Republican silverback Virginia Senator John Warner has the same problem that practically every other American politician does in thinking about the Maliki government in Iraq:
Sen. John W. Warner, one of the most influential Republican voices in Congress on national security, called on President Bush yesterday to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq in time for Christmas as a new intelligence report concluded that political leaders in Baghdad are “unable to govern effectively.”
Warner’s declaration — after the Virginia senator’s recent four-day trip to the Middle East — roiled the political environment ahead of a much-anticipated progress report to be delivered Sept. 11 by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Although Warner had already broken with Bush’s strategy, this was the first time he endorsed pulling troops out by a specific date.
At his Capitol Hill news conference, Warner, a former Navy secretary and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, threw Bush’s own words back at him by noting that the president has said the U.S. commitment in Iraq must not be “open-ended.” Warner said it is time for the president to come up with an “orderly and carefully planned withdrawal,” suggesting that Bush “send a sharp and clear message” to the Iraqis by announcing a pullout plan by Sept. 15 — one that would involve at least a symbolic fraction of the 160,000 troops coming home by the holidays.
“I can think of no clearer form of that than if the president were to announce on the 15th that, in consultation with our senior military commanders, he’s decided to initiate the first step in a withdrawal of armed forces,” Warner said. “I say to the president respectfully, ‘Pick whatever number you wish.’ . . . Say, 5,000 could begin to redeploy and be home to their families and loved ones no later than Christmas of this year. That’s the first step.”
Senator Warner makes the error of thinking that the Maliki government hasn’t taken the steps necessary to stabilize Iraq because he’s being stubborn. Why else send a message?
Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Iraqi government is behaving the way it is because it can, because it must, and because that’s what the incentives the players have direct them to do.
Maliki’s government aren’t the representatives of the people—they’re the representatives of the militias. Reduced U. S. presence gives them a freer hand, freer to ethnically cleanse Baghdad and drive Sunni Arabs into the western provinces or out of the country, freer to battle among themselves for control of the oil-rich south. Reducing U. S. presence does change the incentives but not in the direction of stabilizing the country nor in a way that’s favorable to American interests.
Maliki knows that his real job is to ensure that the Shia Arabs will be the “overdogs.” In his mind he is the defender of Shia rights in Iraq. Someone else would merely be the defender of some other group. There are a few, like Allawi, who think of themselves PRIMARILY as Iraqi, but we saw how well he did at election time. What a disappointment that must have been.
We keep “screwing up” in places like Vietnam and Iraq because we (as a people) do not accept the relevance of history and cultural difference. We insists on believing people are all pretty much the same and that they will behave as we think we would behave. Nonsense. We and another set of peoples have paid the price for that cultural blindness once again.
“Swapping” Maliki for someone else would be pointless. The groups will not share power and wealth amicably. In their minds that is simply arming and equipping one’s enemies.
We are doing the right thing now in Anbar and Diyala. In those places we are balancing real forces not constitutional fantasies. Let us get on with that process and start working toward real accommodation with the neighboring states.
I’ve always said the Iraqi election was little more than a census: so many Shia, so many Sunni, so many Kurds etc…
If Iraqis are incapable of putting together a genuinely national government then what purpose does our involvement there serve? We can fight AQI with a few men in Anbar and over-the-horizon forces. We can safeguard Kurdistan with token forces. Why are we fighting for the capital of a country that does not seem to wish to be a real country? Are we fighting to secure Shiite control of the center? They don’t need our help for that. Or are we fighting to slow the inevitable dissolution? What is our policy goal at this point? I’ve lost track.
No, actually, we can’t. Over-the-horizon-forces cannot distinguish terrorist from civilian in an urban environment. It would be like sending a few cops from Houston to Dallas every few months in order to fight organized crime. It simply can’t happen.
The Anbar model is what will work best for fighting AQI. The locals know best as they say. It was not the US, so much, that chased AQI out of Anbar and other environs, so much as it was the locals. How did we do that? By offering them protection from AQI and the means to rid themselves of its presence. One way that AQI kept control of the Anbar tribal elders was through assassination. Cross AQI and the elders would be killed. A key reason the tribes changed allegiance is because we offered to protect them from AQI. You can’t do that “over-the-horizon.”
That’s a good question. Personally, I’m now pretty firmly in the partition camp – a position I ridiculed when I first heard it. I now think the country will partition itself sooner or later. Better, I think, to help it along, to ease that transition than to allow the chaos of a full-scale civil war fed by Iraq’s neighbors to do it – a civil war that risks a greater regional conflict.
Yugoslavia, another “created” and artificial nation that fell apart, could be an example. We partially succeeded there in softening the breakup and I think we could do so again in Iraq. It could even be the impetus for greater European involvement and the mending of some fences there.
The official policy goal remains the same, but from what I’m hearing, it’s under examination. This fall I think we will see a change. For example, the L.A. Times is reporting that Joint Chief’s are putting together a recommendation that U.S. forces in Iraq be drastically cut next year, as much as in half.
This is no diamond-cutter situation. The country won’t neatly fall into three sections under a partition scenario.
Iran and Turkey won’t allow an independent Kurdistan. If Iraqi Kurdistan becomes a separate country, Iran and/or Turkey will whack it. Simple as that. The Kurds know this. They’ve said as much. It’s why they support a federal system.
If the Sunni Arabs are driven into Anbar and it becomes a separate state, it’s likely to have two very bad effects. First, the Sunni Arabs will keep doing just what they’re doing now—harassing the Shi’ites. They’ll do this because, basically, they’ve got no choice. Anbar doesn’t have enough in the way of resources.
Second, when the Shi’ites respond (as they must), the Sunni Arab neighbors will join in.
The Shi’ite south won’t be stable, either. The factions will fight among themselves.
The three states will continue to fracture. What’s to hold them together?
Partition is a formula for a ME equivalent to the 30 Years War.
But the very most important reason that I’m against partition is that the Iraqis themselves don’t want it. Sure, there are a lot of jerks who are jockeying for position. But the majority of Iraqis want a unified Iraq.
We do, too, as a buffer against Iran. There’s really no other candidate.
I wasn’t suggesting over-the-horizon solely, I said with a few men on the ground. OTH for air support and additional forces.
Dave’s right that partition would be a gordian knot. But when all options are bad, well, you pick one of the bad options.
I’ve quoted you and linked to you here: http://consul-at-arms.blogspot.com/2007/08/re-they-dont-understand-incentives.html
I guess you should define how many “a few men” on the ground is. Some in the military have already looked the requirements for a force focused solely on training and counter-terrorism. When you add in the additional forces required to protect, supply and maintain those forces you’re looking at tens-of-thousands. Now, as time goes on and reliable allies in Iraq are established (proxies, if you will), that number will go down, but the estimates I’ve seen range from 30k-80k troops.
I’ve read those polls on Iraqi nationalism and they are deceiving. Certainly there is some residual nationalism, but there was in Yugoslavia as well. However, what the polls miss is under what conditions the Iraqi people want a whole state. The various factions want a united Iraq as long as it is on their terms.
In short, the thesis that the Iraqi’s don’t want partition is belied by the actions of Iraqi’s themselves. Left to its own devices, what would Iraq do? It would, in all likelihood, fracture along largely historical lines.
And speaking of history, Iraq has only been governed one of two ways – either by force through dictatorship (and even under the most brutal – Saddam – the central government never controlled the entirety of Iraqi territory), or through the Ottoman approach of division.
You’re right there is no diamond cutter situation, but when is there when such a “nation” breaks apart? And look at the middle east in general – a region that contains neutral zones and probably more ill-defined and disputed borders than any other.
As for “Kurdistan” it is already de-facto independent. An accommodation would have to be made with Turkey – and there’s no denying that would not be easy – but that could happen over time (Kurdistan has been independent from the Iraqi central government for a decade already).
Certainly there are many problems with partition, Dave, but eventually, this is likely the only less bad solution available, short of leaving the Iraqis alone to kill each other for another few years.
My point, Andy, is that while there is such a thing as Iraqi nationalism, there’s no such thing as Iraqi Sunni Arab nationalism, Iraqi Shi’ite Arab nationalism, or Iraqi Kurdish nationalism so a division along those lines is only temporary, not an end state. There will continue to be inter- and intra-factional fighting. The only hope of staving that off, tenuous as it is, is a federal Iraq.
The comparison with Yugoslavia is inapt. There was already Croatian nationalism, Serbian nationalism, Bosnian nationalism, Montenegran nationalism. They had been separate countries, after all.
As for Iraqi Kurdistan, I’m concerned that it’s being over-sold. I’ve been trying to come up with solid information about the political situation there but it’s devilish hard to come by. That the leaders of the two main political parties (Talabani and Barzani) there are the traditional tribal leaders of the two most powerful tribes in Iraqi Kurdistan may just be a coincidence or it could just as well be setting the stage for future fraction.
Been gone, so haven’t had a chance to reply. Just wanted to note that the lack of nationalism is hardly unique in the ME. Nationalism, as a concept, is a western import and in the ME the Kamal-style and “Arab” nationalism is quickly becoming a fading fad.
Certainly there are divisions in the three respective communities, but if they are so severe that three separate states are not possible, then how is it more likely those divisions will mend under one state?