I see that the political powers that be are coming around to the position that I held in February of 2003:
Senior figures in both parties are coming to the conclusion that the Bush administration will be unable to achieve its goal of a stable, democratic Iraq within a politically feasible time frame. Agitation is growing in Congress for alternatives to the administration’s strategy of keeping Iraq in one piece and getting its security forces up and running while 140,000 U.S. troops try to keep a lid on rapidly spreading sectarian violence.
But as I noted not long ago the alternatives being presented certainly seem to be fantasizing, too:
Few officials in either party are talking about an immediate pullout of U.S. combat troops. But interest appears to be growing in several broad ideas. One would be some kind of effort to divide the country along regional lines. Another, favored by many Democrats, is a gradual withdrawal of troops over a set period of time. A third would be a dramatic scaling-back of U.S. ambitions in Iraq, giving up on democracy and focusing only on stability.
Many senior Republicans with close ties to the administration also believe that essential to a successful strategy in Iraq are an aggressive new diplomatic initiative to secure a Middle East peace settlement and a new effort to engage Iraq’s neighbors, such as Syria and Iran, in helping stabilize the country — perhaps through an international conference.
I think that conference is a great idea…for 2002.
The proposals completely baffle me. Why would a divided Iraq be an improvement over the status quo? If the borders with Syria and Iran can’t be closed successfully, why will the borders between these new regions (or states) fare any better? 40% of the population of the country lives in Baghdad or Mosul. How will they be divided? The Sunni Arab western region would be left largely without resources under such a division. What motivation would they have not to attack their neighbors?
Worse yet, I believe that the Turks and Iranians would find it imperative to intervene in the north region while the Iranians (and, possibly the Saudis) would find it equally imperative to intervene in the southern, Shi’ite region, where adherents of the Sistani faction and the Khomeinist faction would, no doubt, be duking it out.
In my view such a plan sets the stage for region-wide conflict.
Withdrawal is no better. A gradual withdrawal without preconditions will inevitably become a total withdrawal without preconditions. While politically sound the idea is pragmatically loony. As best as I can tell it’s based on the principle of “Well, they just have to”.
As for “focusing only on stability”, I seem to recall that’s the position that culminated in the attacks on September 11, 2001. I can’t see any reason that anyone would take future claims of support for democracy by the United States seriously after a return to the so-called realist viewpoint. Nor can I imagine any relish among the American people for supporting economic development in the region.
All of this leaves open the question what is our strategy in the War on Terror? If it’s not engaging our enemies, nor fostering democracy, nor securing our borders what is it?