What to Do About Iraq?

The situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate. From the Kurdish newspaper Rudaw:

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Mosul is in the hands of al-Qaeda groups and former members of Saddam Hussein’s defunct ruling party and military, confirmed the spokesman of the Civil Committees that are now in charge of Iraq’s second-largest city.

Ghanim al-Aabed named the head of the new caretaker government in Mosul as Hashem Jamas, a former top general in Saddam’s army.

He added that the aim of the ongoing fighting, as the Sunni insurgents advance toward Baghdad, is to topple Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government.

Aabed refuted wide media reports that al-Qaeda breakaway. the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIL), was behind the swift military advances that began in Mosul and continue toward Baghdad.

He named Ansar al-Sunnah and Ansar al-Islam, both known for ties to al-Qaeda, as two of the jihadi groups involved in the fighting. The unlikely coalition includes fighters of the Sunni Naqshbandi sect, which had many officers in Saddam’s army.

“But not with ISIS,” he added. “The reports in the media about that are not correct.”

Islamists are also in control of other major cities like Tikrit – Saddam’s birthplace — as well as Hawija, Fallujah and Ramadi, plus parts of Diyala province.

On a passing note unless you think it’s merely a coincidence that the heads of Iraqi Kurdistan’s two major political parties are the hereditary leaders of the Iraqi Kurds’ two major tribal factions IMO caution should be exercised in thinking of what’s going on there as democracy. The source for the report above is affiliated with the KDP’s boss and current president of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani. Barzani’s nephew, Nechirvan Barzani, is vice president.

Meanwhile Young Shi’ite Iraqis are turning out to defend against the advance of the ISIS terrorist army:

Hundreds of young Iraqi men gripped by religious and nationalistic fervor streamed into volunteer centers Saturday across Baghdad, answering a call by the country’s top Shiite cleric to join the fight against Sunni militants advancing in the north.

Dozens climbed into the back of army trucks, chanting Shiite slogans and hoisting assault rifles, pledging to battle the Sunni group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has launched a lightning advance across the country.

“By God’s will, we will be victorious.” said one volunteer, Ali Saleh Aziz. “We will not be stopped by the ISIL or any other terrorists.”

The massive response to the call by the Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued via his representative Friday, comes as sectarian tensions are threatening to push the country back toward civil war in the worst crisis since U.S. forces withdrew at the end of 2011.

Could unseasoned untrained volunteers do better against the ISIS advance than the at least notionally trained Iraqi army? Could they do worse?

In Washington, if there may be need to airlift in hand surgeons to repair the repetitive stress injuries cause by marathon finger-pointing, there is equally no lack of prescriptions on how the U. S. should respond. President Obama is determined to keep the American profile low:

WASHINGTON — President Obama vowed again Friday to help Iraq’s government fight insurgents who are closing in on Baghdad, while a senior defense official told USA TODAY that American air power options are currently limited.

“The United States will do our part, but understand that ultimately, it’s up to the Iraqis, as a sovereign nation, to solve their problems,” Obama told reporters at the White House.

Obama also said: “We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq.”

A senior defense official said U.S. air power options in Iraq are limited because the closest aircraft that could wage a bombing campaign against Islamist militants who have captured several of the nation’s largest cities are at least 800 miles away.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post retired Gen. James Dubik recommends sterner measures:

So, what can we do now? Providing Iraq more “military stuff” isn’t a real answer, nor is the reintroduction of large numbers of U.S. or coalition troops. We have no easy options, but to start, the United States and its allies must commit to preventing an ISIS victory and assist the government of Iraq in halting and reversing ISIS’s progress. Although the long-term solutions for Iraqi stability are diplomatic and political, unless the Iraqi government can stop the ISIS offensive, such actions will be moot.

Halting the offensive is Iraq’s nearest-term objective. What is needed is a coordinated air and ground action consisting of both a heavy dose of precisely applied firepower and a sufficiently executed ground defensive. The Iraqis are incapable of such action alone. The firepower will have to be delivered by United States and allied aircraft augmented by Iraqi assets. The Iraqis will also need a small group of advisers to target air support correctly and to help identify or create capable, well-led units that are properly employed and backed by sufficient sustainment capacity. The advisory and support effort must be substantial enough to help the Iraqis conduct an initial defense and then plan and prepare a series of counter-offensive campaigns to regain lost areas. This will be a multi-year effort, but it cannot become a second surge.

carried on in the context of a vigorous diplomatic and political campaign to, in essence, get the Iraqi prime minister to relinquish much of his authority.

Michael Gerson points out the risks of risk aversion:

But risk aversion, it turns out, can multiply complication. Because the United States refused to coordinate an effort to arm the responsible opposition in Syria, there has been no pressure for the regime to engage in serious peace negotiations. Bashar al-Assad has found barrel bombs more effective. In Geneva talks last November, American officials were left with no plan except to (pathetically) hope for Russian and Iranian diplomatic favors, which never came. Countries such as Turkey and the Gulf states, left leaderless in the region, have often funneled support to radicals. The United States has supplied weapons to the Iraqi government to fight militants in western Iraq while (incoherently) refusing to arm people fighting the same enemy 100 miles to the west in Syria. Now a few thousand militants, with roots in the Syrian conflict, threaten to destroy the Iraqi government, along with the remnants of U.S. credibility in the region.

This should be the end of illusions. Sometimes risk aversion can be a very risky option. The mere containment of Syrian chaos would have required a more activist U.S. policy — coordinating Middle Eastern and European powers to create a balance of forces on the ground that might have encouraged a power-sharing agreement among less horrible regime elements and less horrible opposition groups. Some variant is still Syria’s best (but fading) hope.

The editors of the Washington Post are concerned about the position the president is staking out:

The temptation to let Iraq fend for itself is strong and, given the history, understandable. Some may even see a chance for stability in reconfiguring the country along its sectarian Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish lines. But there are no neat dividing lines. A breakup of Iraq is likely to bring endless violence to its people and many others around the world. Not to do everything possible to avert that outcome would be a dereliction, and one that Americans might greatly regret for years to come.

The editors of the Christian Science Monitor urge caution.

Jessica Lewis, who has been studying ISIS and has warned about the likelihood of events not unlike those unfolding in Iraq now urges action much along the lines of that proposed by Gen. Dubik:

There are no political solutions available to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki —ISIS doesn’t engage in peace talks. What is needed is a coherent military strategy to halt the present ISIS offensive, and a concerted effort to rebuild Iraqi security forces so that they are armed and trained well enough to oust ISIS from territory it now controls.

In other words, Iraq needs the United States. U.S. Special Operations forces would provide invaluable early-targeting support to Iraqi army units preparing for battle. Airstrikes on ISIS strongholds between Mosul and Bayji would help Iraqi ground forces maneuvering to retake Mosul and Tikrit. The U.S. Army could also provide logistics and other support to the Iraqi military. The Iraqi forces will require additional training, maintenance assistance and battlefield planning support before launching a full counteroffensive. The U.S. can provide it. Drone strikes and other measures suited for combating a terrorist group won’t suffice against ISIS. This is a terrorist army, bent on having its own country.

I would like to see President Obama make a clear, unambiguous statement of the U. S. interests in the region and in Iraq in particular. I don’t find strategic ambiguity called for in this particular situation. Whatever our position we should “suit the action to the word”, as Shakespeare put it.

59 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw

    Had we kept about 10k troops in Iraq; I don’t think ISIS would have formed in such a provocative fashion, as easy targets for combined air and ground attacks. I don’t know the challenges to reintroducing air power to join with Iraqi ground forces are and how well Iraqi forces would do in such a role, but that seems to be a minimum.

  • Modulo Myself

    Honestly, the US’s best hope is that ISIS ends up in Baghdad, but needs mainstream Sunni help. Then the Baathists, who are not dumb, promptly go about cutting off the heads of ISIS. This is more or less what happened to Al Qaeda in Iraq. ISIS may be a terrorist army of radical fundamentalists, but right now they’re succeeding because they are an army replacing an unpopular and unstable despotic regime. Everything that happens after you are this army is really difficult to pull off.

  • michael reynolds

    We can train and “re-build” Iraqi Army forces but it’s all a waste of time and money if they won’t fight. What’s clear is that Maliki has failed utterly to become a leader. He’s failed even to attempt to reach out to Sunnis. So he can expect zero support from Sunni elements in or out of the army. And the Shiite elements in his army seem to have greater faith in the leadership of their old militia leaders.

    Still, I doubt ISIS can take Baghdad, but they can quite likely take – have in effect taken – the Sunni neighborhoods.

    Yes, partition will be bloody and contentious, but that’s the best play. The Kurds are effectively independent already, now it’s time to admit that Sunni and Shia in Iraq are just not ever going to get along. There’s no good answer, there’s only bad and worse. Partition. I’m not too worried about an ISIS-run state that lives in a fixed location. Not happy about it, but other alternatives look worse.

    This is not our religious war. We cannot take sides between Shia and Sunni.

  • Partition of Iraq has been made enormously more difficult by Saddam’s “Arabization”. Reversing that will require ethnic cleansing that makes anything that happened in the former Yugoslavia pale in comparison.

    Lest we forget, a primary barrier to partition was the Iraqis. They overwhelming supported staying a single country. I wonder how opinion stands on that now.

    The obvious partition will leave the Sunni Arab part much more like Jordan or Syria than it is like Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. If that hadn’t been the case I believe the Iraqi Sunni Arabs would have jumped all over partition a decade ago.

    Also, don’t underestimate the havoc an actual Kurdish state would create in the region. Turkey, Syria, and Jordan (just to name three) all have substantial Kurdish populations and there’s nothing like an actual country for a disenfranchised people to stir up independence and nationalist fervor among their fellow ethnics. That was the effect that the Republic Of Ireland had on Celtic nationalist movements. Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Breton, Galician, etc.

  • steve

    PD- Which Iraqi politician would have let us keep troops there and still been able to get elected? How long would they stay? Is there any reason to believe this happens when we left in the future? (I wouldnt be too keen on attempting CAS w/o good intel/spotters on the ground.)

    Anyway, it sure is interesting the Iraqis fighting with the rebels know how and are willing to fight. Just how much should we sacrifice for people who wont defend themselves? Maybe we would just really be defending Maliki. How much are we willing to spend to keep him in power? Defend our interests.


  • Just how much should we sacrifice for people who wont defend themselves?

    I seem to recall that we sacrificed quite a lot for France during WWII.

    To my mind all of this just highlights the irresponsibility of U. S. military interventions over the last couple of decades. When you take a government down, be prepared to stay forever. Not prepared to stay forever? Don’t take the government down.

  • Andy

    The US press is clueless. There is no Iraq anymore, the great experiment begun by Gertrude Bell is at an end. The idea that the US can do anything is a fantasy.. After 80+ years the attempt to create an “Iraqi” identity could not overcome age-old sectarion and ethnic divisions.

    The Iraqi Army, such as it is, appears to be abandoning Sunni areas to ISIS. I haven’t seen anything to indicate they were defeated in anything more than a skirmish. They will retreat to the Shi’a areas and hold. The Sunni areas will consolidate under ISIS and their allies – they won’t make much progress in the Shia or Kurd areas. A lot of blood will spill in Baghdad and other places as the three factions contest for control.

    There is nothing the US can do about this unless we wish to take sides in an “Iraqi” civil war.


    “Lest we forget, a primary barrier to partition was the Iraqis. They overwhelming supported staying a single country. I wonder how opinion stands on that now.”

    That support came with big caveats, namely either the autonomy or dominance of their particular faction. As should be obvious by current events that the Sunni population was not interested in an Iraq where Shi’a interests were dominant and the Kurds only play the game to keep the Turks from getting nervous.

  • TastyBits

    I am amazed that anybody believes that there are good terrorists, oh wait, “responsible opposition”. These guys were were just your regular Joes. They were no different than the delusional American opinion writers. They were going to the gym one day, but instead, they wound up trying to overthrow a government.

    I wonder how many of these delusional idiots would send their children to spend the summer with these “responsible” folks. I am sure they are buying the plane tickets right now.

    The same people that are pissing and moaning about Benghazi want to arm more rebels. Who the f*ck do you think killed the four Americans? It was not the Libyan girl scouts. How f*cking stupid are these people?

  • PD Shaw

    @steve, al-Maliki agreed to let us keep troops there; it was the U.S. that wanted a parliament vote. The Defense Department and the Administration agreed that maintaining a small force was a good idea, they just argued about the size with themselves and then failed to execute a deal with Iraq. To me the only question about the absence of U.S. troops is whether it was neglect or intent.

  • PD Shaw

    @Andy, as I recall, the British took a poll of Iraqis back in Bell’s day, and other than the Kurds they wanted to be Iraqis.

  • Basically, this all goes back to the British post-WWI. The realities on the ground were

    1. Arabs
    2. Ottoman administrative districts
    3. No Ottoman

    They could have just kept all the old Ottoman administrative districts and called them “countries”. For one reason or another (including claims by various European countries, e.g. France, Italy, wanting to pay off tribal chief who’d helped them, etc.) they didn’t want to do that. They clumped some together, divided others between countries, etc.

    I’ve never really understood why we felt compelled to support the mistakes of the old colonial powers but we’ve been doing it all over the world for the last 60 some-odd years.

  • ....

    Meanwhile Young Shi’ite Iraqis are turning out to defend against the advance of the ISIS terrorist army:

    The pictures I saw the other day showed lots of older Shi’ites joining up. They LOOKED older than me (46) though I’m not sure how much weather and circumstances wear people’s looks out over there.

  • michael reynolds

    I don’t think anyone’s suggesting partition is a good answer.It may just be better than the alternative which seems likely to be all-out civil war – a civil war with very low likelihood of an easy conclusion or reconciliation.

    As for the eternal Turkish Kurds, the Iraqi Kurds have been effectively independent for years and it does not seem to have made trouble for the Turks. A Kurdish state may act as a safety valve, giving restive Turkish and Iranian Kurds somewhere to go.

    Either way, this is not our fight. If we get in to help Maliki – absent some kind of deep changes in the political institutions -we’re siding with Shiites against Sunnis. That puts us on the same side as the Iranians and Assad, in opposition to the Saudis and Qataris (and Pakistanis etc…)

  • They LOOKED older than me (46)

    Believe me. You’re young. 😉

  • ....

    Could they do worse?

    It’s hard to see how, given that the Iraqi Army seems to be getting routed without firing a shot!

    But I need to caution myself with the one axiom I have about life: It can always get worse.

  • steve

    PD- He would not/could not grant us immunity. We should not stay under those conditions. It just means leaving 10,000 hostages. Also, as Col Lang notes, we have lots of troops in Afghanistan. Things arent going well there.

    “I seem to recall that we sacrificed quite a lot for France during WWII.”

    The French got run over by a better war machine. If Germany had attacked them with 500 troops and guys on bicycles and they had run away, I would have voted to let France go to hell also.

    Andy- Baghdad is essentially already divided, but I expect a lot of vengeance fighting. I think the X factor is Iran. I expect them to send troops to defend their shrines. I doubt that they try to take the country back for Maliki, just try to fortify Shia areas.


  • ....

    Believe me. You’re young.

    You might feel differently if you saw my x-rays. I’ll skip the TMI stuff.

  • michael reynolds


    That parliamentary support for a SOFA is not a minor point.

    Parliament includes Sunni, Kurd, Christian elements. Maliki is all Shia. Taking a SOFA based solely on the word of Nuri Al Maliki would have been absolutely irresponsible. Maliki didn’t want to take it Parliament because then it would have had the force of law. Ask yourself why he wouldn’t want that.

  • ....

    Still reading through the blog post, but I have to say that the more I’ve read about ISIS and the rest of it, the more inclined I am to say, “Let them fight!” in my best Ken Watanabe impersonation.

    I think we’ve conclusively proven that neither party, nor the rather singular foreign policy establishment we have, knows jack shit about the region.

    And I strongly suspect that supporting the Iraqi government would me allying ourselves against our putative enemies, and setting ourselves against our putative friends in the region.

  • michael reynolds

    I’m not sure we sacrificed “for” France. France was in the way between the UK and Germany. Even if we hadn’t liked the French we’d have had to go through France.

  • Andy

    PD Shaw,

    And yet here they are killing each other after spending much of the last decade killing each other. You poll Syrians, Afghans, Yugoslavs (20+ years ago) and you’ll get the same thing. What people say they want and what they’re willing to spill blood on are two different things.


    Yes, Baghdad is divided, which is why there will be fighting. Same with Mosul and other areas. Places like Basrah and Tikrit, not so much.

  • ....

    Now a few thousand militants, with roots in the Syrian conflict, threaten to destroy the Iraqi government, along with the remnants of U.S. credibility in the region.

    If a few thousand fighters from the hinterlands can overthrow the government of a nation of tens of millions, this tells me the government DESERVES to fall. This doesn’t mean that we should want ISIS to rule Iraq, but it does indicate that saving the current Iraqi regime is hopeless.

    THe more I read, the more I think we need to stay the fuck out. The new Iraq conflict is another proxy war between the Gulf states and Iran, with a new player in the form of the (possibly mythical) al Baghdadi thrown into the mix, with his own dreams of Caliphate.

    The reasonable options appear to be either de facto colonialism, and we haven’t the patience or money for that, containment, or ignoring the problem. Containment can mean many things, but any option that gets us out of there is probably worthwhile.

    The fun major geo-political aspect of this is that it means Putin is going to make more money in the near future than he would have otherwise.

  • Andy


    ISIS and their allies won’t overthrow the government, but the government is likely to collapse anyway.

    Also, Paul Pillar speaks some sense:


    Theoretically, a political compromise could be reached, but without any real institutions to bind the country together it comes down to leadership. Personally (not being an expert on Iraq), I don’t see leaders with the determination and credibility to bridge the divides, get the Sunni’s to reject ISIS and bring them back into the fold.

  • Andy

    Also, Pat Lang:


    Leaving aside is near-obsession with the neocons and hyperbole, I he’s largely correct.

  • michael reynolds


    The Paul Pillar piece is especially good. It has the ring of truth.

  • Andy
  • michael reynolds

    Optimistic and somewhat contradictory. You can’t say this isn’t about Shia/Sunni hatred then go on to detail the ways the Shia have excluded Sunnis from any power and blame the war on that exclusion.

  • Andy


    That is my criticism too. I think she’s making an academic distinction that’s probably valid in an academic sense. She may be pointing out that fighting over a political question (ie. power sharing) is different from fighting because the other group is takfir.

  • ...

    Partition is only likely to change the nature of the conflict. We would be more likely to see direct intervention of other nations (I.e., sending in their military units in force) than a lessening of the civil war. And as has been mentioned, someone would lose out in the game for oil and other resources. In a land dominated by concerns of scarcity, that matters.

    If you want peace, someone is going to have to march in and enforce it. There don’t seem to be any obvious candidates for the job.subs we could talk the Chinese into it? They’ve never really done the colonialism thing, so let th try it. They’ve got the manpower, the need for resources, and the desire for national greatness.

  • Note that I conclude my post with a suggestion that a statement of interests is in order. IMO we’ve lurched into a discussion of tactics without identifying the objectives.

    If we have no interests whatever in the region, how can we justify the billions we’re spending building, refurbishing, maintaining, and supplying bases? How do we quantify our interests? What tactics are most likely to further our objectives?

    I think we’ve lined up on opposite sides, assumed some largely unstated objectives, and are throwing out some half-baked ideas about achieving the unstated.

    But I also think the president would be serving the country better by persuading the people to accept his assessment of our objectives rather than just acting on them in the assumption they’ll fall in line.

  • Andy

    Well, for what it’s worth I was primarily discussing the situation as it stands, some of what is likely to happen in the near future as well as some of the limits to US influence. As for what we should do either tactically or strategically, I don’t know at this point.

  • michael reynolds

    I think our interests are 1) Oil, 2) Avoiding new terrorist threats, 3) Stabilizing the regimes most friendly to us, ie: SA, Jordan, the Emirates, Turkey and 4) Limiting Iran’s expansion and nuclearization.

    Good luck turning that into an action (or inaction) plan.

    The large picture solution would be redrawing lines – or the political compromise equivalent – in such a way as to minimize future likelihood of conflict between Iran and the Sunni powers. Stability is our friend.

    I’m not convinced that a Sunni state located in Syria and Iraq, with Iran buttressing Shia Iraq and the Kurds off on their own is the worst thing. In the end, if we want long-term stability, don’t we need basically to undo Sykes-Picot? How many more wars are going to be fought to shoehorn tribal peoples into nation-states?

    ISIS is only part of the Sunni rebellion under way. Let them have their space and the Baathists and tribes will sort out who runs this new “caliphate.” I think if we’re drawing hard and fast barriers to their ambitions it should be about protecting Jordan and Lebanon. The caliphate would be landlocked and survivable only so long as they pumped oil, so sooner or later they’d find a way to pump oil.

    An Alawite/Christian rump Syria, an independent Lebanon and Jordan, a Baathist/tribal Sunni state, a diminished Shiite Iraq. And international oversight (with the Russians onboard) to manage the inevitable displacements of people from their homes. Peace in our time!

  • ...

    Our interests? Keep the oil flowing, and minimize the loss of American lives in America. That’s reverse order of importance, but the order that is most easily done. (And I’m sure the people running the country don’t give a damn about the second part at all.) The second bit would be easier to achieve if we could stop various nations in that part of the world from getting nukes, but good luck with that.

    Beyond that I don’t care.

  • ...

    When I say, “Beyond that I don’t care” I mean that I don’t give a damn about the Shia, the Sunni, the Kurds, the Iranians, the House of Saud, the Jordanians Egyptians Lebanese or Israelis, or any of the rest of them. I suppose our alliance with the Turks is of long enough standing that we should care about them, though I’d just as soon ignore them. Let the Germans and French figure out what to do with them.

  • Recall that as a matter of general principle I oppose intervention, full stop. That having been said, I think y’all are trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube. Our interests in the Near East go tremendously farther than you’re thinking. I’m not prepared to quantify it but think hundreds of billions or trillions.

    Don’t just think one step ahead. Think two or three steps ahead. What’s going to happen when ISIS takes charge of the Sunni regions and starts advancing south into the majority Shi’a areas? Think all of those people are going to sit still wondering how this could have happened to them?

    How many new refugees will there be? Millions? Tens of millions? Where will they go? What will they do? It isn’t just Turkey and Jordan that are it risk. It’s Saudi and Egypt, too. It’s Bulgaria, Greece, maybe even Italy. There’s already a refugee crisis in Bulgaria.

    It might be that we still don’t care. Better start thinking about barricading the door.

  • michael reynolds

    I don’t think ISIS will advance beyond the Sunni strongholds in Baghdad. They aren’t ten feet tall, they’ve just gone up against an army that doesn’t care to die to keep Sunni areas inside a country to which they owe only a secondary loyalty. Fighting your way through Shiite urban centers is very hard work, especially if the Iranians throw some Quds forces in there. Militias, Quds and whatever is left of the Iraqi army should have no trouble keeping ISIS on their side of the river.

    I think I am looking ahead in suggesting partition makes a lot of sense. Best obviously if it can be done in a rational, negotiated way. But Iraq wants to come apart, and I think we should probably let it. It’s Yugoslavia.

    The fact that a terrorist force is attempting to take and hold territory might be a good thing. We have lots of bombs and lots of missiles and we can stand off in the Med and carry out massive retaliation in the event they make trouble beyond their borders. I prefer my terrorists to have home addresses and financial interests.

    If the Iraqi government suddenly sprouts a brain and makes a serious effort to reach out to the Sunnis that might help, but I doubt the Baathists or ISIS will be willing to remain in a country ruled by their religious foes, no matter how accommodating.

    I sure can’t see spending US lives or even very much money to stop this cobbled-together country from splitting. I’d rather facilitate the split and try to minimize the human cost.

  • Baghdad is a city of some 7 million people which even now doesn’t have sharp lines of demarcation for Sunni areas and Shi’a areas. Before our invasion Sunnis and Shi’as lived next door to each other there and for all I know there are some neighborhoods where they still do. Speaking of “Sunni strongholds” is blithe but it doesn’t really describe the situation there.

    If just 15% of Baghdadis flee, that’s a million people.

    I think the alternatives are pretty binary. Either ISIS is going to try to take Baghdad or they aren’t. If they do, there will be massive carnage and dislocation there.

  • steve

    Dave- You are making the case for why we intervened in Libya. Then, we were worried about refugees flooding Egypt, Tunisia and fleeing north to Italy and France. Anyway, we didnt have that many refugees during the Iraq War. Not sure why there would be that many now.

    I think it more likely that the Shia will actually fight, maybe with Iranian aid, and you see a stalemate.


  • ...

    We’ve got our own refugee crisis going.

    And Italy, Greece and so on can easily prevent a refugee crisis if they so desire. Turkey is another matter, but I don’t see where there’s anything we can do about.

    Right now order is breaking down all over the middle east. The last time it looked this bad was when? Late 60s or so, with various wars with Israel, Baathists seizing power, Qaddafi seizing power and so on. This looks nastier to me, but I’ll defer to those that know the history.

    Honestly, I just don’t see what we can do. Lybia melted down with a big assist from us. Egypt is holding it together, but for how long? Syria is a disaster that we didn’t start but have resolved to keep a disaster. Iraq is our mess. Iran has it’s problems but for the moment is holding together. Afghanistan is the same clusterfuck it has been since around the time I was born.

    And behind all of this we have the twin disasters of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, either of which could come apart at any minute.

    I think we’ve proven over the last 13 years, at a minimum, that our leaders lack the subtlety to play it smart in that region, and they also lack the viciousness.

    So, what are we supposed to do? Other than learn to stay out of it, I don’t see a way forward for us.

  • ....

    How many new refugees will there be? Millions? Tens of millions? Where will they go? What will they do? It isn’t just Turkey and Jordan that are it risk. It’s Saudi and Egypt, too. It’s Bulgaria, Greece, maybe even Italy. There’s already a refugee crisis in Bulgaria.

    So are the Saudis and Egyptians acting like there is a crisis? Or are they, especially the Saudis, funding groups that are raising Hell in Syria and Iraq?

    Are the Italians and Greeks acting as though they’re facing a refugee crisis? Is the EU acting in that manner? Or did various group contribute to the instability by wanting to off Qaddafi and create a giant failed state where a stable(ish) dictatorship used to exist?

    I’m kind of where you are on climate change alarmists: I’ll start worrying about the crisis when the people telling me there’s a crisis start acting like it.

    As for knock on effects, consider this: The Saudis are funding a lot of this crap. If this crap stops, what happens to all that energy currently going into Syria et al? Does all that anger and violence stay home in SA? Is that a better or worse outcome? And how the Hell can we tell?

  • ....

    Besides, more large-scale foreign adventurism is the one thing the American people won’t tolerate at the moment. They’re fine accepting the death of the American Dream and the end of the middle class, and they’re fine letting the Administrations turn America into a giant police state while inviting everyone from the Third World to send their kids here for free meals and an education. But another war in a shitty Muslim country is just a bit too much to ask after all the other indignities of the last 15 years.

  • PD Shaw

    @steve, “He would not/could not grant us immunity”

    “In a June 2 videoconference with Mr. Maliki, the president emphasized that any agreement would need to be ratified by the Iraqi Parliament. But not everybody in the American camp agreed with this stipulation.

    “Brett H. McGurk, a former Bush administration aide whom the Obama administration had asked to return to Baghdad to help with the talks, thought that a bruising parliamentary battle could be avoided by working out an understanding under an existing umbrella agreement on economic and security cooperation — an approach Mr. Maliki himself suggested several times. ”

    NY Times

    The Obama Administration put conditions on an agreement with Maliki was willing to make either to sink the deal or in a stupid display of Carteresque idealism.

    @michael, to respond to your comment in the previous thread on this point. Status Force Agreements are not contracts, they are political understandings. And Iraq has a parliamentary system; the Parliament does not serve as a check and balance on the executive. We deal with Maliki and if his support in the Parliament falters, Parliament won’t help us either.

  • ...

    We’re sending the carrier group for the George H. W. Bush to the Persian Gulf. How much, if any, symbolism will be read into using that particular carrier group?

  • ...

    Incidentally, CNN is giving a lot of prominence to a story about Kato Kaelin. Pretty much the entire world is going to Hell via express elevator, and that’s what they’re featuring. Ted Turner must get sick to his stomach if he turns the CNN family of networks on these days.

    I’m not sure why I even skim that site anymore.

  • PD Shaw

    @andy, I think “proper borders” in the Middle East, which is what I interpret your complaint about Bell is a red herring. There are few perfect borders in the world. After WWI, there were just as many people arguing for carving out larger countries, as smaller ones.

    I think the Middle East has a cultural issue that transcends proper borders and proper government debates. My own hope is that 100 yrs ago, Mesopotamia had about a 75% rural population with strong tribal fealty, and now its about 75% urban. Tribes have moved into the large cities and retain their identities, but for how long?

  • Then, we were worried about refugees flooding Egypt, Tunisia and fleeing north to Italy and France.

    The difference is that ISIS is destabilizing by its very nature. Opposing Qaddafi was anti-stability.

    Anyway, we didnt have that many refugees during the Iraq War.

    You’re kidding, right? There were millions of them, largely absorbed by Jordan and Syria. See here.

    Remember, I’m opposed to intervention. I just don’t want to hear any bellyaching about what we could have done, the plight of the refugees and receiving countries, the economic losses of the destabilized region, etc.

  • ...

    And before anyone says it, yes, CNN covered the OJ chase and trial. It was over the top, but (a) it was news of a sort (especially the chase), (b) it didn’t suck being an American then (our biggest foreign policy crises were what, Haiti and Yugoslavia? hardly the disasters we’ve seen in the NE and Central Asia in the last 13 years; the economy was pretty good, etc), and (c) the network didn’t entirely suck back then.

    The equivalent in 1994 would have roughly been giving significant air-time to someone that went to prom with Patty Hearst.

  • ...

    Somehow a quote from Animal House seems appropriate:

    “You fucked up. You trusted us!”

  • yes, CNN covered the OJ chase and trial.

    Amusing story about that. My wife and I were visiting London when the chase took place. We had just checked into our hotel in Kensington and called some friends in Bristol. They said “Do you know an American footballer named OJ something? The telly is full of him!” We turned on the television in our room and, sure enough, they were playing the “low speed chase” of the white Bronco.

    our biggest foreign policy crises were what, Haiti and Yugoslavia?

    They were our biggest recent FP crises. We haven’t been at a loss for foreign policy screw-ups over the period of the last 60 years. American foreign policy, generally, reminds me of Churchill’s wisecrack about John Foster Dulles: he was like a bull who travelled with his own china shop.

  • Ben Wolf

    ISIL will not move against the capital unless they do so very quickly. I can’t believe they aren’t aware of what U.S. air power can do against an organized force which dares to show itself, so they have to go before any American assets can be brought to bear.

    Personally (were I leading ISIL) I would infiltrate Baghdad with irregulars and wait for the government to fall, then sieze key points within the city once chaos takes hold.

  • steve

    “You’re kidding, right? There were millions of them,”

    Yes. Was responding to the tens of millions part. They are already segregated. That makes it less likely we see refugees on the same scale and certainly not larger.

    PD- So an American soldier steals something. A member of the Iraqi PArliament from the opposition decides to grandstand. (Assume they have their own minority party issues). He orders the police from his district to arrest our soldier since there is no agreement agreed to by Parliament. What then? The Bush official you cited may want to gamble since he wants to preserve his legacy. I dont think it is worth the risk. You are welcome to disagree on how much risk we should take, but I think it is hard to deny the risk. Just the fact that no one thought this could get through Parliament should give you pause. If most of Iraq did not want us there, we were sitting on a powder keg.


  • PD Shaw

    @steve, there is no requirement that a Status of Forces Agreement by ratified by a popularly elected body. The Bush Administration did not require one in 2008, Maliki sent it to the Parliament anyway. Congress generally does not ratify SOFAs. Obama is the sole source of this expectation, and he didn’t give enough time when he unveiled it.

    In your hypothetical there is no difference btw/ what happens if the SOFA was approved by the Iraqi Parliament or not. If a U.S. soldier is held in violation of the SOFA it is a violation of a treaty, which the U.S. enforces by declaring war on Iraq. There is no law here.

  • CStanley

    I don’t understand the calls for partition. It’s logical, of course to say that the solution to sectarian tensions is to give territory to each of the groups, but it quickly becomes obvious that someone has to draw the lines and the affected people have to all agree to those borders.

    Add to this the complicating factors of specific resources that exist in some parts of the territory, which all groups will want to claim, and it is obvious that this is just another recipe for war. Sure, partition might be the outcome of that war, and might be the best course for a longer stability…but it’s not as though a partition plan can preempt war.

    It seems like such an oversimplification, as though we are talking about kids sharing a bedroom, drawing lines and agreeing to inhabit their own half or quadrant. And if memory serves from my childhood, even that never worked very well.

  • Andy


    To me it’s not a red herring. Border disputes and conglomerations of different peoples inside borders that someone else made are very real sources of conflict.

    Whether or not Iraq is partitioned is not up to us. A real partition would be very difficult – it’s much more likely there will be a lot of regional autonomy…once the people in Iraq have had enough bloodshed of course.

  • Guarneri


    We have a variant of it here. CA and NY don’t really think like AL or TX. Hell, western MI might as well be Mars from eastern MI.

    I realize its more complicated than that, but given the viciousness and length of strife between at least three main sects I’m not sure its outlandish. Someone mentioned oil as a binding factor. Well, NYC doesn’t harvest corn or soybeans, nor drill for oil. They trade. Are we declaring the potential for Sunni / Shia / and Kurdish trade a dead stick, in an environment now with lesser majority/minority hegemony (both ways) ? If we are, then they are just damned crazy and hellbent on mutual destruction.

    Just a question.

  • steve

    PD- You sound like a US lawyer. You expect the rule of law to be followed. I am not especially worried about approval on our side. I am very worried about approval by the country we occupy. If that approval had come from Maliki alone, it is a pretty tenuous agreement. From a dictator? Maybe, but from a PM? A PM with shaky support? Suppose you were an officer responsible for the lives of your soldiers. You know that they are still going to face intermittent attacks and bombings. On top of that, you now know the people really dont want you there. And, your troops may or may not really have immunity if there is a question about their activities. It would all hinge upon the word of one Iraqi politician. If he has to choose between his political career and the welfare of your soldiers, you think he might conveniently neglect to enforce that agreement?


  • CStanley

    Well there’s always the Mom’s trick. Let’s have Maliki draw borders for a partition, with the knowledge that a Sunni leader and a Kurd leader will then get dibs on which region they choose to occupy.

  • PD Shaw

    @steve, “Which Iraqi politician would have let us keep troops there and still been able to get elected?”

    I named him, and now your just being silly about me being a lawyer. I was just being polite.

  • PD Shaw

    Real lawyers would refer to something called “last clear chance.”

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