and a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School.  During the course of the interview, he says:

"We are not able to control events that keep escalating," Nasr tells Steve Inskeep. "We might be able to control the tempo of it, but we cannot easily stop it at this juncture."

A civil war isn't necessary, Nasr says, "but it is necessary to finalize the distribution of power in Iraq. And without a viable political road map, one that the various factions are willing to sit down and negotiate around, increasingly it's evident that the fate of the country is going to be decided by gunmen on the street, and that's what we're increasingly seeing…."

What would happen if the U.S. stepped out of the way?

"There would be a big battle for power in Baghdad and also there would be a big battle between the Shiites and Sunnis and ultimately between the Sunnis and the Kurds over who gets what and where does each stand once the dust settles," Nasr says.

It would be a "much more severe conflict — which then we can actually call a civil war — over who gets Baghdad, who gets Kirkuk, who gets Mosul, and where… the ultimate lines between these constituent parts of Iraq will lay."

While this is a single perspective on this mess, the thing that reverberated for me in this interview was that there has been — and continues to be — no political roadmap. It is simply a "git er done" fiat from the Bush Administration to a nation that was cobbled together by colonial powers back in the heyday of imperialism, and an expectation that they will somehow be able to figure out for themselves, after years and years of conflict and oppression, how to be "democratic" while staring down the barrel of yet another gun. It is madness, and it is a set-up for failure from the start. And the Bush Administration ought to have known this, and planned for contingency interventions along the way — but their failed approach to some sort of "hands off style of diplomacy" has not allowed them to do so. And we are all reaping the costs of it as a result.

With headlines like the recent one in the LATimes "Mideast Allies Near A State Of Panic" and in Australia's The Age "Mideast Too Complex For America," and even a late-planted stiletto from Bob Novak in today's WaPo entitled "Bush's Shrinking Options," it is no secret that expectations for the Bush Administration's handling of this mess are abysmally low.

But that leaves our military personnel, our diplomatic staff and the countless aid workers and infrastructure builders in an untenable position.  And these folks all deserve far better from all of us than that.

With the ISG's report put off until likely some time in January, we felt that it was high time some serious discussion took place publicly about the potential for increasing chaos, the problems inherent in the current situtation and in any of the possible solutions that have been discussed thus far in the public arena.  And Amb. Joseph Wilson joins us today in the comments to do just that.  I look forward to some good debate, some in-depth questions and a lot of frank discussion. 

Please join me in welcoming Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

UPDATE:  As reader Hugh points out, the ISG site now lists Dec. 6th, 2006 as the release date for the report.