Why Both Parties Have it Wrong on Iraq

For the last few years American politics have been dominated by Iraq, and this isn’t likely to change. In fact, opinion polling showed again and again that Iraq is right up there with terrorism and the economy as the most important issues for voters. While I had a strong preference in this election, it wasn’t based on the war because I believe both parties’ policies (or lack thereof) on Iraq are doomed to fail.

First, as the Republicans haven’t been shy to point out, the Democrats have failed to articulate a clear position. The Democrats seem split between the urge to stay the course and hope things get better and the urge to drop everything now because we’ve suffered too many losses.

The so-called “cut and run” strategy favored by many on the left is exemplified by Cindy Sheehan. Every compassionate person should sympathize with the loss of her son, a soldier in Iraq.

But while some of my peers see Sheehan’s anti-war stance as a clarion call of truth, a prophetic voice in the desert, to me she has all the grating appeal of a shrill reactionary.

Are we as Americans wholly unwilling to sacrifice for a good cause? Regardless of the initial rationale for the invasion, or the morality of that action, pulling out now could result in absolute chaos, and we would be responsible.

The world is full of hot spots, potential genocidal regimes, conflict-induced famines and other situations that may morally necessitate intervention by the U.S. and other powerful nations to prevent atrocities.

Our unique sensitivity to American casualties is to some degree a testament to our dislike of war, but it kept us from doing a lot of good in Somalia (the incident portrayed in Black Hawk Down) and in places like Rwanda and Sudan.

On the other hand, the Republicans have rallied behind President Bush and his mantra of “stay the course”. This was recently moderated (largely due the political pressure of Tuesday’s elections) to having “benchmarks” for withdrawal—a slightly more nuanced view, but quite similar in most respects.

Some Democrats have rather correctly called Bush’s “stay the course” what it is: “stand still and lose.” Our strategy simply isn’t working. Despite the improvements we may have made to some portions of Iraqi society, both the sectarian violence and the flow of refugees out of Iraq have steadily increased.

The only policy direction that, in my opinion seems viable in the long term is largely absent from the debate: a three-state solution.

Why? Iraq is at its heart an unnatural state, a creation of British imperialists who cobbled together long-opposed tribal districts. David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace explores the history of the Middle East after the fall of Ottoman Empire, revealing that Iraq was created for the convenience of its rulers, with virtually no correspondence to ethnic and religious realities on the ground. Following imperialism, it took a tyrant like Saddam Hussein to hold Iraq together.

In a similar situation, Yugoslavia was only held together by imperial and dictatorial communist rule, and ethnic nationalism flared back up after the fall of Tito. While an early military intervention might have prevented a downward spiral of violence in what was to become Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia, at some point separation becomes the only workable option.

After Saddam Hussein was deposed, an occupation by a much more powerful American force might have been able to use crushing force prevent anti-American and sectarian violence and secure Iraq’s borders with Iran and Syria. But our failure to have a large enough force on hand and a lack of planning allowed an increase in violence that has steadily increased.

I believe Iraq has reached a breaking point. Ethnic and inter-religious tensions have been exasperated to the point that maintaining a viable, tolerant multiethnic nation would require a level of force and commitment that the American public is simply not willing to sustain.

Based on the escalation of Iraqi-vs.-Iraqi violence since the invasion of Iraq, we basically have two choices: divide Iraq into three states now, or watch the Iraqis (or more accurately, the extremists on all sides) ethnically cleanse themselves into three states after we withdraw.

The reason a three-state solution of Kurdish, Shi’a and Sunni regions hasn’t gained strong support is that Iraq’s neighbors hate the idea. Iran and Turkey fear independent Iraqi Kurds because their countries hold their own Kurdish separatist movements. Also, enclaves in Iraq lack of clear boundaries, Baghdad is divided, and a number of minorities could suffer persecution in divided states just as the states of the former Yugoslavia struggle with minority rights.

These problems might be moderated by moving Iraq toward a loose federation that gives regions significant autonomy, and allows some sharing of oil revenues. This would make Iraq’s neighbors uneasy, but less so than full independence. And again, if segments of Iraq are likely to separate themselves through the process of war after the Americans depart anyway, giving people the choice to move now might curtail future violence.

I hope I’m wrong; the process would be messy and result in more loss of life before the situation could ever stabilize. But regardless of what Democrats and Republicans claimed in their campaign speeches, neither of the presently espoused strategies seems likely to succeed.

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4 Responses to Why Both Parties Have it Wrong on Iraq

  1. Scott Moon says:

    There is oil in only two of the three areas, this will make it difficult. A unified Iraq would be a better outcome and I think it is far too early to say it can’t happen.

  2. Kellen says:

    I have to say that I agree. If “Iraq” wants to be a single, unified nation, the desire has to be within the nation itself, not within the will of its neighbors or foreign powers. It would be better if we let Iraq split into as many states as its people could agree on, or at least to give them a greater degree of separation than exists now.

  3. Scott Moon says:

    Its not the Iraqi people that is the problem it is Radical Islam that makes up the insurgence and it is they that oppose democracy, it is they who are fighting any American success, it is they that continue the violence because they think that pushes us to leave, which would be a huge victory in their march to achieve their stated goal to have the world under Muslim rule. I am afraid they may be right. It seems they have read us perfectly. My fear is we will make up some condition of “victory” and pack up and leave emboldening terror as the weapon of choice to defeat America, inviting much more. I know the American people are tired but history may one day look back and say we had a chance to turn the tide in this war on terror but let that chance slip through our fingers. I hope not.

  4. Scott Moon says:

    First, I appreciate your point of view. Secondly, it is not a Fox News documentary, don’t confuse people that way. It is an independent documentary in the like of Al Gore’s on Global Warming. While It does illustrate the thinking of the movement, I am not saying it is the final word on the subject. But it is my hope, however, it will begin a discussion that we must have.

    I do hope you are right when it comes to sectarian violence. I would feel far more comfortable if it was as simple as the people want us out of their country. I think the insurgence is more from outside interference (not all, as we saw with the protest of the Hussein death verdict) but my fear is this has become the place of confrontation and we will look back one day with regret we did not do enough when we had the chance.

    I don’t disagree with the Loose Federation approach that you are suggesting, though I think the oil still may be a problem that could possibly be overcome. Perhaps oil would remain under the control of the national gov’t that would funnel money to the 3 states. I am not sure this is the best outcome, but it may be becoming that. I am encouraged that you do not advocate claiming victory, that indicates to me there still may be a successful conclusion. Ironically, the Democrat victory has bolstered my confidence, not because they will force a course change, but because they are a part of governing and they will no longer be able to play politics, and are now a part of the solution, or worse part of the blame moving forward.

    Any solution that encompasses a democratic or even a federated Iraq is good for the long term war on terror, making it a good place for all sides to come together.

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