A PM conversation with Lizard King had me thinking about this.
I see about three ways Iraq can go:
American-endorsed dictatorship. At this stage of violence, it’s almost certainly going to be a brutal one on a scale similar to what happens after any revolution. It would be the strategically smart thing to do, in order to keep Iraq whole and pacify it, but it’s morally repugnant and politically impossible. Even with a Republican Congress, Bush couldn’t install a new Saddam, never mind the Stalin/Robespierre he’d need. Eventually you might move over to a Tito/Franco-esque benevolent dictatorship, but you’d still pay up front with your soul and that of your nation by condemning the Iraqis to a brutal couple years of initial repression.
Partition. Slow, painful, and a long-term commitment. The smart way to do it is to clearly mark the Kurd/Sunni/Shi’ite borders and deport people who don’t belong to that specific group. It’s harsh, but it’s the reason why Poland is in one piece today and Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia are not. The big problem will be removing Kurds and especially Shi’ites from Baghdad. You might be able to force a resource-sharing agreement, at least for a time, but it will have to be enforced by outside powers. Oh, and peace will be a 60-year troop commitment, and it’s guaranteed that the first five years will be American troops, not UN. Too much heat early on. Then there’s the problem of the Shi’ites essentially being an Iranian proxy state, right next to the very fundamentalist Saudis and the very vulnerable Kurds. The Sunnis are without meaningful resources, and outnumbered. Finally, Turkey will be very pissed off because of the existence of a Kurd state and there may be serious consequences there - a fundamentalist regime taking over, or the removal of American bases from Turkey (a considerable check on Russian expansionism in the area).
The most likely solution and the one that’s going to be the worst is that Americans simply pull out, blame the Iraqis for their “own” problems, and start a major regional conflict. No doubt this will be under the civilized guise of an “agreement”, most likely a symbolic confederation of three states in Iraq, but ultimately it will lead to wars in the region. The Saudis won’t tolerate an unchecked (as opposed to the above) Iranian puppet next to them, and under the guise of helping to protect Sunnis they will interfere with the Shi’ites who will look to Iran who will send support and get the ball rolling. The Kurds and Turks will have their own issues as well, and possibly the Kurds and Iranians over the oil fields near Kirkut, or the Sunnis and Kurds as the Sunnis try to grab some sort of wealth.
I don’t think a self-developed dictatorship will happen due to outside interference. The Saudis and Syrians won’t want Iran ruling over the combined resources of Iraq through the Shi’ite majority there. The Iranians won’t want to be surrounded yet again by Sunni states (Pakistan has a Sunni majority), and there’s always the irresistible temptation of embarrassing America. Finally, the Turks WILL want to install some sort of dictator who will keep the Kurds down. Even if it never reaches open conflict, it will be a proxy war by three groups.
Personally I lean toward partition as the best of bad options. The way I see it, the groups clearly hate each other and have spilled sufficient amounts of blood on both sides that I don’t see any way they can leave peacefully together.
Too put it more graphically, if I knew a group of people had been responsible for blowing up my fiancee with a car bomb or drilling holes in and then killing a family member, there is no way, I could just forgive them and then go back to living with them side by side. Sure you can argue that the vast majority of Sunnis and Shiites have nothing to do with the violence, but I think that would be very hard to accept at a gut emotional level.
I think the only thing that’s going to work is Partition much like Korea. The Iraqi government simply doesn’t have enough control at this point to implement anything constructive. I don’t think pulling straight out is a good idea either. The problem lies within their government and religious views so perhaps a different leader is in order, who knows.
I’m not convinced al-Maliki has all of Iraq’s best interests in mind (as opposed to Shiite interests only). We could end up spending a lot of manpower and money only to discover that we’ve placed a pro-Iranian Shiite government in power. I suppose at this point, there are worse outcomes though.
I think that’s a very accurate overview. What I doubt is that we really have much influence over what’s going to happen at this point. What I’d like to see is a version of the partition plan you describe and do it along the lines of what the ISG recommended.
Here’s the key problem for the U.S. having any coherent policy going forward. Nobody trusts this administration or its motives. That includes the American public, the Congress and the rest of the world including the regional players we need to cobble together into some kind of umbrella around Iraq.
I think the first and most important thing we can do is, somehow, assert accountability onto this administration. Clear the air about just how Iraq happened and get those who caused this problem out of the picture as much as possible. Once you do that you can discuss policy and not be worried about what ulterior motives, like ass-saving or neocon rationalizations for yet more militaristic destabalization in the region, are at play.
This is deadly serious business and we need to have people running things who take each other at face value, who we can take at face value, and who our potential regional partners can take at face value.
Until you have that we’re conducting diplomacy with one hand tied behind our backs and military action is but diplomacy by other means. Maybe we need to bomb the hell out of some Iranian sites? But who’d trust the Bush administration to make that call?
Partition, driven by a collapse of the al-Maliki government. Baghdad becomes a shared capital of Sunni/Shia Iraq if it goes reasonably peacefully, Kurdistan declares independence and becomes a US/Turkish client state.
Short of nuking Mecca and replacing it with the World’s Biggest Hog Farm, it’s hard to imagine anything worse for America’s long-term interests in the Middle East than backing a secular, Shiite dictator in Iraq, especially once he starts murdering all the Sunni clerics.
Partition. Slow, painful, and a long-term commitment.
I was actually in favor of this idea for a while, until an actual Arab peed on my Birthday cake by pointing out that the only reason you can argue Iraq is not literally in a Civil War right now is because the opposing groups aren’t defending territories and the central government hasn’t been overthrown/rendered powerless. Both of which partitioning accomplishes quite nicely.
But if it was foolish to accept the best-case assumptions that led us to invade Iraq, it’s also foolish not to question the worst-case assumptions that undergird arguments for staying. Is it possible that a quick withdrawal of U.S. forces will lead to a dramatic worsening of the situation? Of course it is, just as it’s possible that maintaining or escalating troops there could fuel the unrest. But it’s also worth considering the possibility that the worst may not happen: What if the doomsayers are wrong?
Here’s the only question: what creates, sustains, and drives the Center? Whether patriotism, nationalism, fear of war or instability, despotic greed, bribes from foreign powers, or the threat of annihilation, some ideology has to be compelling enough in the Iraqi people to create and sustain a Center party - and this is whether there is a partition or not.
If the only compelling ideologies in Iraq for the foreseeable future are Islamic extremism and anti-Americanism, Iraq is lost. Take a million refugees and shut the door behind them.