Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Which way in Iraq?

Professor Richard K. Betts of Columbia, a college classmate of mine, is a centrist political scientist, an apostle of Cold War deterrence who opposed the current Iraqi war from the beginning on eminently sensible grounds. I have no reason whatever to suppose that he is actively in touch with the current Administration, but indications suggest that he is unwittingly becoming the prophet of the next stage of the Iraq war. The key text is an article that he wrote in Foreign Affairs in 1994, “The Delusion of Impartial Intervention.” Foreign intervention in civil wars (such as those then raging in Bosnia or Somalia) could not, he argued, be neutral. The civil war was occurring because both sides had decided they had something to fight over and would continue until one side had won (even though Bosnia proved that victory did not have to be total.) Thus, anyone who wanted to intervene in such a situation should pick a side. There are increasing indications that that is what the Bush Administration plans to do, but, bizarrely, some indications suggest that it has not conclusively decided which side to pick.

The United States intervened to overthrow minority Sunni rule. Its early constitutional decisions favored the Kurds and the Shi’ites. The insurgency was, and largely remains, Sunni-based, and the United States has not been able to contain it. Recent reports confirm that we are losing. The New York Times reported a few days ago that the Marines are soon going to withdraw from Fallujah, where they lost about 100 men in the month after the 2004 election in an attempt to intimidate the insurgents by destroying the town, and that even the Marines know that insurgents will take over once again. Today the Washington Post describes an intelligence report on our failure to subdue or even contain the insurgency in all of Anbar province—a report that predicts that Al Queda in Iraq will in fact remain a leading political force there for some time to come. We have, in short, achieved the opposite of what we set out to do.

Talk of “unleashing the Shi’ites” continues. Today’s Post also quotes a “senior U.S. Intelligence Official”—General Hayden, perhaps?—to the effect that Al Sadr’s Mahdi Army is now stronger than the Iraqi Army, and that Prime Minister Maliki disposes of no effective coercive force. Here are his recommendations as reported by the Post:

“But in a sign of the discord in Washington, the senior U.S. intelligence official said the situation requires that the administration abandon its long-held goal of national reconciliation and instead "pick a winner" in Iraq. He said he understands that means the Sunnis are likely to bolt from the fragile government. ‘That's the price you're going to have to pay,’ he said.

“The United States also needs to reexamine other basic assumptions, he said. To be effective, for example, the Iraqi security forces -- including army and police -- should be roughly doubled from the current goal of 325,000 to about 650,000, which would require about three years of recruiting and training, he said. The expanded military, he added, would probably become overwhelmingly Shiite and Kurdish -- an outcome that many Sunnis fear.”

I cannot claim any real expertise on Iraq, but it seems to me that to essentially back the Shi’ite horses—led by Moqtar Al-Sadr, who wants an American withdrawal—will lead to a much greater bloodbath than heretofore, particularly in mixed Baghdad. The exodus of educated and professional Iraqis, mostly Sunni, will continue. And is there really any evidence that a Sadr-backed Shi’ite regime would serve the purposes of the United States? I haven’t seen any. Nor is it clear why several hundred thousand Shi’ite young men would submit to American training and direction rather than joining their own militias.

But on the other hand, Juan Cole (at juancole.com), quotes an Arabic newspaper—it seems to be Jordanian one—that an exiled Ba’athist leader is lobbying hard to get President Bush and King Abdullah to agree to rehabilitate the Ba’ath party in Iraq in order to bring it back into the political process! It was this rather astonishing shock that moved me to write this midweek post; can it be that we are only now trying to decide what outcome we want? The Post also says that Vice President Cheney was “summoned” to Saudi Arabia, and if so, the Saudis were probably pressing us to back the Sunnis, rather than allow Iran to emerge as the winner.

The plot has thickened considerably in the 18 hours since I originally made this post, thanks to the New York Times's publication of Stephen Hadley's memorandum of November 8, which takes an entirely different view. Hadley remains committed to one Iraq ruled by some sort of coaliltion, and hopes to detach Prime Minister Maliki from some of his Shi'ite supporters. There is evidently a battle going on in Washington but it is not clear who stands where.

We thus face at least three totally different alternatives: 1) backing the Kurds and Shi’ites to at least defeat the insurgency that seems to have spoiled our hopes; 2) rehabilitate some of the Ba’athist leadership to bring real Sunni strength into the coalition government (a variant of the Hadley proposal); and 3) the neoconservative option, still apparently pushed by some within the Administration, of attacking Iran to remove the critical obstacle to American influence. Some neoconservatives, apparently—as well as the “senior intelligence official” quoted above—are banking on the idea that Moqtar Al-Sadr is anti-Iranian. Today in Estonia President Bush reiterated his belief that Iraqis have voted for democracy and that the United States cannot withdraw, while naming Iran, Syria and Hezbollah as major obstacles to peace. Temperamentally I think he is likely to incline towards option 3), but it may not be possible. If however the Sunnis drop out of the government he could still claim that we were pursuing our original goals.

The Marine intelligence report suggested the possibility of a Sunni state in Anbar province, and that sounds like a part of a possible solution to me. I do not completely agree with Richard Betts. Intervention can help settle a civil war as soon as both sides have realized they cannot win a total victory, and we might be able to hasten that day and take advantage of it when it comes. To announce that we favored a cease-fire could have a substantial effect, and would check the momentum of our current policy towards endless war. In any case, the above information tells us something about what to look for over the next few weeks.

Further update (Wednesday evening, November 29:) The three-way summit in Amman has been cancelled and even the Bush-Maliki meeting, if it takes place at all, will be pro forma. This undoubtedly has something to do with the Hadley memorandum, but my guess is that it also reflects the rumors out of Amman. The Iraqis believed, probably correctly (based on the Hadley memo) that Bush was going to pressure Maliki to let more Sunnis and Ba'athists back into the government and they were not in the least interested. Hadley's next memo would undoubtedly make interesting reading, but of course we are not likely to see it.

Meanwhile there is another item in Tuesday's news. Philip Zelikow, the Counselor to the State Department, has resigned. Zelikow was the most reasonable national security official in the Administration, an authority on the Cuban missile crisis who truly believed in diplomacy. He was an old friend and co-author of Secretary Rice, and I suspect he was responsible for the flurry of stories earlier this year to the effect that she had rehabilitated diplomacy within the Administration. Now he is gone. It is not a good omen for those who want the United States to rejoin the broader international community.

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