February 28, 2006

Spinning the Prospective Blood Bath

fox_news_1.jpg

Well, someone had to put this into pretty, dressed-up words:

We owe it to the Iraqi people to do everything we can to help avert a civil war and give their fledgling democracy a chance. Saving them from themselves, however, is both beyond our power and responsibility. If they decide civil war is the only way to settle their longstanding disputes, we must stand aside and let them fight it and then try to salvage a relationship with the eventual victors. While that would be a bitter pill, indeed, after coming so close to achieving the incredibly ambitious vision of the neo-cons, it would nonetheless be preferable to the other alternatives.

--from a piece entitled, rather incredibly, "Give Civil War a Chance"

Another one for the time capsule, one increasingly rich in abdications of responsibility and expositions of ignorance.

For more on the stakes, go here:

But a violent crackup could not easily be kept stable.

It might well incite sectarian conflicts in neighboring countries and, even worse, draw these countries into taking sides in Iraq itself. Iran would side with the Shiites. It is already allied with the biggest Shiite militias, some of whose members seemed to be involved in the retaliatory attacks on Sunnis after the Shiite shrine bombing last week.

And Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait would feel a need to defend Sunnis or perhaps to create buffer states for themselves along Iraq's borders. Turkey might also feel compelled to move in, to protect Iraq's Turkoman minority against a Kurdish state in the north.

If Iraq were to sink deeper into that kind of conflict, Baghdad and other cities could become caldrons of ethnic cleansing, bringing revenge violence from one region to another. Shiite populations in Lebanon, Kuwait and especially Saudi Arabia, where Shiites happen to live in the oil-rich eastern sector, could easily revolt. Such a regional conflict could take years to exhaust itself, and could force the redrawing of boundaries that themselves are less than 100 years old.

"A civil war in Iraq would be a kind of earthquake affecting the whole Middle East," said Terje Roed-Larsen, the special United Nations envoy for Lebanon and previously for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "It would deepen existing cleavages and create new cleavages in a part of the world that is already extremely fragile and extremely dangerous. I'm not predicting this will happen, but it is a plausible worst-case scenario..."

...The pivot of what could become a regional conflict is almost certainly Iran. Shiite leaders close to Iran won the Iraqi election in December, and although American and many Iraqi leaders defend their Iraqi nationalist bona fides, a civil war would almost certainly drive them to seek help from Iran. That stirs Sunni Arab fears of Iranian dominance in the region.

"What you have in Iraq is not just a society coming apart like Yugoslavia or Congo," said Vali R. Nasr, a professor of national affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. "What is at stake is not just Iraq's stability but the balance of power in the region."

Historians looking at such a prospect would see a replay of the Shiite-Sunni divide that has effectively racked the Middle East since the eighth century and extended through the rival Safavid and Ottoman Empires in modern Mesopotamia and finally into the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980's. This time, however, Iran's suspected nuclear ambitions could accelerate a nuclear arms race, with Saudi Arabia likely to lead the way among Sunni nations.

A full blown civil war in Iraq would be a grevious blow to the region, to the U.S. national interest, to America's prestige on the global stage. I find it just incredible that people are beginning to say it ain't all that. Remember: you break it, you own it. Are we supposed to sit back and take in the killing fields because, alas, we didn't quite achieve (so close!) the "incredibly ambitious vision of the neo-cons". Yes, it's a regretful business, to be sure, but we tried! What claptrap. I'm sure James Joyner is a nice guy, and his piece is nuanced in parts and stresses that civil war would be a tragedy--but still, how can one seriously in good faith write a piece entitled "Give Civil War a Chance"? But perhaps I'm just a naif....

Posted by Gregory at February 28, 2006 06:31 AM | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Greg already knows what I think about this -- namely that civil war in Iraq can only be avoided if Iraqis take responsibility for avoiding it. They will not do so if they don't see it as a possibility, which I am guessing -- it is only a guess -- is what Amb. Khalilzad had in mind with his talk of going up to the brink yesterday.

Democracies have very rarely established themselves because people "loved freedom." They have more usually begun because the alternative was catastrophe. That alternative could have taken the form of tyranny by a foreign-influenced king, disunion and subjugation by Hessian mercenaries, or the Red Army standing just beyond the Iron Curtain. In Iraq the alternative is civil war.

Now, civil war in Iraq can be avoided. It can be fought and won by one side (or by different sides in different areas of the country). It can be fought and drag on indefinitely. These are the choices for Iraqis. There are no others.

Obviously an Iraqi civil war could have repercussions beyond that country's borders, but for Iraqis its consequences are defined by the choices listed above. There are Iraqis who either think their side can win a civil war or who find the prospect attactive for religious reasons; earnestly as Greg may believe it is America's responsibility to restrain such people into the indefinite future, the truth is that just finding them is something we can do only some of the time. Iraqis, though, know who they are. It must be their responsibility to dissuade these people, and to eliminate those who cannot be dissuaded. This includes principally members of the Sunni Arab insurgency, but it also includes many Shiite militia leaders. And it includes Moqtada Sadr.

Now if the Iraqis who wish to avoid a civil war cannot be persuaded to do the things necessary to that end, the war will come. It will be fully as unpleasant as the foretaste of it we saw last week, and on a much larger scale. It is neither realistic nor responsible to suggest that America's role is to spend its lives and resources to put off the day of reckoning for who knows how long. It is not realistic, because the American public will not accept the cost of a commitment for that purpose; it is not responsible, because it continues the error made originally by the Bush administration of grossly exaggerating the importance to the United States of this one country. We always knew, or ought to have known, that success in Iraq could only be achieved by Iraqis. We, or rather they, are at the point where the choice between success or failure needs to be made.

Posted by: Zathras at February 28, 2006 05:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg already knows what I think about this -- namely that civil war in Iraq can only be avoided if Iraqis take responsibility for avoiding it. They will not do so if they don't see it as a possibility, which I am guessing -- it is only a guess -- is what Amb. Khalilzad had in mind with his talk of going up to the brink yesterday.

Democracies have very rarely established themselves because people "loved freedom." They have more usually begun because the alternative was catastrophe. That alternative could have taken the form of tyranny by a foreign-influenced king, disunion and subjugation by Hessian mercenaries, or the Red Army standing just beyond the Iron Curtain. In Iraq the alternative is civil war.

Now, civil war in Iraq can be avoided. It can be fought and won by one side (or by different sides in different areas of the country). It can be fought and drag on indefinitely. These are the choices for Iraqis. There are no others.

Obviously an Iraqi civil war could have repercussions beyond that country's borders, but for Iraqis its consequences are defined by the choices listed above. There are Iraqis who either think their side can win a civil war or who find the prospect attactive for religious reasons; earnestly as Greg may believe it is America's responsibility to restrain such people into the indefinite future, the truth is that just finding them is something we can do only some of the time. Iraqis, though, know who they are. It must be their responsibility to dissuade these people, and to eliminate those who cannot be dissuaded. This includes principally members of the Sunni Arab insurgency, but it also includes many Shiite militia leaders. And it includes Moqtada Sadr.

Now if the Iraqis who wish to avoid a civil war cannot be persuaded to do the things necessary to that end, the war will come. It will be fully as unpleasant as the foretaste of it we saw last week, and on a much larger scale. It is neither realistic nor responsible to suggest that America's role is to spend its lives and resources to put off the day of reckoning for who knows how long. It is not realistic, because the American public will not accept the cost of a commitment for that purpose; it is not responsible, because it continues the error made originally by the Bush administration of grossly exaggerating the importance to the United States of this one country. We always knew, or ought to have known, that success in Iraq could only be achieved by Iraqis. We, or rather they, are at the point where the choice between success or failure needs to be made.

Posted by: Zathras at February 28, 2006 05:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

My apologies for the duplicate post.

Posted by: Zathras at February 28, 2006 05:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree strongly with Zathras. We may be able to have diplomatic influence, and our military may be able to extinguish some small fires before they become conflagrations. We would be absolutely foolish to attempt to step in militarily to stop a full blown civil war and would likely be unsuccessful in any event. Further, the American people would never support such an action.

I also agree that Moqtoda Sadr is as much a problem as the insurgency and the AQ elements.

All of that having been said, it may well turn out that the destruction of the golden dome shrine will become the tipping event that wakes up the more reasonable elements to the fact that unless they redouble their efforts to achieve a pluralistic nation, the alternative of civil war will be a disaster for all concerned and possibly for the region. I say that without having an apocalyptic view of the region collapsing into chaos. While there are many possible such scenarios, I am not ready to assume the worst.

There will continue to be killings and car bombs, etc. until such time as all concerned discern their best interests to be a more peaceful environment. The golden dome event seems to have brought focus on this latter possibility and just may be what it takes to wake up these folks to the possibility that there is a better life without strife.

Michael

Posted by: Michael Pecherer at February 28, 2006 06:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm reasonably sure that when the data is in, the fighting will turn out to mostly not be fighting between armed factions on opposing sides.

It will mostly be killings and kidnappings of unprotected civilians on both sides, people who are "detained" and maybe tortured and then killed.

Neither side can protect random civilians from the killers.

The message is, "Go elsewhere. Out of the country, or among your own kind -- if you want to live."

Random civilians don't get to make a choice between peace and civil war. They only get to choose whether to keep living at home and hope something changes before it's their turn, or go. It's the faceless killers who get to choose, and they've made their decision. And could one faction of them stop, when the others haven't? This is a choice that's very hard to unmake.

Back when we first got Negroponte for ambassador to iraq, and people were saying "Now we'll take the gloves off" and "iraqis will provide their own security" this is what they were talking about. This is the "Salvador Option" in action.

Why do so many people act surprised? They didn't spell out the details at the time, but anybody could google "Salvador Option" and get those details.


"The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists. From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation." Short attention span? Just didn't want to believe it?

Want to listen to the guys who're saying they can put this genie back in the bottle? The same ones that were publicly admitting they were letting him out. Negroponte only left iraq last April.

And yet people keep treating this like something the iraqis just somehow decided to do, that they can decide to undo. Bloggers generally are acting like they're completely clueless.

Why am I not surprised?

Posted by: J Thomas at February 28, 2006 09:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I feel sad. The people saying that civil war may not be so bad seem to be coming from the same camp that promsed it couldn't happen.

I don't know what to do, nobody really knows what to do.

Posted by: jane doe at February 28, 2006 10:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ultimately it DOES matter very much what choices ordinary civilians make. The killers swim in a sea of civilians, and without some civilian support, they wont last.

But its not MAINLY up to civilians now to stop them. Its up to
1. US forces 2. The Iraqi army 3. The other Iraqi security forces

We want to reduce the reliance on 1, but as Greg points out, we cant reduce it that fast now. 2. The Iraqi army seems capable of playing a role. 3, The Iraqi police and interior ministry forces are not ready yet, and need cleansing of militia elements. Thats why the parliamentary maneuvering is so important, since it will determine the next Interior Minister.

Posted by: liberalhawk at February 28, 2006 10:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ultimately it DOES matter very much what choices ordinary civilians make. The killers swim in a sea of civilians, and without some civilian support, they wont last.

But its not MAINLY up to civilians now to stop them. Its up to
1. US forces 2. The Iraqi army 3. The other Iraqi security forces

We want to reduce the reliance on 1, but as Greg points out, we cant reduce it that fast now. 2. The Iraqi army seems capable of playing a role. 3, The Iraqi police and interior ministry forces are not ready yet, and need cleansing of militia elements. Thats why the parliamentary maneuvering is so important, since it will determine the next Interior Minister.

Posted by: liberalhawk at February 28, 2006 10:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

by the way greg, i think you need to reread the linked article. The author is not saying that civil war is good, or that we shouldnt do all we can to avert it. Hes NOT arguiong for a reduction in US troops, etc. He IS arguing against US troops taking sides in a civil war. And thats a reasonable question to ask - if a civil war breaks out, what should US troops do?

Posted by: liberalhawk at February 28, 2006 11:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ultimately it DOES matter very much what choices ordinary civilians make. The killers swim in a sea of civilians, and without some civilian support, they wont last.

Liberalhawk, maybe in principle you're right. But in practice -- well, think it out.

Imagine you're home from work and a column of white SUVs goes down the street. You can see some guys in them who aren't wearing uniforms. You can figure they're after somebody, but who? You can make a phone call to the police or the army, and nothing will happen. If you do nothing, they probably aren't after you. They might be on your side and just passing through your area on the way to somewhere else.

The effective action you can take is to have a neighborhood watch, and ambush them. Ambush any such group that comes into your neighborhood if you don't know who they are. No survivors. That takes a lot of organisation.

Now, how about if the vehicles look like official government vehicles, and the men are in uniform? You don't know any more than you did before. They might be after you but they probably aren't. They might be after your enemies. They might be government guys either on duty or off duty doing their own thing, or they might be imposters. The government might come after you if they get ambushed in your neighborhood, but that might happen if it's unmarked vehicles too.

Now, if some sort of death squad winds up getting based in your neighborhood, are you going to turn them in? If they're based here, they're on your side. They might provide some minimal protection. Turn them in and they won't be any use to you at all, and likely as not the word will get out who burned them.

But its not MAINLY up to civilians now to stop them. Its up to
1. US forces 2. The Iraqi army 3. The other Iraqi security forces

US forces are utterly worthless for that. The iraqi army is mostly useless. The other iraqi security forces are half the problem, they're half the death squads. Only they spend a lot more of their time doing the safe thing -- kidnapping and killing unarmed civilians who live in the wrong neighborhoods -- than they do hunting down enemy deathsquads and having firefights with them.

It might not follow the same pattern it did in el salvador, but isn't that the way to bet until you notice specifics that would tend to make it different?

Posted by: J Thomas at March 1, 2006 12:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

if a civil war breaks out, what should US troops do?

If they're strong enough, they should restore order. Patrol everywhere, stop the violence.

I think this is the sort of thing they were saying we'd need 500,000 troops for. We aren't that strong.

Failing that, they could make quick-reaction teams. Ready to pop down in helicopters into urban areas. Somebody calls in a report about a possible death squad. We use the spy satellites and see what we can, we move in, tag to roofs of the vehicles with paint and detain them. If they fight, kill them. If we can get the death squads to travel in small enough convoys that the locals can handle them, that's close to half the battle.

In practice this would mean taking sides, we'd let the official government death squads through and stop everybody else. That isn't ideal but it's better than some other results.

Either of these will involve taking significant casualties in a congressional election year. So I expect instead the orders will be to do nothing effective.

Posted by: J Thomas at March 1, 2006 02:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J Thomas, you absolutely nail the reality of what is happening and is going to happen in Iraq. It's horrific, and it's disgusting. No one bothers to have a full scale civil war when every can be fat and happy murdering the other guy's helpless peons. In fact, every makes money for everyone, and everyone's really in it together. A good example is Chechnya.

Greg, your outrage is right. 'A civil war ain't so bad' is a sick joke. The problem is that all the choices are so miserable at this point. A civil war is horrific, but if US troops are enabling a prolonged, never-resolvable parasitic gangfight, and their withdrawal would lead to a regionally-imposed end to that civil war, then the answer is not neccesarily our continued occupation.
The relevant question to answer is: why do we think withdrawing US soldiers will make a civil war worse? The civil war of South Vietnam went on until we left. The Lebanese civil war went on until Israel left. Occupying powers are the cause of, not the solution to, civil wars. One can argue.

The evidence is even more overwhelming when opposed power blocs fight each other through Iraqi proxies. The only reason that pattern isn't clearer here is that with Syria for the Sunnis and Iraq for the Shiites, we have hostile powers supporting both sides.

"A Civil War Ain't so Bad" is just a conservative putting his dutiful happy face on "A Civil War is inevitable."

Posted by: glasnost at March 1, 2006 02:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J Thomas, you absolutely nail the reality of what is happening and is going to happen in Iraq. It's horrific, and it's disgusting. No one bothers to have a full scale civil war when every can be fat and happy murdering the other guy's helpless peons. In fact, every makes money for everyone, and everyone's really in it together. A good example is Chechnya.

Greg, your outrage is right. 'A civil war ain't so bad' is a sick joke. The problem is that all the choices are so miserable at this point. A civil war is horrific, but if US troops are enabling a prolonged, never-resolvable parasitic gangfight, and their withdrawal would lead to a regionally-imposed end to that civil war, then the answer is not neccesarily our continued occupation.
The relevant question to answer is: why do we think withdrawing US soldiers will make a civil war worse? The civil war of South Vietnam went on until we left. The Lebanese civil war went on until Israel left. Occupying powers are the cause of, not the solution to, civil wars. One can argue.

The evidence is even more overwhelming when opposed power blocs fight each other through Iraqi proxies. The only reason that pattern isn't clearer here is that with Syria for the Sunnis and Iraq for the Shiites, we have hostile powers supporting both sides.

"A Civil War Ain't so Bad" is just a conservative putting his dutiful happy face on "A Civil War is inevitable."

Posted by: glasnost at March 1, 2006 02:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Do not take counsel of your fears.

A civil war has not broken out yet. The institutions are available to avoid a civil war. The population of Iraq is educated and cultured.

If democracy come to the Middle East, Iraq is the best bet.

The greatest danger to democracy in Iraq is in the anti-war movement in the United States. They can doom democracy in Iraq, and they are working very hard to achieve that result.

I do not think anything or anyone else is capable of destroying democracy in Iraq.

Posted by: rich at March 1, 2006 04:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Please take your Doltschstoss fantasies elsewhere. Some of us are trying to enlighten ourselves with the intelligent discussion here.

Posted by: Doug H. at March 1, 2006 04:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Kafka has taken over.

Posted by: Jon Koppenhoefer at March 1, 2006 06:33 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There will continue to be killings and car bombs, etc. until such time as all concerned discern their best interests to be a more peaceful environment.

This may, of course, be fifteen years after the last American soldiers have left Baghdad.

If Iraq turns into Lebanon, ca. 1976, I would personally prefer that we bug out. We don't have the manpower to stop the chaos (you go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish you had) in any case.

Best invest in ethanol futures, though.

Posted by: stickler at March 1, 2006 06:54 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J. Thomas put his finger on the piece missing from so much commentary about counterinsurgency in Iraq and elsewhere in the last few years.

Most of this commentary dealt with the asymmetry of force available to a government (or, in this case, an occupying force) under attack on the one hand, and an insurgent force on the other, and how the insurgents can overcome that assymetry. The missing piece is that assymetry of force has more than this one dimension. A group of well-armed and even partially organized young men is much more powerful relative to an less well-armed, unorganized civilian population including large numbers of women, children and the elderly than any government force is likely to be relative to the group of armed men. If the government forces are determined to follow rules in their dealings with the civilian population, an insurgent force can by being thoroughly ruthless multiply this assymetry.

This goes far toward explaining why counterinsurgency is so difficult, and incidentally why modern insurgent movements that do succeed in seizing power usually establish dictatorships with many unpleasant characteristics. It is not unfair to point out that civilians are unlikely to be able to organize spontaneously to fight an insurgency like the one in Iraq; I don't expect that they will. The heavy burden in this case rests on Sunni Arab tribal and political leaders, who do have resources at their disposal, to mobilize them against the mostly Sunni Arab insurgency. If they don't -- if they prefer to let Americans do the fighting, or turn a blind eye to insurgent attacks on Shiite government officials and civilians -- naturally the response from Shiite militias will mimic insurgent tactics, and not coincidentally the tactics of the former government with which all Iraqis are so familiar. Sunni Arab civilians will be targeted, because they are available targets. There is nothing moral about such a response; I am not saying it is right, only that it will happen. To keep it from happening the leaders of the Sunni Arab community need to step up against the insurgency, and they need to do it soon.

Posted by: Zathras at March 1, 2006 04:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Here's the solution.

1) sit down with Syria and Iran, and ask them how much it will cost for those two nations to keep the peace in Iraq.

2) Pay it.

Bush and his moronic neo-con buddies have fucked things up to an impossible level. The only solution at this point is surrender --- the USA has lost its "war" to bring "American style democracy" to the middle east, and Syria and Iran have won. Negotiate the terms of surrender, and go home.

Because the longer we wait to do this, the worse its going to get.

And since people like me have been right all along, while people who have supported Bush have been shown to be complete racist, bloodthirsty, nationalistic morons who have screwed this thing up, its time that we start listening to the people who have been RIGHT about this all along.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at March 1, 2006 05:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gregory, first on what you said previously -  'never has there been a better timed and more critical curfew' - and the comment you got back: 'Can you imagine back in April 2003 that [...] you would be viewing a "curfew" no matter how well timed as a reason for optimism?'

Things look rather differently from Europe, or at least what the media is telling us does.

According to Channel 4 News in Britain, Iraq 'is descending into' civil war - cf Bernard Guetta's 'C’est à un début de guerre civile auquel on assiste désormais en Irak (sic)'.

Even the BBC (World Service) initially described the curfew as a panic measure, then, when the violence continued (on Saturday, I think) said, 'If even a curfew can't stop the violence...'

'Civil war', like so many other expressions is a code: it means the Shi'a finally responding to provocation and taking it out on Sunnis, who may well be innocent of any involvement in the insurgency (let's stick with that word for now).

After the bombing of the Askariya shrine, this undoubtedly happened, though al-Qaeda propagandists seem to have exaggerated the scale, for example, from 22 Sunni mosques attacked to 100: according to one US Army source quoted by the BBC, they had reports of mosques being attacked and found that nothing had happened.

Now it seems mostly to have gone back to the pattern that is so familiar from the last two and a half years: attacks that the European media would describe as terrorist if they happened anywhere other than Iraq, targeted mainly at the Shi'a.

http://davidp1.blogspot.com/2006/03/civil-war.html

Posted by: DavidP at March 1, 2006 08:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

AS IF, p.luk, as if these people are ever likely to alter any position they've ever held. All props to Greg for just that, and welcome to him to the ranks of howlers in the wilderness and gentlefolk in Jingoland. Civil war has been the most probable outcome for this adventure since getgo, and the next most probable has been U.S retreat to those permanent bases in order to keep Syria and Iran from undue uppityness, preferably in triumph but whatthehell, they're just Arabs. According to sources which I'm way too lazy to reference, several of them are around the size of, say, present New Orleans.

Posted by: volney at March 1, 2006 09:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Though I appreciate J. Thomas's comments, I think the situation is a bit more nuanced than he or the other commentators here are crediting. True, it's not the "Iraqi's" civil war and only they can stop it. Ordinary folk don't have a lot of levers over armed groups operating in their midst. But it's too simple to posit a group of armed men on one side and innocent civilians on the other. Astonishingly, after all those years of dictatorship, Iraq appears to have a broad spectrum of power, from people with a lot of it (Sistani, our own Khalilizad) to smaller paramilitary and/or religious groups, to tribal and village leaders and local imams. The prospect of a "full scale civil war" last week seems to have gotten enough of those people to fight for a step away from the brink, and for the moment, it worked.

The current U.S. policy seems to be 1) restrain Shiite reprisals and power plays by threatening to withdraw support, 2) induce Sunni militias to support the Sunni politicians rather than the Al Quaida instigators. It seems a wise policy, as far as it goes. It involves walking several tightropes, so it's not the sort of thing we can accomplish simply with more troops (though they'd certainly help).

But all this talk about whether there will be a civil war and what we should do if it happens, seems to me both wrong and symptomatic of the Neo-Con intellectual failure. Instead of following Leo Strauss's example of paying attention to the details of the text or situation, they've followed his example of clarity in the face of the Cold War. There are a lot of examples of this in post 9-11 US foreign policy, but one current implication is that people think about civil war as though it was a replay of the Civil War - complete with two coherent sides and two vivid policy issues (unity and slavery). Our Civil War, of course, was a horrible bloody mess, but it was a clean horrible bloody mess. One with a beginning, battle lines, and an end. In contrast, the civil conflict in Iraq is multi-sided, has no plausible victory outcome, and doesn't offer any bright lines about when it starts being a war or when it would stop. The only plausible victory scenario internally (Shiite domination of the Sunnis and a separate Kurdish state) isn't viable regionally.)

Violent political conflict in Iraq will only end when the people who are capable of organized violence put their trust into a set of democratic institutions that guarantee some security and some rights, and reliably transcend party. That's what democracy is: we give up our prerogatives to defend ourselves, fight for our rights, and revenge our wrongs, when and only when we trust the government to do a decent job on those fronts. No Iraqi can rationally make that choice today - it requires a leap of faith. Whenever you try to go rapidly from something else to democracy, you have this same chicken and egg problem. The U.S. has the only chance to incubate this process.

Posted by: Matt Chanoff at March 2, 2006 04:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I really don't want to see a full blown civil war in Iraq, but I don't think that a permanent occupation of Iraq is a viable alternative. We have (under pressure from Sistani) set up an elected government in Iraq. I don't think that there is much more we can do. Our presence feeds the insurgency and gives bin Laden's propaganda credibility. It is hard to judge the point at which our presence does more harm than good; I think we are reaching it if we haven't already passed it.

If a full blown civil war breaks out in Iraq while our troops are there, I would think that would establish pretty clearly that our continued presence in Iraq wasn't working. I agree with Joyner that If that happens, we shouldn't take sides in the civil war; we should leave.

Today's New York Times quotes an Iraqi named Shirouq Abayachi: "I used to keep in my mind that Iraq will come back one day. Now the Iraq I wish to have cannot come back. There is no core left to rebuild."

Posted by: Kenneth Almquist at March 2, 2006 05:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Matt, the ongoing civil war in iraq reached a peak of violence last week, and now we're having a short lull. Maybe it will turn into a long lull. The idea that something has happened that has gotten the civil war to wane, so far has no real evidence one way or another. Look at any other conflict of this sort, the death rate might go up one week and down the next, and the weekly changes usually didn't mean anything in particular.

This sort of thing tends to end when people generally trust their neighbors not to kill them, and stop feeling the need for revenge over the previous killings. I don't see that the USA has much influence over that.

Posted by: J Thomas at March 2, 2006 08:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J Thoma,

That certainly looks correct today, as the violence level has apparantly gone up again. My point, though, wasn't to put too much credence in a lull as a hopeful sign, it was that we can't make a decsiion based on Fort Sumpter. Civil War means something more shaded in Iraq.

I'm more concerned by the Vietnam War analogy. Vietnam really did have a civil war, full scale Both sides used and were used by outside forces. The U.S. pullout, (I'll keep out of the argment about whether it was justified) certainly did a lot of damange to the U.S. in the larger Cold War struggle. If we pull out of Iraq and it falls to Sunnis allied with Al Quaida, we will have lost a major battle in the larger war, we might have to pull out anyway, but it'll be a huge blow.

Posted by: matt chanoff at March 3, 2006 12:20 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Matt, I totally agree that civil war means something very different in iraq compared to the American civil war.

Yes, pulling out of iraq will be a huge blow to our prestige regardless.

And as long as we hang in there we have some chance to control the oil; once we pull out that's gone.

And while we're there, we have a lot of control over what news gets out of iraq. Any journalist who starts finding out about things we don't tell them, is likely to be killed by "terrorists". But after we leave there's nothing to keep iraqis from piecing together what was going on and telling it to anybody who'll listen. It will turn out that more iraqis died under our occupation than in any similar-length time under Saddam. And it will go from there. We will look very very bad to people who listen to that, though it mostly won't get reported inside the USA.

If we pull out of iraq it will be far harder for us to invade syria or iran, or for that matter saudi arabia or kuwait. Or for that matter turkey. Losing permanent bases in iraq would seriously hinder our invasion plans 20 years down the road. And yet, is there any reason to think we'll be a superpower 20 years from now, win or lose in iraq? So far, superpowers depend on oil to move their armies and (mostly) navies. What kind of invasions will be be capable of as the oil dwindles? Maybe it won't matter that much about iraq.

Even if iraq does somehow wind up under sunni control, though, it won't be much of a victory for al Qaeda. Remember when we thought vietnam was a domino for international communism? But then after we lost it wasn't long at all before vietnam was invading communist cambodia and communist china was invading communist vietnam. The ideologies we assumed were dominant turned out not to be that important. It will turn out that way this time too.

Posted by: J Thomas at March 3, 2006 03:08 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Matt, I totally agree that civil war means something very different in iraq compared to the American civil war.

Yes, pulling out of iraq will be a huge blow to our prestige regardless.

And as long as we hang in there we have some chance to control the oil; once we pull out that's gone.

And while we're there, we have a lot of control over what news gets out of iraq. Any journalist who starts finding out about things we don't tell them, is likely to be killed by "terrorists". But after we leave there's nothing to keep iraqis from piecing together what was going on and telling it to anybody who'll listen. It will turn out that more iraqis died under our occupation than in any similar-length time under Saddam. And it will go from there. We will look very very bad to people who listen to that, though it mostly won't get reported inside the USA.

If we pull out of iraq it will be far harder for us to invade syria or iran, or for that matter saudi arabia or kuwait. Or for that matter turkey. Losing permanent bases in iraq would seriously hinder our invasion plans 20 years down the road. And yet, is there any reason to think we'll be a superpower 20 years from now, win or lose in iraq? So far, superpowers depend on oil to move their armies and (mostly) navies. What kind of invasions will be be capable of as the oil dwindles? Maybe it won't matter that much about iraq.

Even if iraq does somehow wind up under sunni control, though, it won't be much of a victory for al Qaeda. Remember when we thought vietnam was a domino for international communism? But then after we lost it wasn't long at all before vietnam was invading communist cambodia and communist china was invading communist vietnam. The ideologies we assumed were dominant turned out not to be that important. It will turn out that way this time too.

Posted by: J Thomas at March 3, 2006 03:08 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Kenneth Almquist:  If a full blown civil war breaks out in Iraq while our troops are there, I would think that would establish pretty clearly that our continued presence in Iraq wasn't working. [...] If that happens, we shouldn't take sides in the civil war; we should leave.
I think we should 'take sides' in favour of the elected government. The state institutions are still weak and need the help of the US, the UK and whoever else.

Perhaps, a better analogy, rather than the US, is Spain. In that civil war, Britain followed a policy of studied  non-intervention, whilst Nazi Germany and fascist Italy helped the 'insurgents' (Suez, Eden and Spain).

Posted by: DavidP at March 4, 2006 07:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

About Belgravia Dispatch

Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.


More About the Author
Email the Author

Recent Entries
Search



The News
The Blogs
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Law & Finance
Think Tanks
Security
Books
The City
Epicurean Corner
Archives
Syndicate this site:
XML RSS

Belgravia Dispatch Maintained by:
www.vikeny.com

Powered by