October 17, 2006

An Iraqi Dayton Accords?

What to do in Iraq? The question occupies key policymakers, myriad commentators, military officers, and of course legions of Iraqis. The country is cascading towards civil war, dozens or hundreds of Iraqis die daily, and lately coalition fatalities are on the increase too nearing 4-5 day. And while Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s washing his hands of the details of the Iraq War is actually a good thing--as it allows uniformed military men on the ground to pursue counter-insurgency tactics more adeptly without his noxious interventions--the nation is still suffering greatly a dearth of strategic civilian leadership to allow for bold changes to the war strategy.

The issues are numerous. Do we need more troops or fewer? Related, is the continued presence of U.S. forces helpful to keeping the proverbial pot from boiling over even more ferociously, or is our presence actually contributing to the carnage? Do we need to continue to strive for a unitary Iraqi state or should we bow to the realities of a confederated Iraq? How can enough Sunni nationalists be weaned away from hard-core al-Qaeda and Baathist restorationist types, so as to better lessen the potency of the insurgency? Which Shi’a militias can we do business with, and which can’t we? To what extent is the sleeper issue of Kurdish federalism (not to mention invigorated PKK attacks within Turkey) going to cause a crisis with the Turks? Can Maliki’s government persevere and produce some tangible results, or is it doomed to failure? What of the state of the Interior Ministry, and the so critical training and equipping of the Iraqi Army, or the general posture of the Iraqi Police? How can Iraq’s neighbors perhaps be better enlisted to assist? (With Iran, the question is perhaps instead better phrased how can she be incentivized to scuttle less assiduously our efforts in Iraq)? And so on.

The answers to the above questions are maddeningly complex and elusive. Yes, we need more troops in some places (Anbar, Baghdad), but we likely need fewer in others (certain Shi’a areas). Yes our forces are what is keeping Iraq from the full-blown civil war that it is teetering towards, but yes too in certain parts of Anbar, say, our troops are caught in a no-win dynamic facing off against embittered locals who view them as alien interlopers. Yes, we must continue to strive for a unitary state, but at the same time we must realize such a state might not be possible to achieve for years yet, so that a ‘managed’ confederation scenario might be the better short-term, transitional goal. Yes relations with certain tribes (including, interestingly, some mixed Sunni-Shi’a ones) can be improved further so as to weaken al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia’s grip in certain parts of Ramadi and Fallujah, say, but yes too al-Qaeda has been far from defanged and continues to enjoy greater support than is commonly realized in Washington. As for the Shi’a militias multiplying in number and strength, and arguably beginning to pose a greater challenge to Iraq's stability than the Sunni insurgents, it is likely that some associated with Badr/Hakim might cooperate with coalition forces to a limited degree, and even Moktada al Sadr’s men on occasion when interests may temporarily align—but it is evident too that they are increasingly being swept up in a ferocious wave of Shi’a revanchism, with militias mushrooming and splintering into factions that don’t even necessarily bow to Hakim or Sadr--but rather pledge their allegiance to the brutish laws of the jungle of the local streets and neighborhoods they inhabit. Meantime, yes, Kurdish-Turkish tensions are set to increasingly flare as Kurdistan increasingly flirts with deep autonomy that straddles independence, worrying Ankara more and more. And U.S. troops garrisoned amidst the peshmerga in the North, while a stop-gap measure that might contain tensions spilling over for a time, are certainly no panacea. As for the region generally--as Vali Nasr points out in a recent book that serves as helpful primer on the Shi’a--the major dynamic unfolding in the Middle East at this hour could well be described as how best to manage the Shi’a ascendancy (though let us not risk overstating it), an ascendancy most vividly being witnessed in Iran and Iraq. While this seems blindingly obvious, it appears this important Shi'a resurgence is still not attracting as much attention as might be advisable in Washington. And so on and on, the challenges and questions are evident, but the solutions and answers each highly problematic and debatable.

So what is needed now, amidst this veritable maelstrom of competing historical interests vying for supremacy in Iraq? I’d argue that the time may have come for something akin to the diplomatic effort that Richard Holbrooke undertook with the Dayton Accords that ended the fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina in November 1995—only this effort, necessarily, would have to be more massive and ambitious. Historical analogies are always imperfect, and this one most certainly is, but let me perhaps sketch out why I believe it may serve as helpful precedent.

First, however, some differences. Iraq is not Bosnia. It is even worse, with European Enlightenment values having touched Bosnia to some extent, but with Iraq firmly a pre-Enlightenment society at a different stage of historical development. The furies unleashed, as we’re seeing with dozens of bodies turning up with drill-holes in them, vie with the most grotesque war crimes of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. Second, the parties haven’t exhausted themselves to the same extent through long years of civil war bloodshed. While the wars have lasted roughly the same amount of time (Bosnia ’92-’95; Iraq 2003-2006--and counting), the civil war in Iraq is only beginning in earnest now. Third, the corollaries in the Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish communities to Franjo Tudjman (the Croatian leader), Slobodan Milosevic (who could bring the Bosnian Serbs in line) and Alija Izetbegovic/Haris Silajdzic are less evident in Iraq. Who is the key Shi’a? Is it Maliki? Is it Jafari? Is it Sistani? Sadr? (I’ll fight the temptation to list Chalabi here). Ditto there are many power-struggles in the Sunni camp--with the Kurdish leadership a tad easier to get a handle on—though there are of course rival actors complicating matters there too. In short, there are not two or three key players to deal with to get tangible, immediate results, as there were at Dayton, and so the situation is more fluid and complicated.

But there are some similarities. The previous strategies had failed in the former Yugoslavia. So-called 'lift and strike' was never really employed in Bosnia, genocidal actions stalked Europe again only 50 years after the Holocaust with events like the fall of Srebrenica, diplomacy and UNPROFOR proved dismal failures. In Iraq, we are facing a similar grim reality. Our strategy has mostly failed. While US forces in theater (freed from the gross missteps of Rumsfeld’s arrogant hubris that defined the ’03-’04 period) are making occasional, tentative, and localized progress, they still lack the resources to effectively pursue a top-down nation-wide ‘clear-hold-build’ effort. They are still rotating troops from Anbar to Baghdad, and back again, and so on. And on the diplomatic front, our approach to the neighborhood has been characterized by gross amateurism, or laziness, or both. Last, our feeble interventions at bolstering the Maliki government have proved fruitless and no amount of “the next three months will be critical” utterances among the blow-dried commentariat-class making the rounds on Meet the Press are going to change that.

So we need a new approach, and it has to be a dramatic one. First, let us begin by admitting our strategy has been a failure (getting rid of Rumsfeld would at least constitute the beginnings of acknowledgement of same). Second, we must convene a major Iraq Contact Group consisting of the U.S., British, Germans, French, Russians and Chinese—with full participation too by each of Iraq’s neighbors (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Kuwait), as well as other critical Arab and/or Islamic countries as observers to the Contact Group (Egypt and Morocco, for instance). To represent the U.S. at the Six-Plus-Six Contact Group we should appoint two seasoned envoys with proven track-records, who will work well together in lockstep. In a bid for bipartisan consensus, there should be one from each party (George Mitchell and James Baker III, say, only by way of example).

One critical priority must be addressing directly the wider regional tensions Iraq has exacerbated so that the conflict does not spill over and spread to other countries. There might well be surprising areas of common interest among many of the regional Contact Group members on this score. A variety of goals will need to be tackled, and the diplomatic might of the entire key “Big Six” of the Contact Group must be marshaled to 1) build on Syria’s somewhat underappreciated progress towards make the Iraqi-Syrian border less porous, 2) continue to assist Riyadh in minimizing insurgent flow from Saudi Arabia into Iraq, 3) bolstering via diplomatic and other efforts countries facing growing religious radicalism from within like Jordan and, less noticed, Syria, 4) engaging Iran full-bore on the Iraq agenda (to include as necessary other issues of mutual concern on a discrete case by case basis) to assure that the most radical elements in Teheran are dissuaded from providing arms and materiel to the most reckless of the Shi’a militias (lately groups splintering away from Moktada-al-Sadr), 5) more closely dialoguing with Turkey to assure that her vital interests are not being imperiled by Kurdish resurgence, and 6) getting Arab countries more involved generally with the situation in Iraq (greater Arab influence, in terms of bolstering the Sunni position, might well help serve to contain some of Iran’s growing influence, while also perhaps reducing the appeal of the ‘alliance of convenience’ between Syria and Iran, the former 70% Sunni, the latter a predominately Shi’a country). This is an impartial list, but the point is clear: a massive, full-scale international effort comprising all the great powers and the key regional actors must be convened to, around the clock, tackle the growing Iraq crisis-- and this initially just to help ensure the widening violence does not spill over into a wider conflagration.

Within Iraq itself, we must most likely bow to reality—which is to say we must entertain how to more smoothly manage a separation of the Sunni, Shi’a and Kurdish zones into three relatively autonomous zones (this is happening whether we like it or not, recent developments increasingly suggest). But several major caveats: 1) this must occur in a context of a massive international effort to restore order to Baghdad, as well as continue to deny al-Qaeda sanctuary in the large Belgium-sized swaths of Anbar Province; 2) not all parts of Iraq necessarily need to become ethnically homogenous, but rather areas that are already so (see the Shi’a south and Kurdish north for instance), in ethnically mixed areas (and areas of special concern, such as Basra or Kirkuk), the continued presence of international forces would remain to protect those who didn’t wish to flee to ethnic safe-havens; and, most important, 3) there must be a very detailed Dayton-style reconciliation process spelled out leading ultimately to a unitary state--once the passions of the historical turmoil currently unfolding through Iraq wane. In short, we must help create stability by securing ethnically mixed areas with international forces (including perhaps ultimately even UN peacekeepers after the Contact Group has restored America’s multilateral approach to the conflict and so renewed legitimacy), while also allowing for a managed separation of Sunni, Shi’a and Kurds, but with the hope it will be more temporary than permanent.

In the capital itself, the international community will need to make a stand that will likely last many years, first militarily, later in terms of governmental and military capacity-building. After first establishing rough order in that city (and the entire will and might of the international community might be more effective than General Casey free-lancing without any qualified civilian back-up), attention must then turn to a variety of long-term challenges, to include: 1) continuing to make progress towards forming a multi-ethnic Iraqi Army that would one day serve as back-bone guarantor of stability to a unitary state, 2) make similar progress with Iraq Police (including in key cities like Mosul, Basra, and Ramadi), and 3) assuring that critical Ministries like Interior and Defense do not become beholden to one political faction or the other. It is not impossible to see Baghdad’s political class, after several years and greater stability born of order taking root in some of the regions and major cities, helping move the country towards re-integration of Iraq into a unitary nation-state. Regardless, powers related to border control, national defense, oil revenue sharing, foreign policy, among other issues of critical national import, all would remain the responsibility of a sitting national government in Baghdad, backed up by the international community, even during any period of ‘managed’ confederation.

It bears stressing, what will be the role of U.S. forces be amidst all this? In my view, a continued major troop presence will prove imperative, certainly during the anticipated transition period towards greater confederation, otherwise a wider civil war will inevitably erupt. Meantime, as mentioned above, military forces will be critical to continuing to battle Sunni insurgents in Anbar, and to continuing to attempt to secure Baghdad. And, as mentioned, heavy patrols will need to ensure ethnically mixed areas don’t become killing fields during the transitional confederation period. Generally, however, beyond U.S. force levels, the key will be to gain greater international support, whether diplomatic, economic or military, use the confederation process to attempt to de-radicalize many Shi’a, not least so as to free up resources to deal with the most hardened Sunni elements (keeping in mind too that the Sunni will have the biggest stake in seeing the re-integration process per an Iraq Dayton-style process ultimately bear fruit, so will ideally gradually become more aligned with international aims for the country). This is very much necessarily a rushed first cut for comment and ideas, particularly from those who might give more color as to what assets and policies can be employed to better assure that any temporary, ‘managed’ confederation does not end up producing three permanent para-states--namely a Shiastan, Kurdistan, and embittered Sunnistan—but instead would be oriented towards best providing the ‘breathing space’ of a transition period before ultimately reverting to a unitary state pursuant to a long-term international effort involving all key players internationally and in the neighborhood. Thoughts welcome.

Posted by Gregory at October 17, 2006 05:25 AM

i believe it is time to get out. dr brzezinski, the british iraq theatre commander, jack murtha, etc, all basically agreed it was time to come home and that prolonging the stay was exascerbating the problem. Pull out and let them duke it out among themselves. Is there fighting among themselves necessarily contrary to our interests? Give moral support to the least of the immoral. Seek the metanoia that we ourselves need over here before we would so presume to put others' affairs in such (dis)order ever again.

Posted by: Shane at October 17, 2006 06:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I admire your efforts to try to find a solution. But how realistic do you think any of this is? I mean, seriously?

Step 1: admitting failure. Do you really think this is an option for the current Administration? They know full well that once they admit the emporer has no clothes, the game is up. And a Democratic House will drive Bush further into his cozy shell of denial.

Step 2: convene a major Iraq Contact Group...... I think you'll find no consensus within that group. Just more fiddling while Baghdad burns. And I also don't see why the Iraqis fighting us would really care. Turkey supports the new Iraq Contact Group (sounds like a dating agency)? Germany? OoooooKayyyyyy. I'm sure that will really put pressure on people using power tools on their victims.... "Wait, Omar, Angela Murkel has released a strongly worded statement condemning our actions. The gig is up. Let's embrace freedom and democracy before it's too late."

The genie is out of the bottle. It might be time to face the ugly truth that events haves spiralled out of control. Literally. Iraq is going down in flames. Literally. The rest is just political maneuvering. I know that's hard for Americans to accept, as we believe we can get reasonable people in a room and common sense will prevail (the irony, of course, is our own government now is faaaar from reasonable). Sorry. Ain't gonna happen.

Posted by: JoeChristmas at October 17, 2006 08:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Your remark that jumped out at me was:

"Second, the [Iraqi] parties haven’t exhausted themselves to the same extent [as in Bosnia] through long years of civil war bloodshed. ... the civil war in Iraq is only beginning in earnest now."

Which makes reaching an accord seem much less likely than most of us might wish to believe.

That said, BG's suggestion seems on the whole to be reasonable, if it can get started really soon. I wonder how much time is left.

Another thing. Isn't disarming the militias absolutely critical? My guess is that can only happen if there is a trusted military/police of some sort. The current problem right now is that the existing government is untrusted and weak. Maybe the government shouldn't be tossed aside, but an independent robust force that can be counted on for the next two years should be introduced to calm down the situation.

Thinking it over, my conclusion is that we should have followed BG's plan two years ago, but it will be near impossible to obtain a consensus now (domestic or international) towards further effort and sacrifice.

Posted by: Quiddity at October 17, 2006 08:49 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Meant to write BD (for Belgravia Dispatch) instead of BG in post above.

Posted by: Quiddity at October 17, 2006 08:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

And on the diplomatic front, our approach to the neighborhood has been characterized by gross amateurism, or laziness, or both.

It's not 'laziness'. 'Amateurism' may be accurate but misses the crucial element. It's a matter of ideology that diplomatic contact with evil, rogue regimes be restricted to ultimatums. 'Syria knows what we think.'


It's not just the administration. Such an inititiative would be denounced as 'appeasement' by neocons and the Israel lobby, and the cry would be taken up by the right-wing echo chamber. Recall this post, recently featured on BD


The Israel lobby will make it hard even for Democrats to support anything perceived as strengthening Iran.

this must occur in a context of a massive international effort to restore order to Baghdad, as well as continue to deny al-Qaeda sanctuary in the large Belgium-sized swaths of Anbar Province

This kind of thing is rapidly aging 'and a pony' into a tiresome cliche.

Iraq is about six times the size of Cambodia, the largest country so far to have its security successfully internationalized. Perhaps there would have been a willingness to attempt such a project in the beginning, had the U.S. been willing to share political control as well. Now, the U.S. no longer has the moral authority to be 'first among equals', if to participate at all. But only the U.S. has sufficient forces to play the leading role militarily.

Leaving that aside, all the potential participants face the same dilemma as the U.S. Intervention will be high-cost, high-risk, and still unlikely to improve the situation more than marginally. Where is their incentive to participate?

Posted by: David Tomlin at October 17, 2006 10:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I noticed, greg, that you didn't even bring a ten foot pole to the Sunni side of the equation. The US can work with any of the Shia leaders you mention, even Sadr. On the Sunni side? Under no circumstances can the US be in the same room as anyone representing, in any way, either the Baath or AQM. Nor can the US participate in a process that allows someone else -- Syria, say -- to argue the positions and interests of the Baath and/or AQM. Unless our position is that we will not make any agreement that takes such interests into account.

But of course there's no Dayton without all the combatant factions at the table, actually or virtually.

The whole thing has been a disaster, and it's hard to find a way to rescue anything from it. My thought for the day, for what it's worth, is that we limit ourselves to the actual purpose for which the public supported an invasion: the struggle with AQ. That is, I'm thinking we tell everyone there that we are only interested in AQM. We're not going to shoot at Baathists or Sadrists, only AQM. We're not painting schools, and we're not erecting a shining city on a hill -- we're engaged in a war with a particular faction. And then do that more limited mission. And after we've killed 3 or 4 dozen more of the 'No. 2 guy,' we declare victory and get out.

What is victory? It consists of limiting AQM so that it is incapable of being an actual and direct threat to US interests outside of Iraq. That doesn't mean that there aren't 19 guys left in it, just that our struggle isn't with a tactic, but with organizations of global reach, and when a local affiliate is brought down to local-only operations,* our national security interest in vindicated.

* Yes, you could probably declare victory today. The problem is that our current war aim is a city on a hill, and so it's not victory until we get that -- i.e., never. We have to redefine the war aim, they fight awhile before we can declare victory.

Posted by: CharleyCarp at October 17, 2006 01:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Once we're out, I've got no problem at all with the US participating in contact groups, etc. What we can't do, in addition, is be in a contact group and also be a combatant. Because some in the contact group are going to have as their mission the imposition of constraints on our activities as combatant. They'll be right to do so. And we'll have US diplomats telling US soldiers that they can't shoot back in X and Y situations.

Posted by: CharleyCarp at October 17, 2006 02:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

First, however, some differences. Iraq is not Bosnia. It is even worse, with European Enlightenment values having touched Bosnia to some extent, but with Iraq firmly a pre-Enlightenment society at a different stage of historical development.

Would've been nice if war advocates had taken a moment to ponder the implications of this sort of thing before the invasion. But of course, they knew better than all the rest of us.

As for the Dayton Accords suggestion -- isn't that kind of thing going to have to wait until the current gang of criminals is out of Washington (and, hopefully, either in a cell or on their way to a war crimes trial)? Who gives a damn what the U.S. government says any more? Who believes they mean what they say, and are capable of touching anything without fucking it up completely?

Posted by: sglover at October 17, 2006 02:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Some disconnected thoughts:

1. The US does not have the standing to host talks like this, in the same way that the Eurpopeans really could not host a Dayton. It's our policy that has failed -- we need someone without obvious interests riding in on a white horse. So, rather than a Dayton Accords, how about a Hong Kong accords or a Santiago accords?

2. You speak of a confederation into the short term, growing into a nation. That does not strike me as the typical dynamic. Usually, a confderation divides into separate countries. (See, for example, the recent division of Montenegro and Serbia).

3. I am being presumptious, but you mention Syria's underappreciated efforts to secure the border. They are obviously not only underappreciated, they are underreported. Got a link?

4. Charlie Carp's idea is interesteing. I'm not sure its workable -- I'm not sure we always know who is shooting at us, but it feels like a way, with a little help from a larger nation looking for some diplomatic stature, to get ourselves out, while accomplishing something.

5. Bush. admit. failure!!?? That is some working premise you have there. I think impeachment leading to President Pelosi is more likely. Frankly, Regan is the only president who could get away with that, and Carter the only president who would have attempted it. Nevertheless, should Bush do that...it would be something quite remarkable, and worth a little surprised respect.

6. Despite my skepticism in 5, I think it's great you have a proposal, and I understand that, for any proposal to work, our Decider in Chief has to realize and admit he's made a series of lousy decisions. But even if we grant that as unlikely, starting a national discussion about the best solution for Iraq and the United States is important. The level of discussion really has been either (i) withdraw and darn the consequences or (ii) Bush really stinks, vote for me instead, and we'll figure something appropriate out.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at October 17, 2006 02:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg -- Great post. I think I was less struck than some others by the "and a pony" aspects of it; I really appreciate the time you put in to articulating a potential way forward.

At a minimum, it's nice to have something to discuss that goes beyond the "stay the course" or "cut and run" frames that the administration insists on restricting the debate to.

Posted by: farmgirl at October 17, 2006 03:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

We need a "Strongman" in place, someone like Saddam. After peace is forced, infrastructure restored, and the economic up off it's chest and at least on it's knees, we can talk about democracy. The US needs to pick between the Sunni & Shi'a and tell the Kurds to stand down. With US support one side should have no problem obtaining victory and as such this side will have no interest in having AQM running around Iraq. In addition, the winner will be able to build a government that can survive.

Will it be perfect? No.
Will there be problems? Yes.
Would we have accomplished any of the goals we allegedly went into Iraq for? YES! we removed Saddam!
Victory! Let's pack up and go.

Posted by: tregen at October 17, 2006 03:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


If such a Dayton-style approach was ever going to be successful it was BEFORE the US invaded Iraq - this is just another exercise in demonstrating how far behind the Iraq reality curve we've gotten; the Dayton approach might become applicable at some point AFTER a US withdrawal, with the caveat that the US would be relegated to either observer or junior partner status ( ie chequebook ) in such an arrangement.

Considering that the current mess is a product of various Washington factions trying to promote their bespoke versions of US grand strategy interests, the last thing that any hope for a positive process in Iraq can cope with is further attempts to promote US interests. It's worth pointing out that there is no longer a consensual Washington notion of National Interests to arbiter anything - so the policy battles, whether intra-mural or partisan political, involve something akin to who wins the battle to define things in terms of their own image.

My own view is that the current dynamics on the ground have attained the critical mass necessary to proceed under their own momentum for a looong time, and that we're far closer to the beginning of a process than to its closure. Whichever way you slice it or dice it, Iraq, already a hideously bloody mess, is going to get worse before it gets better; after nigh on 4 years' worth of concrete US military-political efforts it strikes me that nothing that the US tries in future will work ( largely because the situation is a product of the US "trying", and trying different will simply mean failing different ).

Whichever way you slice it and dice it, part of the unfolding process in Iraq is likely to entrain some kind of concrete US military, political and diplomatic collapse in the country; the only question is how bad it will be. Given that the initial Bush administration exit strategy was not exiting, and that I fully expect said strategy to remain operative until the Bush administration is either replaced or completes its term, there will be no substantive course correction in 2007, or in a politically-charged 2008 for that matter.

The current smoke and mirrors "game" in town, the Baker commission, whose recommendations, should they contradict Bush's insistence that it will be his successor who sings that old Clash song, will be mired in a vicious, behind-the-scenes, intra-mural administration battle with itself, will spike any implementation for many, many months. Whilst hints that there should be talks with Syria or Iran are all very promising, there is little to suggest that they will actually happen or that they will amount to anything - for an administration that considers dialogue without silly preconditions to be a humiliating defeat, there is simply no wiggle-room for accomodating the spiralling price of Iranian assistance.

Obviously, it would be really useful if at some point we could get a clear statement of WHY the Bush administration actually invaded Iraq in the first place, rather than the rationalisations that have been proffered; although I don't discount the possibility that the Bush administration doesn't actually know why it did what it did.

Posted by: dan at October 17, 2006 04:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Honestly, Greg, I admire the effort that went into typing all that, but "Kill their leaders and convert them all to Christianity" would actually have a better chance of working, which is to say: none.

Okay, Thoreau said, "You've built castles in the air. That is where they should be. Now put foundations under them." (More or less he said that.) What we have here is, a castle in the air, and then you keep adding spires. It doesn't touch the ground at any point.

Posted by: Jim Henley at October 17, 2006 04:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This leaps out at me:

with the hope it will be more temporary than permanent

You put something into place 'temporarily' and the fact of it becoming permanent just grows exponentially.

Posted by: Ned R. at October 17, 2006 05:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tregen, before we can put a strongman in place we have to disarm the various militias who are collectively stronger than any single strongman we could prop up.

But we don't have the forces to disarm militias. We can do airstrikes to level their towns and cities, but we can't disarm them.

So that's a nonstarter.

It isn't true that collaborations always break up. The USA started as a weak confederacy and came together. But breaking apart is the way to bet. That doesn't have to be a bad thing, except for the problems of enclaves and setting borders and such.

As everybody agrees, the US government can't do anything useful about iraq until Bush/Cheney are gone.

Just suppose that there is a republican majority in House and Senate after the next election. Just suppose that there are lots of very close elections and lots of claims of vote fraud. But the Republican government refuses to even investigate most of them, and obviously whitewashes the ones it does investigate. We might not have the resources to even pay much attention to iraq at that point.

Posted by: J Thomas at October 17, 2006 05:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'd just echo Jim. You've got a fantastic plan with absolutely no way to carry it out. The people in charge are both completely unable and completely unwilling to carry it out. So, rather than plan for what one would do if wishes were ponies, what I'd love to see is planning given the stark and bitter reality that we actually have to live with. It's interesting and reassuring to see conservatives with an actual plan for a different reality and a different time, but we need to know how to deal with the mess we have now and, short of a complete and utter change of reality on Nov 8, how we're going to deal with the even bigger mess given the absolutely predictable actions of those in charge.

Someone has to figure out how to triage this god awful mess and make some grave decisions - which graves to fill up and which graves to empty to supply the zombie army we're going to need. Because pretty darn soon, we're not even going to have an army left.

Posted by: Azael at October 17, 2006 06:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

> what I'd love to see is planning given the stark and bitter reality that we actually have to live with.

Aren't you a bit stuck in the impossibility of:

Ok, given that Bush refuses to listen to any plans, what would be a good plan that Bush would listen to?

Posted by: harold at October 17, 2006 07:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It had to come to this. Once the decision was made eliminate the governemntal structure of Iraq there was no alternative to partition. To keep Iraq whole we would likely have had to leave Saddam in power, or leave his government with soem personnel chnages. Saddam was the longest serving Iraqi chief of State, and the only one not overthrown by his own people. Maybe that indicates it takes Saddam's methods to keep Iraq togehter and stable. So... maybe Iraq isn't a very good idea.


Posted by: Tom at October 17, 2006 10:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Once we're out, I've got no problem at all with the US participating in contact groups, etc. What we can't do, in addition, is be in a contact group and also be a combatant.

I applaud you, Greg. This is a real attempt at a solution, and you hit on some very and vastly overlooked parts. However you are missing key pieces, and without them, it will all more likely than not, come tumbling down. Having said that, it's not impossible. It would be better than nothing - right now being nothing.

Listen to Charley Carp. He's a wise man. You don't mention the Sunni, and without at least the Baathists, we are sunk. We've been trying to forge a coalition with Sunni "tribes" to hunt Al-Quieda, but it's not working (well), because we're still at active war with the "insurgents" who includes both tribes and Al Queda, depending on the instance. The common ground between tribe closest-to-good-guys and al-quiada bad guys are the Baath. We are in open war with the Baath in Anbar.

There will be no Dayton without the Baath. And there will be no Baath at the table without a promise of US withdrawal.

Don't take my word for it. Take what we have on record from the groups themselves. What they want is a US withdrawal. They might settle for back to Kurdistan and Kuwait, but while US troops are in Anbar, the Sunni insurgency will continue.
While the Sunni insurgency continues, the Shiite death squads will continue. And the general environment will continue to go to hell.

A Dayton accords is good and important - it drives me *insane* how no one even *talks* about even the *idea* of ***fu*king negotiating a truce!!!** --- How *else* do wars end??? -

But a Dayton Accords without a truce, or that doesn't have a truce as an explicit goal to be arrived at, won't really go anywhere. And no one will accept a truce by everyone else, but not the US.

And the only carrot we have to dangle is a US withdrawal.
If we're not dangling a US withdrawal, the whole idea, like many half-a-good-ideas, is dead meat. The best you will get without US withdrawal with a Dayton Accords is a pause to re-arm, likely interrupted by Ansar-Al-Sunna.

Posted by: glasnost at October 18, 2006 01:29 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm with those skeptics who see this this plan as a good idea (in general) that is completely unrealistic as long as Bush remains in the White House. International co-operation that is crucial to the success of any plan will simply not be forthcoming until that time -- Iraq is seen as "containing" US military ambitions, and progress in Iraq would not merely free up troops for other military adventures, but would actually encourage Bush to pursue them (Bush is the kind of person that would perceive international co-operation as a sign that his decisions have been correct all along....)

Posted by: p.lukasiak at October 18, 2006 01:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with most of the commenters in that it is a well thought plan with little chance of implementation with this administration. I suppose it is possible that the ISG and a newly elected Democratic Congress could create enough momentum to press Bush into accepting a variation of this strategy, but it is wishful thinking to assume that Bush will compromise and the Democrats will be politically adept enough to force his hand. Bush refused to internationalize the effort after the invasion to keep the spoils of war. Does anyone think he can now be contrite and seek cooperation, without any leverage? Again, not likely.

I think an international effort is a part of any plan, but we will have to clean up this mess primarily by ourselves, if at all. I do think Charley's idea, similar to Murtha's call for redeployment, does have a chance both tactically and politically.

Maybe the Dems can use the threat of subpoenas on any number of issues to force a drastic change in strategy on Iraq, but if bv some statistical improbability the Republicans retain both houses... well, lets just not think about that.

Posted by: Tim at October 18, 2006 03:25 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

While I respect the attempt to at least TRY to find a solution, most of these posts suffer from the same flaw;

Westerners telling others what they 'need' and what is 'good' for them. In other words, more colonialism. We don't have that right! WE INVADED, CONQUERED AND OCCUPIED THEIR COUNTRY! We killed their women and children, and continue to do so.

Any 'solution' has to start with a rectification of those actions. No 'solution' will be possible until the troops come out. As long as they are there they will be shot at, and they will have to shoot back. And make more enemies.

Empathy is dead in America. If this happened to us EVERYBODY would reach for a gun. Yet we do it there, and we look for a solution to 'their' problem.

You want reality? We are NOT the 'good guys'. We have NO solution they want or can use.

Posted by: Warren at October 18, 2006 03:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Iraq as a kind of super-Bosnia makes no less sense than other ideas I've heard. But I'm afraid the exhaustion factor is pretty important here.

Bosnians, and Serbs, were afraid of what would happen if fighting didn't stop. Too many Iraqis don't appear to be at all. Remember that Sunni-Shia bloodshed didn't just happen -- a lot of Sunni Arabs tried very hard for a very long time to make it happen, hard enough in fact to make the Serb chauvinist Slobodan Milosevic look like a slacker. The bulk of Sunni Arabs were content to let them; to be charitable, to thwart the efforts of those who wanted a sectarian civil war, Sunni Arabs who didn't would have had to fight actively and determinedly on the government's side, and they weren't willing to do that. This year Shiites have struck back; years of Sunni Arab bombings and assassinations have done their work, and of course the Sunni Arabs who didn't want to fight for the government against some of their own people earlier find themselves hunted by Shiite death squads now. This they regard as a great injustice demanding bloody vengeance.

Now, as to Greg's call for international participation, I'm asking myself: if I'm a Canadian, a German, a Brazilian, Chinese or Indian, why do I want to get in the middle of Iraq? To prevent a regional conflagration? To get some Arabs to turn from shooting at each other and start shooting at me? To ensure that some of my soldiers can enjoy the salubrious desert climate and the fine cuisine? If you want to argue that international participation might have been possible and might have done good in 2003 that is fine, but it is late 2006 now, and we really do need to start considering our options in the context of the unidirectional nature of the time continuum.

So there are many Iraqi Arabs who want to continue fighting and will resist efforts to make them stop right now, and most of the countries who could contribute to such efforts probably won't. These are only reasons why trying to make Iraq a really big Bosnia won't work, not reasons why it shouldn't be considered. The reason it shouldn't be considered is that it would require the continuation of the vast American commitment in Iraq into the indefinite future, just as staying the course would (I do recognize that "staying the course" is a term of art when one is dead in the water, but bear with me). We have multiple problems hanging over us as the result of the commitment we have made so far. These include the money we have borrowed to pay for the war, the equipment that will have to be replaced, the volunteer army that will have to be reoriented to do things other than counterinsurgency in Iraq, and a somewhat lengthy list of foreign policy problems that have been given scant attention at the highest levels of our government while everyone's attention has been focused on how to stop massacres in Baghdad and clear roadside bombs around Ramadi. These problems will not wait forever.

The commitment in Iraq needs to be liquidated, sooner rather than later. The indefinite commitment that Greg (and, to be fair, a great many other commentators) appears to favor would be a wretched, irresponsible idea if political support for it could be maintained, and it can't be. I've expressed my doubts that the administration's objectives in Iraq were ever attainable too often here to bore readers by doing it again, and anyone who has read about those doubts is also aware how I feel about a foreign policy that treats one mid-sized Arab country as the most important one on earth. We can look on in horror at all the things being done in Iraq right now and wonder what is to come next, but Iraq's future is not central to our own, and our own future is the one we are responsible for.

Posted by: Zathras at October 18, 2006 05:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This is a terrific post, Greg, and thank you for killing so many brain cells on behalf of all of us who are desperate for a way out. As I noted over at my own blog, Kiko's House, I first blew off the Dayton Accords concept. Just getting the warring parties to stop shooting is going to be tough enough. Getting them to sit down and be . . . well, diplomatic, would seem to be impossible.

But out of desperation more than anything, I kept being drawn back to your idea and I believe it's worth a shot.

Thank you.

Posted by: Shaun at October 18, 2006 11:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


What's particularly maddening is that most of the Ba'athist terms for a negotiated settlement are fairly reasonable. Most aren't even demanding an immediate withdrawal--they're asking for a 2-year phased withdrawal and that any amnesty include people who have only killed soldiers and policemen. As tough a pill as it is to swallow, those are not the most outlandish terms, especially as opening bids.

Posted by: Andrew R. at October 18, 2006 01:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

...but it is late 2006 now, and we really do need to start considering our options in the context of the unidirectional nature of the time continuum.

Nice one!

Posted by: sglover at October 18, 2006 02:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg - after running through these myriad comments, I do have to say too that it is admirable that your response/proposal was as well-thought-out as it was. The fact that it has prompted the responses that it has is proof of that. And as I run through my previous comments in relation to your previous installment, of which there are parallels (though yours are far more comprehensive than my Monday-morning quarterbacking), I too feel chastened by many of these responses: an international consortium of disinterested nations is precisely what we need...and not one, as I think it now, we're likely to get. We've so spectacularly set the world against us that vis-a-vis Zathra, why should a German or a Brazilian or a Chinese or a South African want to get mixed up in ANY of this?

My sense right now is that, as much as what is needed as outlined by you and embellished positively by so many of the respondents above (especially Charley Carp), frankly...we deserve to be in this mess adrift, with no-one to come in with the cavalry, let alone a white horse. I don't see anything coming out of any Dayton/Santiago/Fukuoka/Wagga Wagga/Bumf*ked Egypt Accord we've had a hand in crafting. It is for us to come to the table as one of the warring factions, not as the one sitting at the head of it adjudicating everyone else. That is not going to happen with someone so spectacularly dysfunctional in leadership as Bush sitting at the head of our table, thinking that he speaks for the rest of us, when he's the only one (okay, in addition to his Fox News flunkeys) no-one needs to listen to, because there's nothing to listen to.

The only thing we can do is simply - get out now. That's the ONLY way any one is ever going to come riding in. Get out now - and let someone else start the groundwork for something. And I'll say one more time that the Dems need to initiate it with what allies we have left, and build from there - whether they take at least one of ther Houses or not after November 7th. If they are an opposition party after then, then they need to start acting like it, build a shadow cabinet and a foreign policy to go with it, and get to work by going around Bushco. If they do take at least one of the Houses, then they need to do what I've crazily suggested anyway and force Bush's hand. Let's see then who truly can speak for America - and who has any semblance of vision left among Americans.

Now I'll shut up.

Posted by: sekaijin at October 18, 2006 03:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ugly reality intrudes again... If internationalizing the Iraq debacle is really the key, it might help if the administration didn't go out of its way to deliver a gratuitous "Fuck YOU" to every nation that aspires to have a space program (i.e., pretty much the whole industrialized world). As is typical of any Cheney administration manuever, it manages to insult potential partners in exchange for essentially negligible benefits to Americans.

You want to talk about solutions for Iraq? There's only one place to start: How do we get the upper 2-3 tiers of the executive branch out of office and on their way to an international war crimes trial, as soon as possible. Then we can talk about restoring America's image, and maybe attracting some good faith partners.

Posted by: sglover at October 18, 2006 05:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

To summarize:

1. We the BD Commentariat are immensely skeptical of any chance of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, admitting basic error.

2. The US has no standing to host the accords. Though some of us dream of white horses, and a Conference in a nice non-western location, most of us can't believe any nation would lift a finger to bail us out.

3. Getting out first may be a precondition of the accords. At the very least, there must be a timetable for withdrawal that is no more than two-years, and likely less. CharlieCarp's suggestion merits special consideration.

4. Whatever we may want, the Iraqis probably won't pay attention anyway.

5. We admire your plan. It's not happening.

Most of us favor, with varying levels of enthusiasm/reluctance, getting out now.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at October 18, 2006 06:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Nice summary Appalled Moderate. My views are in there somewhere.

One minor observation, now that the BD Commentariat has done all the heavy lifting. You said:

Who is the key Shi’a? Is it Maliki? Is it Jafari? Is it Sistani? Sadr? (I’ll fight the temptation to list Chalabi here).

I would think that Hakim deserves consideration as well - at least more than Jafari, no?

Pardon my trivial point.

Posted by: Eric Martin at October 18, 2006 10:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's not a trivial point, actually, but the problem with it is that could well be resolved on the battlefield. There wouldn't be the level of violence there is now in Iraq if factional leaders were willing to settle for a place at the table and were only trying to work out how high up that place ought to be. The ones who are fighting are fighting to win -- or at a minimum to make their enemies suffer -- not maneuvering for position. Once again, that is not the situation that existed three years ago, but neither we nor the Iraqis have the luxury of a do-over.

One thing I notice in many of the comments here is the appearance of a peculiarly American type of what appears to be self-criticism, but is actually something else. What I mean is the use of the first person plural ("woe is us," "we have caused this," "this is our fault") to mean the third person plural ("woe is them" -- in this case, the administration, its supporters in Congress, anyone who voted for them, etc. -- "they have caused this," "this is their fault"). The assumption behind this projection of our domestic politics is that foreign audiences will share the disdain for the current administration its domestic critics have, in the same way they have it. This assumption is likely correct among some people in some countries, and is almost certainly wrong applied to most people in most countries. It was wrong 35 years ago, and it is wrong now.

This is because people outside the United States think first about their own countries' interests; they, and even more their governments, do not make important decisions based on whether they like us or see us as occupying some special status of moral blessedness, or whether they approve of our policy in some distant part of the world. They place greater importance on whether American policy is reliable, whether it takes their interests into account, and whether America has the capacity to make good on its commitments. There is ample reason for foreign audiences to find fault with the current administration on all three scores, but it is the last that is vital, because damage in that area is least easily repaired.

This is where we are most vulnerable right now. Another administration -- or even this one, given some decisions that I admit appear unlikely to be made -- could conduct a foreign policy less tightly tied to the requirements of the permanent campaign, and thus more predictable for foreign governments; another administration could draw on what by American standards is an old tradition of respectful consultation, which would be greeted the more enthusiastically overseas because of its relative absence recently. But future administrations will not have the options past administrations have had if we remain committed to pouring money and men into Iraq. It's one thing to make a bad investment; it's much worse to make it with borrowed money when you have a lot of bills coming due, and even worse than that to persist in it long after its failure has become evident.

Our domestic politics will take what course they will this fall and over the next two years, but American interests and the commitments we have made all over the world wll not change that much. Right now every one of our interests abroad is subordinate to whatever it is we are now trying to do in Iraq, as they have been for the last three-plus -- really four -- years, and as a remarkable number even of the administration's critics would have them continue to be well into the next decade. This absurd situation cannot continue, regardless of what it means for Iraq.

Posted by: Zathras at October 19, 2006 12:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I frankly don't see the Bosnia comparison as as useful as you think it is. There it was the United States stepping in to get UN peacekeeping efforts out of a jam. There is no one, save possibly the Second Coming or hyperintelligent space aliens, in the same relationship with the American leadership class as Holbrooke and Albright stood in relation to the UN.

As mentioned previously, admitting defeat in any way shape or form is not possible before 2008: neither is putting Iran and Syria around the same table with Secretary Rice.

So basically I'd say your assumptions were so hopelessly flawed from the start that there wasn't much point in finishing reading your prescription after that.

Posted by: BruceR at October 19, 2006 06:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This proposal reminds me of the television commercial featuring a group of bankers on a nature hike. You know the one where one of the group walks into quicksand prompting the others to start talking about forming a committee, rules for its operation and procedures all the while the man sinking in quicksand is being sucked to his death. One man takes action rather than just talking about eventually taking action, throws the dying man a rope and drags him to safety.

"If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well It were done quickly:"

Macbeth's first soliloquy: (1.7.1-29)

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