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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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