It was in the last week of November that I first noticed the rumors that an Administration faction was arguing that we should simply back the Shi'ites in Iraq because they constituted the majority of the population. Today the New York Times has a story on the first page of the Week in Review that finally fleshes out the tale. Interpreting the daily press is like interpreting dreams: one must focus on the information that immediately looks new or inexplicable, even if it's buried in the tenth paragraph. That's all I did three weeks ago, and the story has gradually leaked out since then.
Today's story traces the proposal to Vice President Cheney's office, calling it the "Darwin option," that is, choosing survival of the fittest. The author, Helene Cooper, carefully avoids actually attributing it to the Vice President himself. As I noted in my review of State of Denial, Cheney is obviously the Hillary Clinton of this Administration--the one person everyone is truly afraid of--and no one would tell Cooper on the record that he is backing this course, but that is the clear implication. In one ray of hope, Cooper mentions that a few Administration officials have figured out that Iraq is almost certain to break up and wants to prepare for good relations with the new Kurdish and Shi'ite states. In another counsel of despair, the story concludes by saying that some Adminstraton officials are quite willing to unleash a regional civil war between Shi'ites and Sunnis because the Sunnis--up until now our allies--are more numerous overall, albeit a miority in Iraq, and thus will eventually win. Apparently the cure for playing god is playing god some more.
An early Washington Post story on all this claimed that the pro-Shi'ite option came from the State Department, and specifically from Phil Zelikow, who has now left office. That seemed weird then, and today's story says that Condolezza Rice is on the other side, pushing for the "Hadley option," reconciliation between "moderate" Shi'ites and "moderate" Sunnis to outflank both the insurgency and Moqtar Al-Sadr. That certainly is the way that President Bush is talking, and seems more like "staying the course," but which way we will go seems to be an open question.
As I am convinced that some kind of partition is the only option for Iraq I am going to regard the glass as about 10% full because there still are Administration officials brave enough to defy Tony Snow ("Partition. . .is a non-starter") and endorse it. But they probably will not prevail. It makes sense that Cheney would side with the Shi'ites; he believes in nothing but power, and they have it. And while their victory would favor Iran in the short run, he hopes to attack Iran, too, and solve that problem. See the longer post from yesterday, below.
The Times story can be read at:
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Dear Professor Kaiser,
I am somewhat surprised by your fast belief in the Galbraith thesis; I doubt you would allow an undergraduate essay to be supported by a single source, and moreover doubt that you would support the methodological basis of Galbraith's "study" (i.e. the paid employ of the KRG). The simple question that is always left out of the 'break up the artificial state' thesis is simply: will the pieces not all inherit the exact same problems? The answer: yes.
So, it is no solution in the short term whatsoever.
Finally, I say this as someone wholly supportive of Kurdish self-determination (You can check my publication record). Perhaps allowing Iraqis to speak for themselves would have been a good step, and while I understand why politicos fail to do so, I am disturbed that academics are unwilling to take the time to give them voice.
Either we believe in self-determination or we don't; either we believe in the hubris of deciding Iraqis fate for them or we don't. American intellectuals need to take a stand on this issue (it isn't a liberal or conservative one so perhaps they will be unable to frame it properly).
All my best,
University of Victoria
This appreciative reader of your blog wonders why you thought this gratuitous insult was necessary?
"As I noted in my review of State of Denial, Cheney is obviously the Hillary Clinton of this Administration-"
Criticize Hillary Clinton on policy in the context of American politics but you don't need to descend to cheap caricatures.
For Carmen Grayson:
I suggestyou look back at my review of Bush in Denial, where I explained what I meant about Hillary in more detail. I think my conclusion was a more than reasonable inference, and I am not even sure that it really qualifies as an insult. (I would have replied privately but, once again, I don't see people's email addresses when they post comments.)
Re: The Clinton/Cheney comparision: I actually think its a compliment. All administrations need a whip, a hard hand wich co-workers fear. This is not a bad thing, its reality and how big ships operate. Now, who would you work for, Hillary Clinton or Dick Cheney?
Now, concerning the overall historical view, I agree that separation into three states is the only solution. Lebanon could have been a motor in this process, together with Syria (wich is amazingly secular and easygoing) if you had not declared them Mortal Enemies of the Reich. The admins. decision to not talk with Syria and, to a lesser extent Iran, seems quite irrational to me. Its Ideology over Pragmatism, and I just dont get it. If the Three Provinces of Iraq is to be re-established as under Ottoman rule, you need a key state budget, and a loose confederation. The Sunnis must get paid, and Fallujah must be rebuilt in the styleof the Marshal plan, not this utterly corrupt Bush jr. style. ! .
Argh, thats the problem with your current system: You do everything on the cheap. When you touched Afghanistan, you should have taken it seriously, and NOT invaded Iraq. Now the farmers are hiring Tsjetchen snipers to take revenge, they split their opium-income in hiring 5 professionals for a year. Its how Afghanistan works. Soon that market will extend to the smuggling clans of Iraq.
Thanks for the response, I followed your urging and carefully reread your review of "State of Denial."
First, it seems insulting to me to compare Clinton and Cheney with regard to how they were/are "feared." The politics of the former, while imperfect by my measures, are still in a different political universe from what Cheney has wrought upon us. To introduce "fearsomeness" seems not only outside the larger arguments that you were advancing but also unproductively reductionist.
This is not a scholarly observation about Baker-Hamilton and I would have confined my grousing about the Clinton-Cheney juxtaposition to an e-mail had I known how to reach you that way. I'm still a Kaiser Groupie and frequently e-mail your essays to several groups of friends.
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