Sunday, August 21, 2005

Mission accomplished – time to come home?

I supported the American (“coalition”) invasion of Iraq. I did so reluctantly and only after much debate with friends and others about the issue. I’m basically libertarian but supported the invasion because I believed President Bush when he said that WMD were still in Iraq and needed to be found and destroyed in order to protect our safety. No other good reason existed (or exists today). PowerLine and other conservative talking heads now have tried to spin the primary cause of our invasion from the search for WMD to the freeing of the Iraqi people and the creation of a Democratic republic in the Middle East. Such revisionist history is dangerous and contemptible. I have commented on this before.

But the question is what do we do now? I now believe that our continued presence in Iraq is making things worse, not better. The Administration continues to paint a picture of progress in Iraq, but I no longer believe anything they say about this issue (I’m sorry as hell I ever believed them in the first place). The last straw for me came when our Vice-President said that the insurgency was in its “last throes” and was quickly contradicted by our military. The terrorist attacks continue, stronger than ever. Does anyone truly believe that the Insurgency is winding-down?

I’m wondering what would happen if we just leave? Declare “Mission Accomplished” (again) and just pull out. Would it be worse than if we stayed? If we left, I think that Iraq, as a state, would most likely split into 3 parts; “Shia-stan”, “Sunni-stan” and “Kurdistan”. Would this be such a bad thing?

Look what happened in Yugoslavia as an example. This was a country that didn’t even exist until after World War I. It was carved mostly out of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, and was made up of different ethnic groups; Serbs, Croats, Slovenes and Macedonians. After World War II, it came under the control of a strongman, Prime Minister Tito (it originally was formed as a Monarchy). Tito kept the local ethnic tensions under control. But once he passed away in 1980, these same ethnic tensions became unchecked. Slovenia and Croatia each declared their independence, followed by Macedonia and then Bosnia & Herzegovina. In the last 10 years, levels of fighting in that area have flared and subsided, as the people in the region adjust to the realities on the ground, sometimes peacefully, sometimes not. But I don’t think you’d find much support for the idea that things are worse off there today than they were before the breakup began (unless, of course, you’re a Serb nationalist and dream of one day having your own little empire again).

Like Yugoslavia, Iraq, too, was part of a larger empire until the end of World War I. Like Yugoslavia, it was artificially created as a monarchy. It was made up of 3 provinces of the old Ottoman Empire, provinces that roughly correspond to today’s Kurdish, Sunni and Shia-dominated regions. Like Yugoslavia, after World War II, it eventually came under the rule of a strongman, Saddam Hussein (with many coups along the way). Hussein was reasonably successful at keeping his country’s ethnic tensions under control, albeit at a brutal cost. And, like Yugoslavia, once the strongman was removed from power, these ethnic tensions began to resurface.

No the parallels aren’t exact – they never are. But I think they are instructive. What are the possible objections to Iraq splintering into 2 or 3 countries?

The Terrorists would win. It depends on what you mean by “Win”. If you say that their goal is to drive America out of Iraq, then yes, they win. But if you say that they are now going to be able to control Iraq, then no, they won’t win. This insurgency is primarily fueled by Sunnis and has little indigenous support in the North or South. They may have control of the center of the country, but then they’ve always had control of the center of the country.

America would be admitting defeat. This is stupid and irrelevant. America “admitted defeat” in Vietnam too. We were told by the war-supporters that to leave Vietnam before we “won” would be disastrous. Leaving Vietnam did not change our status as a world power and neither would this.

Islamic Fundamentalism would be strengthened. They beat the Soviets and now they will have beaten us. This is true, unfortunately, but there is nothing we can do about it whether we stay or not. We cannot militarily win this fight the way we are fighting it now. To truly win it, America would have to wage total and complete war. And that’s not going to happen.

The region would become more unstable. More unstable than what? The Kurds aren’t going to be interested in trying to conquer “Sunni-stan” or “Shia-stan”. The Sunnis won’t be able to conquer the Shia and the Shia won’t be able to conquer the Sunnis. There would be border flare-ups and probably still some suicide bombers, but nowhere near as many as today. The 3 regional governments would take control and, as they would have the great majority of their local constituents behind them, would be operating from a much stronger position. I do think that Ethnic Cleansing would be a strong possibility, especially in Kurdistan. If Arab suicide bombers continued to strike there, the Kurds would just drive out all of the Arabs. But at least Americans wouldn’t be dying because of this. Baghdad could get especially messy as Shia’s and Sunni’s are intermixed there. But people would take control of their own neighborhoods – it’s happening already. Civil war might also break out in 1, 2 or all 3 regions. But they wouldn’t be threatening us – the reason that we supposedly went in there in the first place. Those countries that do not want an independent Kurdistan, and I include Iran, Syria and most especially Turkey in this group, might object, but what are they going to do, invade? If the Turks invaded, they would face international ostracism, and would ultimately not prevail. And neither the Syrians nor the Iranians would want to take on this headache.

It would waste all of the good work we’ve done there and would negate the democratic reforms that have happened (such as the recent elections). I don’t think so. The Sunni’s would be happy to see us go, but I think that the Kurds and perhaps the Shia would want us to continue to help. There is no doubt that our troops and the NGO’s have accomplished a lot of good in Iraq. Schools have been built. Sewage treatment plants have been built. Other infrastructure projects (phone, power, water, etc.) are in various stages of completion. But the efforts have been hampered, and in many cases stopped in their tracks, by the insurgency. Very well then. Just concentrate our reconstruction efforts in the North and the South, where they would be appreciated AND PROTECTED BY THE LOCALS. And if they want us to leave, we leave.

Our sacrifices would have been in vain – our soldiers would have been killed or wounded for no reason. Let’s remember the original mission, here, the one that was used to sell this war to the American people. It was spelled out by the President in the speech he made upon the commencement of the invasion and was detailed in the Iraq War Resolution which was approved by Congress. The mission was to disarm Iraq, to have it comply with the terms of Gulf War I, to make sure that it was no longer a threat to us or to its neighbors and to free its people. These all have been accomplished. There are no WMD there. The tyrant has been removed from power. Iraq is no longer a threat to invade its neighbors. Some will respond that we have not left a "free and democratic Iraq" as our legacy. But so what? Iraq is free from Saddam Hussein. It's up to the Iraqi's to decide what kind of government (or governments) they want. All of the items in the War Resolution have been accomplished except for the elimination of Al Qaeda from Iraq. And they’re in more places than Iraq – are we going to invade them all? We’re not going to totally root them out from Iraq, we can’t even root them out from Afghanistan. The locals have to do that. The original mission was truly accomplished. It’s the new mission, the one to turn Iraq into a country built on a western model, that hasn’t been accomplished. And Americans didn’t sign up for this “mission creep.”

What would be the advantages of us leaving?

We remove our troops from harm’s way and most or all of them can come home. Any that might stay in the North or the South would be there because the locals truly wanted them there.

We would develop at least one and perhaps two new friends in the region. The Kurds seem to like Americans. As a side benefit to that, Syria would find itself sandwiched between our two friends in the region, Israel and Kurdistan. And it’s possible that the Shia’s would establish friendly relationships with us, too. We are no threat to them and they are no threat to us. We’ve rid them of Saddam Hussein and probably still have some residual goodwill left because of that.

We would save a ton of money, on the order of tens of billions or perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars. All of the money now going to support the military efforts in that area could be saved. There is still a lot of reconstruction money we originally committed to spending in Iraq, but if we’re not spending it on Baghdad and the surrounding area, we can save much of it.

More oil would be available on the international market. With Kurdistan and Shia-stan having oil supplies that would, under popular local control, actually be able to function, more oil would begin to flow. Both the Kurds and the Shias would have more of an incentive to protect “their” oil wealth and would do a better job of it. We could all use lower oil prices.

We remove a large recruiting incentive from the Islamic fundamentalists. Right now it’s “Come to Iraq and kill the Americans.” If we leave and the locals take control, we remove that incentive.

We keep the hammer of “If you threaten us, we will remove you.” This doesn’t get lost or lose its effectiveness because we leave. We removed the Taliban and we removed Saddam Hussein. If one of the 3 new countries becomes a threat to us, they know that we would come back. It’s a lot easier to remove a government than it is to try and build a new one. Let's remember that Kaddafi didn’t cry uncle because we threatened to install democracy in Iraq. He gave up his WMD because we removed Saddam.

I originally naively hoped that Iraq would become democratic, pluralistic and free. And the Iraq election results gave me some renewed hope, hope the Iraqi’s were really going to turn the corner and form a new Iraq. Now I think the odds of this happening are somewhere between slim and none. The longer we stay, the worse it’s going to get. The longer we stay, the more Americans are going to be killed and wounded. The longer we stay, the more fanatics will be recruited to the cause.

And as an aside, does it bother anyone else that the majority of Iraqi's fighting and dying in this war seem to be in the Insurgency? If the other Iraqis were so grateful that we are there and wanted to help our efforts to create a "democratic and pluralistic Iraq", wouldn't they have done so by now?

I don't like it. It looks too much like cutting and running. But I just don't see how leaving coalition troops there will improve things.

Time to come home…

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