April 26, 2004

Galbraith in the NYRB

Peter Galbraith has a must-read in the NYRB.

Money grafs:

"Last November, Les Gelb, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, created a stir by proposing, in a New York Times Op-Ed piece, a three-state solution for Iraq, modeled on the constitution of post-Tito Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav model would give each of Iraq's constituent peoples their own republic.[*] These republics would be self-governing, financially self-sustaining, and with their own territorial military and police forces. The central government would have a weak presidency rotating among the republics, with responsibilities limited to foreign affairs, monetary policy, and some coordination of defense policy. While resources would be owned by the republics, some sharing of oil revenues would be essential, since an impoverished Sunni region is in no one's interest.

This model would solve many of the contradictions of modern Iraq. The Shiites could have their Islamic republic, while the Kurds could continue their secular traditions. Alcohol would continue to be a staple of Kurdish picnics while it would be strictly banned in Basra...

Because of what happened to Yugoslavia in the 1990s, many react with horror to the idea of applying its model to Iraq. Yet Yugoslavia's breakup was not inevitable. In the 1980s, Slovenia asked for greater control over its own affairs and Milosevic refused. Had Milosevic accepted a looser federation, there is every reason to think that Yugoslavia?and not just Slovenia? would be joining the European Union this May.

Still, a loose federation will have many drawbacks, especially for those who dreamed of a democratic Iraq that would transform the Middle East. The country would remain whole more in name than in reality. Western- style human rights are likely to take hold only in the Kurdish north (and even there not completely). Women's rights could be set back in the south, and perhaps also in Baghdad."

Given Galbraith's extensive experience in Kurdistan and his spirited tour as U.S. Ambassador to Croatia--his views merit serious attention.

That said, I'm still very uncomfortable with talk of having the U.S. preside over a three-way partitioning of Iraq.

A while back, I described a similar proposal as a "very, very bad idea."

I'm not sure my views have changed much--despite the continuing difficulties in Iraq.

Still, Galbraith's piece appears to emphasize a confederation--rather than three outright independent states--as Leslie Gelb's proposal appeared to lean towards more forcefully.

But one fears this would merely become an issue of semantics--with the confederated entities, for all extensive purposes, constituting independent entities.

An quasi de jure independent Kurdistan would make Ankara very nervous--so U.S. troops would have to stay in Kurdistan to assuage Turkish concerns about pan-Kurdism (Galbraith thinks that's where U.S. troops are best based anyway, as they get the friendliest reception there, but not if they stay for years and are viewed by more hot-headed peshmerga as hampering irrendentist Kurdish aspirations!)

And, with regard to the prospective Shi'a entity in the south, one wonders whether it might risk becoming overly influenced by Iran. There is some residual Iraqi nationalism, of course, among Iraqi Shi'a.

But a relatively small Shi'a para-state, sharing a long border with Iran, might be viewed by many Sunnis (in places like Saudi Arabia), as something of an Iranian proxy.

Meanwhile, Sunni territory would appear too much the land-locked, rump-state--aggrieved and too bent on going-forward trouble-making, I fear. It's not hard to see Sunni rabble-rousing in mixed and disputed Sunni-Shia or Sunni-Kurdish regions, for instance.

Given the temptation, among many Shi'a, to engage in some score-settling against Sunnis--one fears that the prospects for a civil war might be heightened by Galbraith's confederation scheme.

Why, you ask?

Why not better to separate prospective belligerents?

Because Galbraith's federation proposal fosters, perhaps more than currently exists, the creation of three distinct national identities. While the Kurds, of course, have always had one--the Shi'a and Sunni communities have not infrequently historically displayed a distinctly Iraqi national identity (we have recently seen Shi'a-Sunni expressions of fellow-feeling--forged via anti-Americanism born of the Fallujah situation, ironically).

So, and despite the fact that one variable bringing together Sunni and Shi'a today is anti-American sentiment (the scale of which is being somewhat hyped by some media)--it's still too early to declare American efforts to forge a unitary Iraqi state dead, at least in my view.

Not to mention how awful the specter of U.S. forces presiding over population transfers--in an effort to create ethnically/religiously homogenous entities--would look. Hardly the stuff of Jefferson enthusiasts!

And, of course, what to do with Arabs in Kirkuk, Shi'a in Baghdad, and so on?


UPDATE: Matt Yglesias is correct to point out that there is a good dollop of Galbraith the Kurdophile running through this piece too.

Oh, and I agree with him that the handling of the Iraqi flag issue has been risibly poor.

My reaction as I read such accounts was, pretty much--WTF?

Posted by Gregory at April 26, 2004 11:50 AM
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