January 04, 2006

Haass on Iraq

Richard Haass is pithy:

It is, in principle, possible that Iraq one day will come to resemble what the president seeks: a successful democracy at peace with itself and its neighbors, providing a model for other states in the region to emulate. You would have to be an optimist and then some, though, to be confident in this outcome.

Far more likely is something less and different: a barely functional Iraq, with a weak central government and highly autonomous regions, including a relatively secular, Kurdish-dominated north; a far more religious, Shiite-dominated south; a similarly religious, Sunni-dominated west; and a demographically mixed and unsettled center that includes the capital of Baghdad. Think of it as a version of today’s Afghanistan minus the poppy fields.

Such an outcome would constitute a mixed bag for those who hope that change in Iraq will stimulate change elsewhere in the region. A working Iraqi democracy would encourage other reformers in the region; that said, nearly three years of violence, the loss of Sunni primacy and the rise of religious fervor have soured many Arabs on following Iraq’s lead.

Still, a barely functional Iraq would be good, and at this point good enough. Sometimes in foreign policy, it is more important to avoid catastrophe than it is to reach for perfection. This is one of those times.

Read the whole piece. In it, Haass also declares against timetables. And rightly so.

Posted by Gregory at January 4, 2006 05:35 AM | TrackBack (0)

To echo Michael Totten. perhaps we should think of Iraq as Lebanon only with oil rather than Afghanistan without poppies?

Posted by: Francis at January 4, 2006 09:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A pithy article deserves a pithy question.

Should we retain our troops in Iraq as long as we have in Bosnia and Kosovo in order to sustain this result?

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at January 4, 2006 01:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I would take Appalled Moderate's question a step further: Should we retain our troops in Iraq as long as we have in Western Europe after World War II? In Korea after the Korean War?

Posted by: Kevin P. at January 4, 2006 04:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"No" is the easy answer to both questions, though I suspect the one about Europe was only asked as a debating point. Having said that, a prolonged American role in Iraq that does involve troops but not nearly as many as we have there now is not only possible but may be unavoidable. We just can't afford a "super Bosnia" in Iraq, in which much of America's ground combat strength is tied down there indefinitely just to keep the place from blowing up.

Posted by: JEB at January 4, 2006 09:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Big question: why in God's name did W and the Neo-Cons engineer the movement of the Jihad front from the frozen wastelands of Waziristan to....right on top of the second largest oil reserves on the planet!

This war - let's face it - was ginned up by Israel and its friends/purchased politicians and thinktankers in Washington to destroy the perceived regional threat from Iraq.

What they'll get instead is a nuclear powered Shia-stan stretching from Pakistan to the border with Kuwait to Turkey. And a tormented, ungovernable Gaza in Iraq's Western Sunnistan, exporting terrorism throughout the Middle East.


Posted by: John at January 5, 2006 01:48 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Waziristan, isn't usually frozen, ('the fierce Afghan winter' , notwith
standing) it's also inside Pakistan, one of the more desolate tribal lands; that bedeviled the Brits from about 1818-1945 or so (read Wikipedia; catalogue of operations in the NorthWest Frontiers, for a glimpse) The campaigns are chronicled in Kipling, MacDonald Fraser, and even Conan Doyle It's also mountainous, treacherous terrain, that would be inacessible for most except the hardiest of
special forces units. In a country, whose lower and middle
ranks (and not a few staff officers; like General Hamid Gul,)
are committed Islamists, with relatively easy access to nuclear
weapons; well, you could see the pitfalls in that strategy. I
concurr with Robert Kaplan, whose been chronicling the region
since the 80s, that Waziristan will ultimately have to be a more
substantial presence in the future; although where their support
bases will be; seeing as we have Uzbekistan as a rear area, India
which was the cockpit for such operations last century; that would
be interesting. If you think there's a problem with suicide bombers
and booby traps (that's what an IED is) Waziristan and the other
provinces are the Superbowl for such attacks. It is unlikely that
we would have much support from the population, there as our
main support in Afghanistan was among the predominantly Shia
Uzbeks & Hazara. Good luck on that score. As for the preposterous
notion that Israel is behind any of the current campaign; well it's
really too ridiculous to consider

Posted by: narciso at January 5, 2006 03:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The only major objection I have to the Haass piece is his declaration (regarding Iraq's fate) that "Its up to the Iraqis".

sure, in a purely theoretical sense, the Iraqi people could all join hands tomorrow and sing Kumbayah, and live happily every after.

But in a realistic sense, what Bush does, and doesn't do, will play a far larger role in Iraq's fate than the machinations of Iraqi politicians who "control" the country.

Posted by: lukasiak at January 5, 2006 04:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's true that the top neocons who were running US military policy were ardent zionists, who had published papers outlining the iraqi strategy for israeli publications.

But that doesn't prove that the israeli government ordered the actions or even approved of them. Israel has a long history of embarrassment with nutty american zionists that they can't afford to antagonise. This might be yet another example.

Regardless that the whole thing was spearheaded by the nutty neocons, nobody else did enough to stop it. The media reported the CIA leaks that said the data was no good, that the official justification for war was bullshit. But they didn't stress it, they let Bush's lying talking points get a lot bigger coverage. The CIA leaked some truth but nobody was willing to resign and publish the truth under a real name and get tried for treason to prove that he knew what he was talking about. Very few military officers resigned rather than lead the debacle, and no one in the JCS resigned. Opposition politicians and the UN etc delayed but didn't sufficiently oppose.

The thing is, in an alternate reality it might have worked. If it had been true that iraq had a lot of unreported oil, that gave them the #1 spot for reserves, we could have gotten US and foreign oil companies to gladly do the investment to bring that oil to market. The iraqi puppet government could easily get a hundred billion dollars a year to spend on its citizens; with that much money they could bribe iraqis to hold still. We'd have controlled the majority of the world's oil and the iraqis wouldn't even mind much that we kept control since we'd be giving them a whole lot of the money. And that oil would bring us prosperity -- cheap oil is good for us whether we own it or not.

If it had only gone that way ... anybody who opposed it would have been wrong.

But my guess is we got into Baghdad and we looked at the Oil Ministry's records and we found out that Saddam had been *overestimating* his reserves. That what he actually had wasn't worth a lot of money to build infrastructure to extract. And all of a sudden we were running an occupation on the cheap. Wolfowitz had said the oil revenues would pay for the war, and it turned out he was wrong, they aren't even enough to pay for the iraqi government's pressing needs much less the continuing occupation.

Saddam lied to OPEC, his status in OPEC depended on how much oil he had but they didn't verify it. And we believed him. I'm afraid a lot of americans didn't really care about the official justifications for the war. They wanted the oil, and they trusted Bush to get it for them.

So now we're stuck with no good choices. Publish the corrected reserves, find that it isn't the 2nd biggest reserves but more like the eighth. (Assuming the others aren't lying too....) Get it clear that iraqi oil just isn't that important and we'll be out in six months. Iraq was a mess before we went in and it's a worse mess now. But it isn't unthinkable for us to just pull out and let it turn into a bigger mess still. People think we can't do it because of all that oil, that they don't know is just another lie.

If it turns out the oil really is there then I'll apologise. I don't really know that it isn't. But if it was there, it would be damnably incompetent to run the occupation so cheap that we can't get it out, when a bit more money would pay off fast. But I thought there was a big change in tone from Bush etc right after they got to the Ministry of Oil's records. They started talking about a long war and sacrifice and all. It's like reaching into a dead tree thinking you're about to twist out a fat possum, and instead you get a thin hungry wolverine.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 5, 2006 04:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Iraq is a historical lesson for American citizens of the incompetent and arrogant leading the blind. If you want a realistic observation of what is happening now in Iraq, read Juan Cole's latest entry in his blog. He astutely jutxapositions the carnage and anarchy with quotes from one of President Bush's speeches on Iraq. It is absolutely devastating in its precise analysis and shows how far Bush has wandered into the realm of his imperial delusions.
The Bush administration has created a failed state. Although Iraq has the third largest oil reserves in the world, its citizen are required to wait in line at gas stations for hours and now have to pay three times what they usually paid for gas, thanks to IMF pressures on the government. One gas station was set on fire by frustrated Iraqis. Iraqis bought in the New Year in the dark, after three years of American occupation. Do you really think American cictizens would tolerate such incompetency to deliver basic services as electricity? Electricity is a necessary for the citizens, while they try and form a functioning government. And the inability of the government to deliver this basic service is just one sign of how badly the American occupation has fumbled the ball. And after three years of the American occupation, the daily output of the oil fields still remains below the daily output when Saddam ruled under the UN oil-for-food program.

Posted by: george at January 5, 2006 05:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Just a quick comment contra Haass: If Iraq turned out to be Afghanistan (with oil or without poppies, whatever) this present campaign would be a terrific success, not the barely tolerable mess Haass describes. Nearly the entire article proceeds from--and thus rationalizes--his conclusion that the notion of intramural tribal, religious controversy and conflict as inimical to democracy. (As if comparative western democracies have resolved and reified the contradictory, often outright hostile and chaotic elements within our own.) Furthermore, his one political analogy falls flat prima facie. American 'experts in intelligence' --no further sarcastic or oxymoronic shading necessary--might benefit from a closer and more sophisticated examination of the relative situations in Afghanistan and Iraq. I'll go further than Haass and concede points he doesn't make: i.e. each country has fractious ethnic populations, a significant Shia-Sunni religious antipathy, powerful regional alliances to warlords and tribal elders, a weak central authority, an insurgency fed by external ideologies and players and a recent history of totalitarian subjugation by fanatical minority factions. Yet Afghanistan, by any measurement, is in fact a successful state--one that isn't altogether an infelicitous model and certainly not a dysphoric example for Iraq. Why? Because Afghanistan's anger at the arrogance, aggression and presumption of regional/border states who seek to meddle in their affairs helped suppress internecine discord and forged a stronger sense of national identity. Afghanistan is now--to my mind--one of the safest, sanest and most steadfast ally of the west in Asia.

As for Cole? So what? He's been wrong all along, so who cares what he thinks. His interest in the nations and politics of the ME is brand new, as he'd admit himself. He's been cast--by the extremism of his personal politics--into a role to which he isn't suited. Cole's entire investiture in the ME has been due to his deep immersion into the Bahai religion. His personal chronicle of his journey through that faith is often touching in its naivete and immaturity. Read that and you'll understand everything you need to know about this sad man. He doesn't know Afghanistan (never been there,) never travelled to Iraq, etc. Or anywhere in years. Minimal language skills. No degree programs in this area--that is, nothing that doesn't center on Bahai religion. He's out of his league, though I guess every academic is an expert on Afghanistan, Iraq and the ME these days!

Posted by: John@ at January 5, 2006 06:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Narisco - You willfully miss my point. the Jihadis were locked up in the wastelands of south/central Asia. The 9/11 guys weren't from that region. We could have left the Jihadi front in Afghanistan forever and let them rot.

Instead, we chased them out of Afghanistan, killed 30k Iraqi civilians and created a magnet for every Jihadi with a bus ticket to the Iraqi border.

Per the neo-con fantasy, we could have created a "killbox" in which to slaughter Jihadis. Instead, we're pouring hundreds of billions into a rat hole and we can't evern control the road to the airport.

In case you didn't notice, Israel did, through their American agent/traitor neocons, bribe this war through.

Here's the smoking gun:


Now it only remains for the Palestinians -- endorsed and backed up by the nuclear powered Iraq-Iran Shia alliance to vanguard a nuclear standoff with Israel.

This is what the Israeli imperialists have created.

Posted by: john at January 6, 2006 12:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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