Tuesday, July 18, 2006

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Remember Iraq?

In their summer 2006 issue, Foreign Affairs featured a roundtable on "What to Do In Iraq?" with contributions by Larry Diamond, James Dobbins, Chaim Kaufmann, Leslie Gelb and Stephen Biddle.

This month, foreignaffairs.org invited four prominent online commentators -- Christopher Hitchens, Kevin Drum, Marc Lynch, and Fred Kaplan -- to a web-only discussion of the articles and Iraq in general. Biddle and Diamond respond in kind.

Go check it out.

posted by Dan on 07.18.06 at 09:03 AM


Great link! These guy have excellent ideas. Sadly no-one is apparently listening.

The Baghdad situation is a real mess and nothing is going to get accomplished until the city is secured. Instead it is rapidly turning into a collection of armed tribal camps. Both sides death squads don police uniforms to go out and kill each other. Its an interesting idea to embed US forces into IP or IA units so there is an American face to prove the units identity. Is it ideal? Of course not. It lends weight to face of the occupation. But that is almost immaterial now. There's no point in having a light print occupation if the occupied wipe each other out. Its kind of laughable to worry about making sure the government appears strong enough to police its own capital- when the government is obviously nowhere near strong enough to police its own capital. Lets forget about appearances for a moment and at least try to stop the bleeding.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 07.18.06 at 09:03 AM [permalink]

The first thing I would do is hand out some additional "Presidential Medals of Freedom" to the people who have been involved in this endeavor from the outset.

posted by: centrist on 07.18.06 at 09:03 AM [permalink]

Hey Mark,

I'm just curious: do you still think I was such a moron for referring to it as "slow motion civil war" a few months ago?


posted by: Peter on 07.18.06 at 09:03 AM [permalink]

The question now is whether failure in Iraq will be a local setback in the context of a larger struggle, in the way that losing Vietnam turned out to be in the larger struggle of the Cold War, or whether failure in Iraq will trigger a wider domino collapse, in the way that losing Vietnam was believed (in the early years of the war) to risk.

It is hard to see a domino effect in the Middle East following state failure in Iraq. Iraq will be partitioned three ways, but Turkey, Syria, and Iran aren't going to fight once the three populations of Iraq have relocated themselves. Iran may increase its sphere of influence in the region but at the cost of sharpening the tension between Sunnis and Shias. Terrorists and insurgents will be encouraged by our departure under duress but we will then be a more distant enemy. Turbulence will push up oil prices (for a time) but it is hard to see US access to the world oil supply adversely affected in ways that will not happen anyway eventually as a result of rising demand.

The problem is longer-term. Unlike the USSR, which was a stagnant adversary for fifty years, America in the next fifty years will become relatively less dominant in the world, as other large nations grow economically and militarily, and as medium-sized countries go nuclear. These changes may be worse for the eastern hemisphere than for the western but they will be a net loss to us because (a) of the greater instability that a truly multipolar world may bring and (b) of the opportunity cost of failing to articulate a more stable and inclusive system while the US still has power to exchange.

We may be able to afford to fail in Iraq in the short-term, just as we could afford to fail in Vietnam, but the larger trend in the world afterwards will not be the same as it was in the Cold War. This is no reason to stay in Iraq if we lack the means or the will to prevail. But the real need now is to think out the larger aftermath, not just in the region, but in the world.

posted by: David Billington on 07.18.06 at 09:03 AM [permalink]

This line from the Orwell-loving Hitchens is pretty hilarious: "The ostensible pretext for American intervention ... was in my opinion based on an important element of truth."

posted by: Leo on 07.18.06 at 09:03 AM [permalink]

I suppose it's worth considering in this context the idea that the settlement rather than the fighting of a civil war within a failed state may be more likely to produce terrorism outside the borders of that state.

Al Qaeda developed its organization during the 1990s from a secure haven in Afghanistan, a boon granted it by the Taliban's ascendancy there. Had the Taliban had to fight for control of the whole country -- as opposed to fighting local actions in the northeast against the mostly Tajik Northern Alliance -- al Qaeda might have become too involved in Afghan civil strife to establish the organization that carried out 9/11. It may be possible to organize terrorist operations and recruit volunteers from "failed states" without governments effective over all their territory, but in one sense terrorist operations are like any other kind. Organizing big ones, and sustaining them against countermeasures, requires that terrorists have some security, somewhere. There's probably a reason al Qaeda never chose to make its headquarters in Somalia.

An Iraq without an American army and fully embroiled in civil war might be different, of course. All of its ethnic and religious factions could call on assistance from neighboring states, for one thing, which could make those states more attractive terrorist targets. Then, too, an Iraqi civil war would be likely to generate large numbers of refugees (Sunni Arabs to Jordan and Syria, Shiites to Iran) and terrorism could easily develop among these groups. Would it be more likely to seek out Western targets, targets in other Arab countries, or primarily targets associated with the Iraqi factions that drove the refugees out of their country?

I don't know. And I'm not saying I think this idea -- that terrorism outside Iraq might be less likely to result from an Iraqi civil war than we think -- is right, only that we ought to consider it. Supporters and critics of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq have been arguing for years about whether the Iraq invasion created more terrorists or whether it drew them to Iraq like flypaper. It would be a strange thing if both arguments turned out to be correct, but history teaches us that strange things happen all the time.

posted by: Zathras on 07.18.06 at 09:03 AM [permalink]

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