Thursday, November 16, 2006
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The quickest and dirtiest path out of Iraq
As sectarian violence rises in Iraq and the White House comes under increasing pressure to revamp its strategy there, a debate is emerging inside the Bush administration: Should the U.S. abandon its efforts to act as a neutral referee in the ongoing civil war and, instead, throw its lot in with the Shiites?The political science literatue on civil wars would recommend backing the Shia. Monica Duffy Toft summarized this logic in a Washington Post op-ed:
The fighting can stop in a variety of ways -- by military victory or negotiated settlement. Historically speaking, military victories have been the most common and have most often led to lasting resolutions. So while a negotiated settlement may seem the most desirable end point, this resolution is frequently short-lived even with third-party support....Similarly, James Fearon summarized the state of poli sci knowledge about civil wars in his testimony to Congress:
By any reasonable definition, Iraq is in the midst of a civil war, the scale and extent of which is limited somewhat by the US military presence.The political science on this is pretty clear. The morality of such a policy is clearly more troubling. That said, Kevin Drum makes a valid point:
Would this be an appalling strategy to follow? Of course it would. Appalling options are all that's left to us in Iraq.Discuss.
posted by Dan on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM
This makes sense. Even the threat (as in prospect) of the US siding with the Shia may make cooler heads prevail among the Sunni. Cutting a deal now would be much better for them than being dictated to by victorious Kurds and Shia.posted by: Jim on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
They Need to support who's ever got their head out of their ass, todate thats the Kurds.posted by: Kostoglotov on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
How are we not already de facto supporting the Shiia? We dont have remotely enough troops to prevent their death squads from doing as they please, the government ministries are infiltrated and undermined, and we take orders to stay out of Sadr City from the PM- even when we are looking for a kidnapped US soldier. What exactly would outright support look like? Send the marines to shoot up the local bakery?
The issue isnt which side to support- the issue is instilling enough security so that the US and then ultimately the Iraqi government becomes the sole authority of violence in Iraq. Right now whichever gang has the most guns in each neighborhood is the authority.
This idiot administration is looking for any way to complete this jigsaw puzzle while insisting on leaving half the pieces in the box. The math is very simple- if we dont control Baghdad, nobody does, and if nobody does the government can never develop into doing it themselves. We dont have enough troops, we dont have enough troops, we dont have enough troops, we dont have enough troops.posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
I overheard someone on the radio suggest that the easiest way to stabilize Iraq is to set up a powerful dictator who would favor the weakest faction, thereby gaining their self-interested loyalty, and use them to assert control over the rest.
Oh wait... I guess that option's not really open any more, though we've certainly used it in the past.
If it is true that "Shiite forces are eventually going to wipe out the Sunni insurgency," then pulling out completely would be morally very close to backing the Shia. It's passively letting a strong man beat up a weak one vs. actively helping. Do you:
a) Step back and watch.
Complicate it with the fact that until recently the weakling had been abusing the strong guy. It's not immediately clear that any one of (a-c) is really morally superior to any other. We've now demonstrated that we aren't individually strong enough to make the morally-superior option (d) work. It just became a 3-way fight.
The fundamental problem is that we don't seem to have a realistic goal for the final outcome. This is not a country ripe for imposed democracy. Time to back down on the idealism and try some realpolitik.
As long as everyone on the planet is flinging out ideas, how about this ill-informed and minimally thought-out approach: The Kurdish regions are reportedly quite stable and functional. Maybe we just pull back to that region, help them hold together, and let the Shiites and Sunnis battle it out for the south.
Help the Kurds become our seed of secular democracy and foothold of military presence in the Middle East and don't show overt or implied favoritism to either side in the Muslim conflict.
Let national boundaries and political structures develop naturally through internal processes rather than colonial imposition. We won't be 100% thrilled with the end result, but it might achieve something like long-term stability.
Probably the main player we'd really anger by helping the Kurds is Turkey. Iran wouldn't be totally thrilled, either, but it wouldn't have the same political punch as us warring with Muslims.
Just a somewhat random thought.posted by: Jay HH on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
Indeed, as Mark Buehner says, we don't have enough troops, and we're not going to get them. That's the point.
More troops may have been the answer to the security problem in 2003, or even 2004. But wars, like diseases, are always easier to stifle at the very beginning. We are over three years into this one, and it's about time we ceased puzzling over how to solve the problems we faced in the summer of 2003.
It's important to remember that sectarian violence did not just happen. It was the product of a deliberate effort by the mostly Sunni Arab insurgency to undermine the government by assassinating mostly Shiite government workers, policemen, and recruits and depriving Iraqis of security by shooting and blowing up mostly Shiite civilians. Sectarian strife was what the insurgency wanted. If it hadn't been for Sistani urging restraint, and Sadr seeking advantage in Shiite politics by fighting the Americans instead of the insurgents in 2004 we'd have seen Shiite revenge killings a long time before the Samarra mosque was blown up.
Sunni Arabs not belonging to the insurgency could have taken up arms on behalf of the government, but they didn't. Sunni Arab states bordering Iraq could have discouraged and denounced the insurgency, but they didn't. Governments of the states bordering Iraq are as able as Americans to see that the American army will only be willing to serve as both protector and target of Iraq's Sunni Arabs for a limited amount of time, and to see also what is likely to happen when that time runs out. They could act on that knowledge now, but for the most part they aren't.
Dan says, rightly, that there are no good options in Iraq. What we need to do, at a minimum, is to exclude options that require the United States to continue pouring lives and money into this one, mid-sized Arab country into the indefinite future. It does not seem as if the Bush administration has made up its mind to do any such thing. Just yesterday Gen. Abizaid was talking in terms of the next "four to six months" being critical, a statement that might almost be encouraging if the timeframe were not so obviously pulled out of thin air. Four to six months may sound like progress compared to "as long as it takes," but given the situation we face it isn't nearly good enough.
What I'm after here isn't anything so arbitrary as a timetable, but rather a recognition of what the principle American interest in this situation is. The commitment in Iraq needs to be liquidated, sooner rather than later. I would just as soon this did not result in Sunni Arab populations in Baghdad and elsewhere being subjected to the unobstructed fury of Shiite militias, notwithstanding the Sunni Arabs' long complicity with one of the worst, most oppressive of modern governments as well as with the insurgency. If there is a way to liquidate the Iraq commitment and avoid this, I'll be all for it.
If not, we should not continue to just look on wringing our hands. An insupportable commitment made in pursuit of unattainable objectives, and how to remove the burden of that commitment from American foreign policy, is our problem. Whether Iraq's Sunni Arabs, having sown wind for so many years, are able to avoid reaping the whirlwind is their problem.posted by: Zathras on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
"Support the Shi'ites." What the heck does that mean? Shi'ite thugs are kidnapping, torturing and murdering people picked up off the street. Do we support them? If we don't, aren't we fighting the Shi'ites? Rival Shi'ite militias are fighting each other for control of various towns and cities in southern Iraq. What does "supporting the Shi'ites" mean there? Sunni (as well as Shi'ite) civilians get threatening letters telling them to pack up and leave or be murdered. Do we send troops in to clear families from their homes? Kirkuk is heading toward a conflict over a plebiscite to put it in the Kurdish autonomous area. Many, if not most, of the non-Kurds there are Shi'ites. Do we support them over the Kurds?
Honestly, we got ourselves in this trap due to simplistic thinking. With things spiralling out of control, and the competition among all sorts of groups creating chaos and anarchy, can we drop the pretense that there are "clear cut strategies" we can adopt that have any meaning for the reality of Iraq?posted by: Marc Robbins on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
Wow, American right-wingers were right, this is just like WW2.posted by: NeoDude on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
This sounds to me like the US returning Iraq to those Halcyon days of 2003, where only Falluja and Anbar provence were giving us heartburn. But are we willing to be parties to the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad and Mosul?
Well, if we can get the Shia in Iraq to feel like they might owe us something, that might keep this whole mess from being just the best geopolitical thing that ever happened to Iran.
And, if our enemy really is JUST Al Qaeda, this approach does make sense in persuing that particular enemy.
Demoracy. Feh. Shouldn't have tried it. Damn idealism. Keeps one from seeing clearly.
This is why war should never be so lightly planned or preemptively engaged. Because one always seems to end up in this sort of moral cesspool.posted by: Appalled Moderate on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
Siding outright with the Shiites in Iraq would be the most unconscionably stupid mistake the US could make in a long series of them in Iraq.
These so-called "political scientists" are the most pathetic bunch of idiots to grace the profession in years.
They're forgetting one of the most fundamental rules of foreign policy and political science anywhere: Balance of power. If the US sides with the Shiite Arabs outright, they're basically providing an open invitation to Iran to essentially take over in oil-rich southern Iraq.
IOW, the US would basically be sending a gift-wrapped gem right into the arms of its most dangerous archenemy in the region, and Iran would become so powerful as to basically displace the US as a regional power there in general.
Israel would also be right in Iran's crosshairs-- IOW, the US would basically be sacrificing Israel for a little bit of political smooth sailing.
OTOH, if the US supports the Sunni Arabs, naturally the Sunnis wouldn't conquer Iraq overall, but as a tough minority, they'd provide a valuable check against the Shiite Arabs becoming too powerful, and from Iran gaining almost complete control of the region. This is the better alternative.
BTW, it's a false and totally idiotic assumption, as Kevin Drum states here, that the Shiites would wipe out the Sunni insurgency on their own. The Sunnis are much, much better armed than the Shiites, much more experienced, and far more lethal in battle. This is why in the recent fighting-- even though Shiite militias such as the Mahdi Army have been launching the majority of attacks against US forces-- it's the Sunni fighters who are still causing the most damage.
Anbar Province is by far the largest in Iraq, and with Mosul and Salahuddin, the Sunnis control an enormous amount of territory and can live off the land. Besides, it's oil poor. The Sunnis have an interest in getting some land that the Shiites control, not vice versa-- the Shiites have nothing to gain by getting themselves slaughtered in the charnel house that is Anbar Province, as the Americans are doing, since there's not much of value there. It's far more cost-effective for the Shiite Arabs, and of far greater gain, to secede from Iraq as SCIRI wants to do, and consolidate control over what's now southern Iraq and the southern oil fields.posted by: Grandolph on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
"Probably the main player we'd really anger by helping the Kurds is Turkey."
That's an understatement. Turkey would go to war to block the formation of Kurdistan which would be a magnet for Turkey's own Kurds to secede. We could kiss Turkey's modernization-- and any prospect of joining the EU-- goodbye as Turkey basically goes apesh*t.
"Whether Iraq's Sunni Arabs, having sown wind for so many years, are able to avoid reaping the whirlwind is their problem."
That's stupid, Zathras. Really, really stupid. Saddam wasn't pro-Sunni as much as he was pro-secular Baathist. A plurality of Baath Party members were Shiites, and conversely, Saddam persecuted very large numbers of Sunni Arabs as well, especially religious Sunnis. Although the Kurds probably have the best case for moral sympathy (as they entirely lack a state), no ethnic group in this conflict-- Sunni Arab, Shiite Arab, or Kurd-- is a white or black hat here. It is utterly idiotic of you to suggest otherwise.posted by: Grandolph on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
Marc Robbins wrote:
"Rival Shi'ite militias are fighting each other for control of various towns and cities in southern Iraq. What does "supporting the Shi'ites" mean there? Sunni (as well as Shi'ite) civilians get threatening letters telling them to pack up and leave or be murdered. Do we send troops in to clear families from their homes? Kirkuk is heading toward a conflict over a plebiscite to put it in the Kurdish autonomous area. Many, if not most, of the non-Kurds there are Shi'ites. Do we support them over the Kurds?"
A brilliant post that shows just how unworkable and moronic this "support the Shiites" crap is. I always thought that at least Kevin Drum did his homework before posting up things like this, but if he's ignored such obvious complications with his suggestions, then he'd better not be quitting his day job.posted by: Grandolph on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
are poli-sci mavens as reputable at predicting future behavior as economists? Oh, absolutely. Well then full steam ahead. What could possibly go wrong?
As Gilgamesh said to his shadow: the sea and the shore will never agree on who made the wave.posted by: saintsimon on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
Grandolph might be interested to learn that Kevin Drum, by coincidence, maintains a comment board on his blog as well. It is heavily populated with posters in the habit of half-reading things and putting their resulting temper tantrums into print. I encourage Grandolph to check it out, if he has not already. He'd fit right in there. Here, not so much.posted by: Zathras on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
I also think Grandolph is wrong on the Geopolitics. Allying with the Shia makes a certain kind of sense. It crowds out the Iranian influence to a certain extent. It gives space for folks like Sistani to promote something more moderate than what we have in Iran.
The problem is that what the shia now likely have in mind is kicking out the Suinni, at we would most likely be helping -- by averting a blind eye -- ethnic cleansing in major Iraqi cities.
Grandoplph is probably right on how Turkey would regard all this. So, the slyest thing might be to just withdraw, though share our secrets with the shia death squads on the principal Shia killers. Then Al Qaeda, after doing their victory dance, can really impress the Arab world on how good they are at killing their fellow Muslims. Make great TV on Al Jazeera. And then, they can be killed by Sadr's buddies.
There are lots of things that can be done. As long as you have plenty of imagination, read blog comments regularly, and aren't bothered by a twinge of conscience.posted by: Appalled Moderate on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
Again- what can we offer the Shiia that we arent currently providing for free?
The Shiia arent a coherant political party anyway. There's no-one we can strike a deal with to reign in the independant death squads tooling around everywhere, not even Sadr. How do you tell a thousand mini-Sadrs each running their own neighborhood that we have a great deal for them... we help out some vague political issues and support some corrupt government leaders- just give up your power and go back to being unemployed. Sounds like a great deal.
There is no alternative for imposing security. This is exactly equiavalent to trying to figure out how to reign in organized crime in Capones Chicago without resorting to police or g-men. Just strike a deal with Capone right?posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
US forces stationed abroad (excluding Iraq):
73,500 Germany (EUCOM)
God forbid we should abandon guaranteeing Iceland against Viking invasion to lock down another town in Anbar. And dont get me started on Germany.posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
It is rather ironic that the Bush administration, who met last Veterans Day weekend in a conference to discuss realistic options in their foreign policy debacle in Iraq, still have failed to realize that their window of opportunity has pretty much closed through their inaction and incomptence over the past three years.
Supporting the Shia?
Well, I guess if we are trying to make Iran the regional superpower that it is rapdily becoming, it is sound policy.
Of course, we could probably negotiate the same result with Tehran and save a couple thousand American lives and a few hundred billion dollars.
"Would the last soldiers leaving the country, please remember to turn off the lights?"
The pathetic thing is that is only an issue in most of Iraq a couple hours a day. Another total failure by this administration- inexcusable from the industrial superpower of the world.posted by: Mark Beuhner on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
A Conservative Plan for Iraq
Anyone who questions the lack of a realistic and comprehensive Iraq strategy is labeled a friend of fascism by the Republican leadership. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) recently said, “I wonder if [Democrats] are more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people.” Republicans are paralyzed with the fear of being thought ineffective on national security and the war.
Meanwhile, the Democratic leadership cannot seem to accept that—regardless of how we got there—we are in Iraq. They have not made a convincing case that an arbitrary phased or date-certain troop withdrawal is in the best long-term interest of the United States. Rather, they seem to think that withdrawal will undo the decision to have gone to war. Rubbing President Bush’s nose in Iraq’s difficulties is also a priority.
This political food fight is stifling the desperately needed public discussion about a meaningful resolution to the fire fight. Most Americans know Iraq is going badly. And they know the best path lies somewhere between “stay the course” and “get out now”.
1) Iraq is having a civil war between the Sunnis and Shiites. The Kurds will certainly join, if attacked. It may not look like a civil war, because they don’t have tanks, helicopters, and infantry; but they are fighting with what they have.
2) Vast oil revenues are a significant factor behind the fighting. Yes, there are religious and cultural differences—but concerns about how the oil revenue will be split among the three groups make the problem worse.
3) Most Iraqis support partitioning Iraq into Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish regions. (Their current arrangement resulted from a pen stroke during the British occupation, not some organic alignment.)
4) Most citizens of the Middle East who support groups that kill and terrorize civilians—such as Hezbollah, Hamas, or al Qaeda—in part because of their aggressive stance against Israel and the United States, but also because they provide much needed social services, such as building schools.
5) Both Republican and Democratic administrations have spent decades doing business with the tyrants who run the Middle East in exchange for oil and cheap labor. This has been the one of the rallying calls of Bin Laden and Hezbollah—that we support tyrants who abuse people for profits. In fact, our latest trade deals with Oman and Jordan actually promote child and slave labor; it’s so bad the State Department had to issue warnings about rampant child trafficking in those countries.
6) Iran is using the instability in Iraq to enhance its political stature in the region. Leaving Iraq without a government that can stand up to Iran would be very destabilizing to the region and the world.
From the U.S. perspective, this is all mostly about energy. As things stand, a serious oil supply disruption would devastate our economy, threaten our security, and jeopardize our ability to provide for our children.
Success in Iraq and the Middle East in general requires us to work in three areas simultaneously: (1) fostering a more stable Middle East region, including Iraq, (2) pursuing alternative sources of oil, and (3) developing alternatives to oil. To these ends we must:
1) Insure that the oil revenues are fairly and transparently split among all three groups: Shiite, Sunni, and Kurds based on population.
2) Allow each group to have a much stronger role in self government by creating three virtually-autonomous regions. Forcing a united Iraq down their throats is not working. Our military would then be there in support a solution that people want, rather than one they are resisting.
3) Become a genuine force for positive change, thus denying extremist groups much of their leverage. Driving a fair two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian problem should be our first priority. We should also engage in projects that both help the average Middle Easterner and Americans, such as supporting schools that are an alternative to the ones that teach hate and recruit terrorists. We should also stop participating in trade deals that promote child and slave labor by insisting on deals that include livable wages and basic labor rights.
4) Declare a Marshal Plan to end our Middle Eastern energy dependency with a compromise between exploring for new sources, reducing consumption, and developing of alternative energies. For example, we should re-establish normal relations with Cuba so we can beat China to Cuba’s off-shore oil. We should also redirect existing tax breaks for Big Oil into loan guarantees for alternative energy companies.
Once we no longer need so much oil from the Middle East, we can begin winning over its people by using our oil purchases to reward positive and peaceful behavior from their leaders. This would ultimately reduce tensions and encourage prosperity in the region.
We will have to live with the threat of Islamic radical terrorism forever; but these solutions are a start to reducing the threat. Both parties have to put politics aside and put together an honest and reasonable plan that the American understand.posted by: John Konop on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
Mr. Buehner, how many of those "forces" you list know one end of an M-16 from the other?
Just checking.posted by: Anderson on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
The question of whether we should support the Sunnis or the Shiites or Kurds in the emerging civil war in Iraq ignores two other factions which are more dominant in fomenting the unrest: secularists and theocrats. Looking at Iraq as a divide between secularists and theocrats, Muqtada al Sadr and Al Qaeda would fall on the same side of the divide while the nationalist insurgents would constitute a different side. It would seem to me that the choice between Sadr and al Qaeda is like the choice between the fascists and the communists in the Spanish civil war.posted by: Scott Smith on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
I'd like to add something along the lines of John Konop's first two suggestions for a new direction. In addition to establishing Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions (and probably a fourth one for Baghdad), add a second chamber to the national parliament in which each region would have equal population. That would set a lower limit on the Sunnis' share of influence in the national government.posted by: Scott Smith on 11.16.06 at 03:28 PM [permalink]
"Mr. Buehner, how many of those "forces" you list know one end of an M-16 from the other?
So does that mean we just shrug and either keep pretending (insanely) that we dont need more troops in Iraq, or else bite the bullet and admit that they do but that they are 'unavailable'? Certainly the wise thing to have done would have been to at least fund 2 more active duty divisions after 911. Obviously that wasnt done for inexplicable but undoubtedly political reasons. We could also have begun closing pointless overseas installations and cross training administrative personel in needed MOSs- i know theyd just love that.
Ok so weve done none of that, in fact done nothing to increase our available manpower pool. So do we just give up, or at least decide that better late than never and make a last ditch effort to make this thing work? Even a clerk can hold a rifle and stand on a street corner.
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