Sunday, January 21, 2007

Option 4: The Heavy Lifting that Didn't Happen

I've been thinking about the old joke about the man going into the service station for directions and the man behind behind the counter says, “You can't get there from here.”

Thus, I'll discuss Option 4. To form a free, peaceful and democratic society in Iraq the necessary components may be lacking. As House has wisely surmised, they would have stumbled on a democratic system by now if they were so inclined.

The US mission in Iraq has inexorably creeped from a search for Weapons of Mass Destruction into a nation-building exercise that was destined for failure from the outset. The military won a decided victory over Saddam's Republican Guard within days and US led inspection teams ruled out the expected stockpiles of biochemical weapons within a few weeks, and everyone knew that Iraq never had nuclear capabilities.

So now we are entrenched militarily in a region that is increasingly unstable and no discernible realistic goal has been put forth. A comprehensive solution would have entailed political, diplomatic and economic phases in addition to the military phase. Unfortunately (an appropriate term in reference to Iraq), the time to have begun the political, diplomatic and economic parts of the plan was either before or during the military phase. Can we expect our diplomatic allies to sign on to the mission now? Can we expect the warring factions within Iraq to come to the table for a political solution as was done in Dayton? Can we expect the economy of Iraq to be self-sufficient any time soon? Hardly on all three accounts.

Having said that, I'll present the plan put forth by Michael O'Hanlon (at right) and Edward Joseph from the Brookings Institution who are calling for a partition, or federalization, of Iraq as was done in the Balkans in the 1990's. Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) and others have called for similar partition plans as well. Obviously, these regions are different enough to obviate direct correlations between their solutions. Also, the Iraq war has been so mismanaged for so long that the chances of a peaceful outcome are vanishingly small.

O'Hanlon recognizes that Iraq, like the Balkans, consists of distinct subregions dominated by ethnic and/or religious majorities. These subregions should be allowed to exist in semi-autonomous states with self-rule based on their unique characteristics. Unlike Bosnia, however, Iraq has an economy welded to the delivery of one thing-- oil-- and that for a successful economic plan, collusion among the sectarian factions in Iraq must take place to exploit the export of oil in order to benefit all the players. Without a political truce among the factions, the economy of Iraq will falter.

Unfortunately (yes that word is used a lot in relation to Iraq), the circumstances in Iraq have not ever been amenable to a peaceful coexistence between Shi'a, Sunni and Kurds. Only with a dictatorial ruler has there been enough order to keep the oil flowing. Scowcroft and Poppy Bush were wise enough to know that in 1991, thus they allowed Saddam to stay in power after Gulf War I. And if the machinations of full scale diplomatic, political, economic and military nation-building were to occur, the work necessary should have been done in advance and by an administration more competent than the current one. Failure was predetermined in 2003.

O'Hanlon, however, believes that we could attempt a political solution even at this late date by bringing the major players together, Shi'a, Sunni and Kurd, for a summit to iron out differences and come to some accord, as was done in Dayton. So far, however, no inkling of such a gambit has ever been put forth. Furthermore, strong militia leaders such Moqtada al-Sadr and perhaps even al Qaeda leaders would demand to be at the table, which of course would be a nonstarter and could kybosh any deal. Sadr's militia reportedly numbers 60,000 and is fully armed.

In order to increase the slim chance of lasting success for O'Hanlon's political plan, a diplomatic phase would need to be instituted among our allies which would necessarily include UN, NATO and especially Arab states such as Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Having a true multinational force in place to keep the peace for the long haul would do wonders to instill a sense stability and commitment to the educated moderate citizens in the region. Unfortunately (there's that word again), many of the educated and productive moderate Iraqis have left in the continuing refugee migration of 1000 people per day. This brain drain will have lasting negative consequences on the social development of Iraq for generations to come. And with Great Britain reducing their presence to 4500 from 7000, chances of increasing an allied presence in the Iraq quagmire is zero.

My point in the previous discussion of Option III was that if, as Bush is determined to do, we are to entertain a purely military solution to Iraq, and ignore our allies' opinions, and pay for it by ourselves, then we had better have a big freakin' army. Only by having a huge overwhelming military presence to institute martial law for perhaps a decade can we have any hope of making up for the deficiencies of the political, economic and diplomatic parts of the plan. And nobody would be able to guarantee that even then we would be successful. In short, the 21,500 planned by Bush is way too little and way too late.

I admit that going through these perverse mental gymnastics is pointless. Bush will do what Bush will do as Decider-in-Chief, and it will likely make no rational sense. To speak of “solutions” in Iraq is specious. I'm also safe in that there is no way I will be proven wrong since Bush is unlikely to engage in the heavy lifting needed to institute anything so sensible as a comprehensive plan as Clinton had done in Bosnia, and the American people are wise enough to eschew any military draft for Bush in Iraq.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff! Just one minor point:

"strong militia leaders such Bani-Sadr"

You must mean Moqtada al-Sadr. Bani-Sadr is the former Iranian president. I can see how the name might come to mind, though!

Grodge said...

Thanks, Anon, for the correction-- I made the change.

I was hurrying with the write-up during the pregame for the Bears game, and I was sloppy.

Bears won, so it's all OK!!!

I appreciate your comment.