Monday, November 07, 2005

Iraq: The Breakup?

Is the Bush administration making a fundamental error (one among many) in trying to preserve a unified Iraqi state?

That's the argument made in a Washington Post op-ed today (registration required, but free) by Peter Galbraith, former U.S. ambassador to Croatia and senior diplomatic fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation who has also advised Kurdish leaders. Writes Galbraith:

Although it was certainly not his intention, George W. Bush broke up Iraq when he ordered the invasion in 2003. The United States not only removed Saddam Hussein, but it also smashed, and later dissolved, the institutions that enabled Iraq's Sunni Arab minority to rule the country: the army, the security services and the Baath Party. Kurdistan, free from Hussein's rule since 1991, moved to consolidate its de facto independence. Iraq's Shiites, suppressed since the founding of the Iraqi state, have created a theocracy in southern Iraq and have no intention of allowing a central government in Baghdad to roll it back. Iraq's new constitution merely ratifies this result.

There is no reason to mourn the passing of the unified Iraqi state. For Iraq's 80-year history, Sunni Arab dictators held the country together -- and kept themselves in power -- with brutal force that culminated in Hussein's genocide against the Kurds and mass killings of Shiites.

Galbraith makes a pretty strong case that our focus should be on preventing civil war, not maintaining Iraq's artificial unity. Many of the Sunni Arabs who say they want to preserve a unified state want, in actuality, to preserve the control they wielded in the 80 years of Iraq's existence as a state. Galbraith also argues that, far from shafting the Sunnis, the newly passed Iraqi constitution does give them protections against the tyranny of the Shi'ite/Kurd majority, and that in time the Sunni Arabs will realize this and cooperate. The article makes a strong case with specific suggestions, and concludes thus:

As Yugoslavia broke up in 1991, the first Bush administration put all its diplomatic muscle into a doomed effort to hold the country together, and it did nothing to stop the coming war. We should not repeat that mistake in Iraq.


Galbraith may well be right. However, the idea of Southern Iraq's transformation into a Islamic theocracy, even if achieved through the democratic process, is depressing to say the least.

17 comments:

Dean said...

The country is already in a state of civil war. It's low-grade, to be sure, but that is partly due to the coalition presence, which acts both as a deterent and as a lightning rod for anger.

And Sunnis aren't trying to hold onto power as much as fearful of the Shia reprisals that are coming (and that are reportedly already occurring). The Iraqi army is composed almost entirely of Shia.

It doesn't seem inconceivable to me that, ten years from now, northern Iraq will be independent, a Kurdish homeland (and won't Turkey be happy about that) and Iran will be bigger and more radical.

No matter what happens, the Sunnis are screwed. And they know that.

Rainsborough said...

Why didn't those who decided on war foresee that a new Iraq might be divided, a new Iraq would be weaker, a new Iraq would subject to neighborly influence, and that all these developments would serve the Irani national interest well and ours not at all? It was obvious, was it not, that Iran was bigger and badder than Iraq? That Iraq would be a fractious society hard to govern effectively, let democratically?

Revenant said...

Why didn't those who decided on war foresee [that various things might happen]

We did.

A more interesting question, I think, is "why didn't war opponents see that Iraqis would be enthusiastic about democracy, and why are they still not doing anything to help".

It was obvious, was it not, that Iran was bigger and badder than Iraq?

Yes, but Iraq was doable. Invading Iran would have been far costlier in lives, money, and international opinion. Also, you're mistaken that a weak, divided Iraq subject to neighbor's influence helps us "not at all". A weak, divided Iraq is a dramatic improvement, in terms of American self-interest, over Hussein's Iraq. It just isn't as good as a democracy could be.

Rainsborough said...

I'm glad that someone foresaw bad things would happen. But some others, those who planned to pull out in August having installed Chalabi in power, apparently didn't.

Too bad that now that we're bogged down in Iraq, a third of Iraq's weakened and divided state, that where most of the oil lies, may fall under Iran's sway. (If you foresaw that, why did you buy into it?)

The best of outcomes in Iraq will leave the U.S. worse off--Iran strengthened, Islamist forces strengthened, the U.S. reputation for both probity and power diminished. If you foresaw that (which is more than Cheney did as he recklessly bypassed normal procedures and potential critics), why did you buy into it?

Revenant said...

I'm glad that someone foresaw bad things would happen. But some others, those who planned to pull out in August having installed Chalabi in power, apparently didn't

Let's pretend, for the sake of argument, that that accurately describes the leaders of the war effort. Why do you think it is "apparent" that they were unaware of the possibilities you cited?

Any plan, even something as simple as going to the kitchen for a drink, has the potential for disaster. Rational people balance the risks versus the potential rewards. So far we have avoided the major risks and, at far lower cost in lives than anticipated, achieved some of the rewards. Whether we will achieve the greatest rewards remains to be seen, but the greatest risks -- defeat, tens of thousands of American soldiers killed, and the replacement of Hussein with a new dictator ruling a unifed Iraq -- did not come to pass, and are now behind us. The worst-case scenario today is that Iraq will wind up weak and divided, and we will have to content ourselves with merely having one fewer significant enemies, rather than one more significant friend.

Obviously our leaders forsaw the possibility that Iraq might be weak and divided. They just recognized that for what it is -- preferable to a unified Iraq led by Hussein.

The best of outcomes in Iraq will leave the U.S. worse off

No, the best of outcomes in Iraq will leave the United States much better off; we will have a stable, democratic ally in the region. Perhaps you believe that outcome is impossible. You're entitled to hold such an opinion, but it is unreasonable to expect others to respect it or treat it as obviously true.

Rainsborough said...

"Possible" the Garden of Eden will re-emerge in Mesopotamia, yes. Just not, it seems to me, reasonably likely.

On the testimony of Wilkerson and Haas, I believe that the decision to invade was made by a small coterie of wilful and arrogant men who circumvented normal procedures and stilled dissident voices (voices of those whose judgment has now been vindicated). There was a grave deficiency of consideration of risks.

Iraq was a very weak power when its forces were put to rout in a few days in 1991. It was still weaker in 2003. Nor is there any evidence of Iraq lending significant support to Islamic terrorists, or any other sort of terrorists aiming at American targets.

I'm afraid of many things, but Iraq initiating or sponsoring attacks against American targets was always far down the list. Iraq was a weak nation-state, easily deterrable.

I'm confident that Iran, too, is deterrable, even if it acquires nuclear weapons. But I find it regrettable that its goals in Iraq have been achieved by America's foolish use of its military power there,and that the regional balance of power has been tilted its way.

I fear the stateless terrorists trained in the disorder of the new Iraq, their numbers increased and their motivation intensified by our adventure there.

I am shamed that no longer can I deny my nation practices torture, and fearful of the boost this unprecedented policy has given to Islamists everywhere. Nothing better brands this administration than its embrace of torture.

Incidentally, my views about Iran and the Iraq war are shared by Joseph Joffe, who has come to regret his support for the war. But then he is less a devotee of the party of Bush and more a strategist in the tradition of Aron and Morgenthau.

Revenant said...

Iraq was a weak nation-state, easily deterrable.

That argument would be more convincing if, at some point in our ten-year attempt to deter it, we had actually met with success. Even then, it runs afoul of the fact that the international community -- and, amusingly, the same "anti-war" people who now say deterrence was a good idea -- were pushing to end all attempts at deterrence.

You're welcome to be as relentlessly negative about modern-day Iraq as you like. But the alternative policy you're saying we should have stuck with is the one thing that we know for a fact wouldn't work. It is, in point of fact, the same policy that completely failed with Pakistan and North Korea, and the same policy which is in the process of failing in Iran. If it had worked in Iraq, that would have been the first time it had ever worked anywhere. What works is invasion.

Rainsborough said...

If invasion and occupation "work," if Iraq today is a success story, I wonder what failure looks like.

But fortunately invading with alacrity, or without, is no longer in the cards. No American politician could survive advocating another Iraq-style invasion: one unintended but favorable consequence of our policy there.

Just when between wars, between 1991 and 2002, did Iraq ever threaten or attempt an action that failed to be deterred? There were some occasions when the no-fly zones were extended, there were some bombing raids. Did these not suffice to keep Saddam in his box?

Revenant said...

If invasion and occupation "work," if Iraq today is a success story, I wonder what failure looks like

Thus far we have removed a hostile dictatorship with terrorist ties and replaced it with a friendly, if unstable, democracy. The new wave of anti-American terrorists you fear has yet to materialize. Is it still possible for things to go bad? Certainly. But it isn't rational, in my opinion, to look at the outcome to date and call it anything other than a success, at least from the standpoint of American self-interest.

As for what failure looks like -- well, it looks like parking troops in Kuwait from 1990 to 2002 and having nothing to show for it but a bunch of radicalized Al Qaeda terrorists. Simply put, we know for a fact that the scenario you fear *might* happen as a result of the invasion, DID happen as a result of the deterrence policy. We only had two choices -- removing Hussein, or ending the sanctions and withdrawing from the region. The former was, and remains, the better option.

Rainsborough said...

What actions directed against American interests did the fearsome Iraq, the one that had to be taken out, take from 1991 to 2003?

I assume that many of the terrorists now fighting Iraq are new to the ranks, and that they will not retire after their work their is done.

Surely we could have remained in the region whether we occupied Iraq or not. What was to prevent us? As a superpower, we had and have many choices.

Why has it served the interests of the United States to increase hostility towards us among Muslims, increase the power of Iran in the region, and to render future threats of intervention we might make less credible? Why has it served our interests to transform Iraq from a cruel state where order was maintained and actions against our interests were deterred to a divided state where Islamist fanatics thrive and kill, where Iranian influence has gone from non-existent to quite worrisome, and in places like Basra thuggish religious fanatics hold sway?

Revenant said...

What actions directed against American interests did the fearsome Iraq, the one that had to be taken out, take from 1991 to 2003?

It sheltered terrorists who had carried out attacks on the US and US citizens, sponsored terrorist attacks against US allies, attempted the assassination of a former president, and launched a successful propaganda campaign aimed at convincing radical Muslims that we were to blame for the suffering of the Iraqi people.

I assume that many of the terrorists now fighting Iraq are new to the ranks, and that they will not retire after their work their is done.

The terrorists are losing the war there. The reason they "will not retire" is that they will be dead. It is an open question who is going to come out on top in Iraq, but it sure as heck isn't going to be radical Sunnis.

Why has it served the interests of the United States to increase hostility towards us among Muslims, increase the power of Iran in the region, and to render future threats of intervention we might make less credible?

The invasion has not increased Muslim hostility towards the United States (they hated us before and still do), but has increased Muslim hostility towards Al Qaeda. It did not strengthen Iran; it replaced the weak Iraqi army on Iran's border with a powerful American one. And it made future threats of intervention dramatically MORE credible, as it demonstrated that we were willing to invade a country even when almost the entire rest of the world was against the idea.

Rainsborough said...

"It sheltered terrorists who had carried out attacks on the US and US citizens."

People keep good track of terrorist attacks. I don't believe one will find on that list any sponsored by Saddam. Nor any attacks against our allies--Saudi Arabia? Jordan? Egypt?

"The reason they "will not retire" is that they will be dead."
The number of terrorists isn't infinite, but nor is it fixed. It grows with U.S. actions that confirm, in the eyes of potential recruits, bin Laden's view of the world.
I wouldn't bet against Sunnis coming out on top in a rump state centered in Baghdad, but I take your point that the Shi'a have displaced the Sunni in Iraq. Whether this will prove to serve U.S. interests is another question.
Public opinion surveys suggest the war did intensify hostile feelings among Muslims against the U.S., especially after the news of Abu Ghraib broke.
If the American occupation forces are such a bulwark against Irani power, why on all accounts has Irani influence in Iraq swelled? Why has Irani behavior worsened?
If I were an agent of a foreign power stationed in Washington, and was asked to estimate the readiness and ability of the U.S. to intervene with force abroad today as compared to April 2003, I'd certainly report the U.S. less ready and able today. Just as it was for years after the failed intervention in Vietnam. Asked for evidence, I'd cite for one thing public attitudes regarding the payoff from the use of force, for another the difficulties in finding volunteers, and for another the unanticipated drawdown on reserve forces.

Revenant said...

People keep good track of terrorist attacks. I don't believe one will find on that list any sponsored by Saddam

I said that he had sheltered (not sponsored -- we don't know if he did that or not) people who had attacked us. It certainly seems strange that a terrorist would flee to Iraq unless he had prior reason to believe he would be welcome there, though. Especially since Hussein was supposedly so "hostile to radical Islam" and all...

As for allies he had sponsored attacks against, the answer to your question is "Israel"; he sponsored suicide bombers there. I imagine you'll try arguing that openly offering to give money to the family of anyone who commits a murder isn't the same as sponsoring a murder, but I have to disagree on that point.

The number of terrorists isn't infinite, but nor is it fixed. It grows with U.S. actions that confirm, in the eyes of potential recruits, bin Laden's view of the world.

I agree that both the invasion and your preferred policy of deterrence serve to increase the supply of terrorists. The difference is that the invasion strategy also involves killing them, which reduces the supply; the deterrence option doesn't. Furthermore the deterrence option would have to continue forever, while the invasion was a one-time event. It is possible that the original invasion increased support for Al Qaeda, but that was then; today, Al Qaeda is rapidly earning itself a place on the Muslim world's most-hated list, because all it seems to be doing is blowing up lots of peaceful Muslims.

the Shi'a have displaced the Sunni in Iraq. Whether this will prove to serve U.S. interests is another question

It will. Radical Shiite Islam is on its way out -- the mullahs of Iran are barely able to control their own resentful (and distinctly non-fundamentalist) populace these days.

If the American occupation forces are such a bulwark against Irani power, why on all accounts has Irani influence in Iraq swelled?

The one has nothing to do with the other. The presence of American troops on the Iranian border prevents the Iranians from getting too far out of line, and thus reduces the threat they pose to us. Their influence in Iraq has grown because there is no longer a person in Iraq killing everyone who tries to challenge his power. Now, from an American perspective it would obviously be preferable if nobody but us had influence. But a section of Iraq jointly influenced by America, Iran, and local Iraqis is in all ways preferable to a section of Iraq entirely influenced by Hussein.

If I were an agent of a foreign power stationed in Washington, and was asked to estimate the readiness and ability of the U.S. to intervene with force abroad today as compared to April 2003, I'd certainly report the U.S. less ready and able today.

It is my sincere hope that every one of our enemies possesses your understanding of the capabilities of the United States of America.

Rainsborough said...

Many points of agreement!
1. The bad mullahs will be out of power in Iran in less than a decade.
2. Al Qaeda style terrorists are not winning any popularity contests with their current behavior. I'm doubt if their leaders aren't pretty smart; I'd hope they're perhaps desperate. But the important thing for the U.S. to do is make their work more difficult. They're operating with some impunity now in Iraq, they weren't in 2003.
3. U.S. military capabilities are vastly superior to those of any other nation or likely combination of nations. This very fact deters many uses of force.
4. Iraq provided some rather marginal support to attacks in Israel; it no longer does.
5. Iraq sheltered terrorists.
I don't think that our invasion and occupation have particularly hindered the recruitment of terrorist operatives. It seems to me that Hussein didn't turn his country into a launching pad for terrorist operations. Maybe because everybody knew that nothing happened there without his knowledge and approval. (Whereas Iran has rather brazenly sponsored terrorists.)
I think actually we both of us are quite glad that the U.S. in the longer run plans on leaving the governance of Iraq to the Iraqis--or perhaps better, the territory of Iraq to its inhabitants-- and won't in this sense retain "influence" there.
I do see lots of Islamist killers on the ground in Iraq today, now even doing their work in Amman. I do see Irani influence in extensive parts of Iraq, where under Hussein there was none. It wasn't so in 2003, it is in 2005.
Conquest is one thing; pacification another; and political control still one more.

Rainsborough said...

Blowback (via Benjamin at Slate):
Syria's radical Islamists, who were slaughtered wholesale by the regime of the Hafez al-Assad in 1982, have clearly been emboldened by events next door. Islamist preachers have been more active and critical of the regime than at any time in 20 years, and last year, a new online magazine appeared, Message of the Mujahedeen, which is dedicated to promoting an extreme brand of Islamism and opposition to the "Christian Baathist" government of Hafez's son Bashar al-Assad.

Saudi volunteers comprise the largest group of foreign jihadists in Iraq, a fact that has officials in Saudi Arabia worried about returnees. The kingdom's jihadists already appear to be learning from the insurgency in Iraq. According to Roger Davies, the former head bomb technician for the British army in Northern Ireland, Saudi jihadists traditionally relied on bombs using ammonium nitrate and aluminum. However, in an early 2004 car bombing at the Interior Ministry, home of the kingdom's counterterrorism operations, the terrorists used artillery shells as the core of the bomb, just as is typical in Iraq. According to Davies, "A lot of incidents in Saudi Arabia—and there have been more than are reported—are being blamed on terrorists who gained experience in Iraq." (There have also been reports of Iraqi-style bombs being found in Kuwait.)

For the near term, though, Jordan will probably remain the region's most endangered state. Although its intelligence service is among the best around and has long experience with terrorism, the country is still seen by jihadists as the low-hanging fruit of the Muslim world. The government doesn't have the cash to buy off potential foes the way Saudi Arabia or Kuwait can.

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