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February 07, 2007

The Genocide Question - in Iraq
Posted by Shadi Hamid

A Daily Dish reader asks an excellent question, one that I suspect puts liberals in an awkward position:

One of the main arguments against an American pullback or pullout is the likelihood of a genocidal and brutal civil war that would "force" the U.S. to come in to stop the slaughter. I think it is appropriate to assume that there would be massive killing. I've heard arguments to the contrary and I've heard arguments that Syria/Iran, etc. would not permit it, but assuming that it would not take place is as foolish as assuming that everything will be just fine. So we should assume that there will be incredible slaughter, religious dislocation and depravity - at least in the non-Kurdish areas - if we get out.

Query: Do we have the discipline to stay out and to be presented night after night with scenes of uniminaginable slaughter that we will be accused of being "responsible for"? Because if we don't have the discipline - or the cold-heartedness, if you will - then that's a strong argument to continue with Bush's approach.

What's the "progressive" response to this? If we have strong reason to believe that there will be genocidal slaughter if/after we leave Iraq, then it seems to me that simply leaving Iraq - and leaving it at that - is a morally untenable position to take. Perhaps realists can stomach the slaughter of non-Americans (as is their wont), but those of us who claim to be liberals should aspire for a higher standard of conduct. The question, of course, is whether there would in fact be massive ethnic cleansing (on a scale demonstrably worse than what is currently occuring) if America fully withdraws. If the answer is yes, then I don't know how we can advocate immediate/full withdrawal in good conscience. We simply cannot. This is something liberals must grapple with. Andrew Sullivan's response troubles me:

The great drawback of my own position is that it requires the United States to stand back as genocide takes place. The great drawback of the president's position is that we are already policing and enabling a genocide at a slower pace but comparable scale. History suggests that Americans can leave a place to hell. America was tough enough to watch the Vietnamese boat people. But of course it makes me pause. It should. The choices before us are all dreadful. But sometimes the best decision is the least palatable in the short term.

There are, however, other options besides "leaving" and "staying." Which is why I think Fareed Zakaria's partial drawdown/rapid-reaction force proposal is a third way out that puts the needed pressure on the Maliki government (by reducing troop levels), while reserving the American right to intervene in the case of genocidal slaughter.


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I think looking at legitimacy is the right approach to this problem.

Large-scale re-intervention makes sense if we're asked to re-intervene by a broad-based coalition of Iraqs. I would expect such a coalition would arise if one side, probably the Sunnis, disproportionately suffers from ethnic cleansing. However, I could be wrong. Maybe enough Sunni power-brokers would prefer to just rely on the already promised Saudi support.

Humanitarian intervention is premised on the fact that the help is wanted. The last polling I've seen showed that only a majority of the Kurds want us there as of the end of the year, regardless of the security situation.

I don't disagree with your conclusions, maintaining a rapidly expandable force for that sort of situation is a good balance.

But ultimately, the Pottery-Barn rule is flawed. We don't own Iraq, the Iraqis do. We've formally transfered sovereignity back (for what it's worth). Any deaths that happen should rightfully be on America's conscience. However, that doesn't mean we'll have the legitimate authority to act unless the population we're trying to save wants our help.

"Incredible slaughter, religious dislocation and depravity" are already occurring and I have seen no evidence that the American conscience is bothered in the least. Six hundred thousand deaths, a million refugees, much of the population displaced and the current quibble is over what the force level should be in an unsecured Baghdad after nearly four years of a brutal military occupation.

The US presence doesn't lessen the level of violence it exacerbates it. The Shiite Iraqi "government" forces are seen as US puppets so they are attacked. Shiites, particularly the Mahdi Army, are using US aid to fight the Sunnis. The various Iraqi religious groups mostly got along fine with each other prior to US intervention, and they could again. There is evidence that the civil war was in fact instigated by the US.

It's becoming increasingly obvious, as the Iraqi people escalate their occupation resistance (improved IEDs and five choppers downed in two weeks) that what the US says or does is irrelevant anyhow. The Iraqis are in charge. Not their "government" which is a farce, but Iraqi citizens fighting us and fighting each other.

There's no moral distinction between slow genocide and rapid genocide. Nor between genocide this year and genocide two years from now. Add to this the likelihood that America's presence in Iraq is in some ways inflammatory, and the case that we're preventing genocide is really, really weak. (We are, at present, bombing cities, for heaven's sake.)

Are there alternatives to quagmire vs. pullout? Of course, but they all depend on a key counterfactual: That GW Bush isn't president. Because they all depend on deft diplomacy from a man who's allergic to it.

This is stupid.

Sure, if we assume that there will be horrible genocide when we pull out and that there wouldn't be if we didn't pull out, then you'd have a point.

But what possible reason could you have to make those assumptions? If you assume that we can identify the people who do the genocide and kill them all then yes, maybe we could stop the genocide that way. We might start by executing the entire iraqi police.Of course it isn't all of them doing it, but they're identifiable and they're a central part, you have to expect some innocent casualties when you go after the bad guys.

Anyway, that's where we stand. The method the US military can use to prevent genocide is to kill people until they become peaceful. I can imagine this as part of a national reconciliation plan, but not a major part.

The official iraqi government might come up with a plan that would work, but they'd need us not to veto it. The easiest way to keep Bush from vetoing an iraqi plan is to pull out.

Here is the problem with much of the contemporary Washington-style "liberal" response to the obscene levels of death in Iraq: these self-professed liberals aren't really interested in doing anything constructive about it. There is a lot of self-indulgent hand-wringing and posturing, but a widespread absence of the kind of political courage needed to call for the steps that must be taken if we are to have any chance at all of bringing an early end to the Iraqi slaughter.

It should be obvious by now that there will be no military solution to Iraq - at least not one that doesn't follow the path of untold slaughter you claim you want to avoid, Shadi. The only solution, if there is one, is a political solution. Given the multifarious political, sectarian, ideological and tribal connections between people inside Iraq and those outside Iraq, and also given the substantial and competing economic, strategic and national security interests in Iraq of other countries, there can be no political solution to the civil war that is not a complex team effort by all of the neighboring states in the region, along with the major economic players outside the region. There can be no hope of pacifying the country without a diplomatic initiative in the region - one that includes, but is not limited to, Iran and Syria.

The idea that you can pacify and stabilize a war-ravaged and divided country while at the same time banging the war drums in the direction of the country next door is preposterous. When has escalation of tension with bordering countries ever lead to the pacification and stabilization of a country at war? So until Hillary AIPAC-Clinton, John Edwards and the rest of the DC "liberal" pundits and demagogues get serious about bringing peace to Iraq, and stop falling to their kneepads before the interests groups who seek to exploit Iraq's violence to pursue tactical and strategic objectives, I'm not going to be falling for any of their crocodile tears about dead Iraqis and dead American soldiers.

On a related matter, why have so many people come to believe that the solution in Iraq involves "pressure" on the Maliki government? I'm dumbfounded. Where did this popular new Washington meme come from? Does anyone in Washington actually read the newspapers? Can't anyone remember and stay focussed on whom the baddest of the bad guys are, and where the bulk of the violence is actually coming from?

On February 3rd, an insurgent truck bomber killed 137 people in a single explosion at a Baghdad market. This is the largest single attack since the 2003 invasion. The attack left a crater 15 feet long, 10 feet wide and 5 feet deep in the middle of the market.

There have already been four insurgent attacks in 2007 that have killed over 70 people each. One thousand people were killed in one week - the vast majority of them by the insurgency. Nor are these even attacks on security and government targets like police stations, military posts and checkpoints. They are attacks on markets, mosques and neighborhoods. This is rank, unabashed terrorism.

Has the Maliki government been given the weapons it would need to defeat the insurgency completely and stop the truck bombings? Of course not. Are you proposing to provide those arms Shadi? Let's hear the proposal. Do you think Malicki is not exerting enough "pressure" on the insurgents to stop killing his people? And what do you want to pressure him to do - attack the perpetrators of violence with sticks and rocks? What is Zakaria's rapid-reaction force supposed to do: pressure Iraq's Shia into not getting killed?

These knee-jerk Manifest Destiny, City-on-the-Hill American interventionists think that everything in the world is an American responsibility, and that somehow I should feel guilty that Iraqis are killing each other. Horsefeathers and poppycock. If Iraqis want to kill each other then that's their business and we shouldn't interfere. Did the British meddle in the US civil war? Or the Iraqis?

Nobody agreed with me that the US started the civil war in Iraq, and that the US just wanted to keep the profitable war going, so let it go.

In regard to "partial drawdowns" we're either in or we're out. If we're in then we're in all the way, as the present surge indicates. If we're out, then we should get out. We really should, but we won't--too much money is being made. Cheney recently moved into a $2.9 million home, and his Halliburton Stock options increased in value from $240,000 to over $8 million. Daddy, what did you do in the war? -- I made a pile of money.

I agree with you Don, 100%.

The talking points between the author and the neocons appear to be separated only by intent.

The end result is the same:

1. Forget the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, let's obsess about Iraq, Iran and Militant Shia Groups who never attacked us.

2. We should stay in Iraq (for the money or the holocaust (oh, wait. That is reserved for Jews).

By the way, point #1 comes from his "Reflections on the Surge and the Future of Iraq" which is full of polemical rhetoric about "Sadrist Death Squads" and so forth.

As the Bush Administration goes, so goes Shadi Hamid. I would call you sir a right-wing embed on an otherwise liberal site.


So we can't leave?

Are you going to enlist? I'll drive you to the recruiting center.

Quick defense of Mr. Hamid

Is the official Bush administration position now to drawdown combat troops while retaining a small presence? Last time I checked, the administration was increasing troop levels with unreachable criteria set as the precondition for any withdrawal.

There's a bit more variety in the neo-cons admittedly. Some are begining to suppport various drawdown proposals. But a good segment of them, particularly ones that the administration sometimes listens to, are pushing for even larger increases.

Is Genocide prevented by a handful of rapid responders?

Let me ask you Greg, if it has done nothing, how is less gonna do more?

How do we know that US presence is not the key factor CAUSING the violence?

How do we know that the entire Arab world doesn't assume Maliki's gov't is a transparent stooge-cracy?

Since the Saudis and the Israelis are such good friends, we can place the rapid responders there and move the rest of the fight to Afghanistan.

Is Genocide prevented by a handful of rapid responders?

Let me ask you Greg, if it has done nothing, how is less gonna do more?

How do we know that US presence is not the key factor CAUSING the violence?

How do we know that the entire Arab world doesn't assume Maliki's gov't is a transparent stooge-ocracy?

Since the Saudis and the Israelis are such good friends, we can place the rapid responders there and move the rest of the fight to Afghanistan.

Your questions in order.
1) Depends on the specifics of the situation. Could they protect an urban population? Probably not. Could they protect large refugee flows? To a greater extent, although they couldn't really protect such camps from predatory elements within them.

2) That gets to the topic I was disagreeing a bit with Mr. Hamid on. I wouldn't re-intervene to prevent/stop genocide unless we had broadbased support from the victim group. By that I don't mean the government or ex-pats I mean the various powerbrokers on the ground. I'm not sure whether he'd re-intervene without a request for *U.S.* help from the victim group, I'd disagree with him.

3) I think you make a legit point about whether even a much smaller U.S. presence would continue to cause or sustain violence. However, under the wide variety of proposals, day-to-day U.S. interaction with Iraqs would be dramatically reduced. Short of redeploying them outside of the country, deployment to just Kurd areas or the borders might be a good compromise. However, pulling back to a supporting role does represent a sufficiently dynamic change that I think it will alter the conflict dynamic. If there's still a lot of insurgent really focusing on us, then I'd take your point and argue that we hadn't drawn back far enough.

Although under no circumstances would I support placing troops back in Saudi Arabia.

4) As for the stooge-ocracy, I'm not sure their exact opinion. But, as I said, I'm not considering a Maliki request for help to be legitimate in and of itself. Even if we don't control them we've got a rather unproductive co-dependent relationship.

Fair answers, objective view.

I wish you were blogging instead.

The "unimaginable slaughter?"

Who is he trying to convince and of what?

DMZ, I never said "unimaginable slaughter," nor did I say that genocidal slaughter WILL happen. I said that it MAY happen. Big difference.And the jury's still out on whether or not a full US withdrawal will lead to massive ethnic cleansign/genocide. I honestly don't know and I don't think anyone does. Then again, I suppose there'd only be one what to find out for sure, and then it would probably be too late.

Greg, to respond to your question: "I'm not sure whether he'd re-intervene without a request for *U.S.* help from the victim group, I'd disagree with him."

Well, I'd advocate re-intervening in the case of genocide with or without a request for US help from the "victim group" (i.e. sunnis). The reason being that the victim group is not monolithic nor does it speak with one voice, so there would be no way to discern whether or not such a "request" would indeed be representative of the victim group. There are certainly some elements within the sunni nexus (al-Qaeda terrorists and sunni insurgents) that would actually want the slaughter to continue, for propoganda gains and so as to gain new recruits.

"I never said unimaginable slaughter,"

True. You quoted it as a sympathetic device which was selected for your argument.

Net diff = 0

Hair successfully split.

We did not arrive in Iraq to start genocide (atleast not as far as I know) and we, as Americans, are only accountable for our actions and our intentions.

We are not committing genocide. We do not wish genocide on Iraq.

Moral dilemma resolved.

Good. Yes, realists do indeed seem quite capable of resolving moral dilemmas rather speedily. I suppose that's why Brent Scrowcroft and James Baker rose to such prominence in the first place.

First, thanks for your response.

I can see working at groups finer than the Sunni/Shia/Kurd divide. We certainly wouldn't get Al Qaeda asking for our help and I didn't mean to set any conditions on their approval. However, I'd be fairly surprised if there's still an active anti-U.S. insurgency if the sectarian battle turns out so one-sided.

Alternately, perhaps some city, province or large refugee group would be willing to turn in heavy arms and demilitarize in exchange for protection against the conflict.

However, I would argue that humanitarian intervention is predicated on the on the idea that the people being helped are at least somewhat unified in their desire for help. I think this is a reasonable standard.

If we aren't dealing with discrete political units, than the best we can do for the people is to help them find refugee in a more stable country . For those that have put their neck out for us, I agree with George Packer that we owe them asylum.

This isn't based on demanding that people be grateful or that things be easy for the U.S. I just think that the current situation in Iraq has clearly shown the limits of our ability to protect people in the midst of a guerrilla war where we lack support.

For the record, I didn't reach this conclusion speedily. I held out hope for some time, probably too long. However, by the summer of 2006 we had lost popular support and our big push to secure Baghdad had failed.

"So we can't leave?

Are you going to enlist? I'll drive you to the recruiting center."

I did. Does that give me any greater moral authority in here? You be the judge.

S is right. Although a Sunni insurgency would not exist without US intervention, a far worse tragedy would have -- a Baathist tyranny that someday was going to choose the dynastic succession route, and we likely would have been back cleaning up the mess.

Today, although US troops often encourage resistence, we also keep a lid on much of the sectarian violence. That's why we're "surging" in Baghdad.

Perhaps what S is getting at is that we should look beyond some masturbatory dislike of Bush, the "neocons" and whatever other buzzword we should like to mutter, and instead consider when force projection is in both our nation's, and our world's, best interests.

For all my progressive chums who keep telling me they'd rather I deployed to Darfur instead of Iraq (and, indeed, believe wholeheartedly that our deployment to Iraq kept us from "solving" the Darfur crisis), when, exactly, should force be used? At to what ends?

Could not a decent progressive argument be made that a war of liberation against a repressive Baath dictatorship on the wrong side of history wasn't a good thing? That the many people in Iraq who appreciate the invasion (trade unionists, Kurdish secularists, intellectuals, dissidents) are like-minded progressive souls? That in and of itself, using military force to achieve democratic goals isn't inherently evil?

I also served during the Clinton years. Did he not use force to achieve many of the same "neocon" goals in the Balkans and Somalia? Was not the genocide in Rwanda his greatest foreign policy blunder, the one with which he carried the most misgivings?

Was the "neocon" war in Afghanistan not necessary, and the Clinton years found wanting for our seemingly inability to use force to demolish al Qaeda and the failed states that supported the terrorist network?

These are tough questions I believe S is asking. He deserves real answers.

"Although a Sunni insurgency would not exist without US intervention, a far worse tragedy would have -- a Baathist tyranny that someday was going to choose the dynastic succession route, and we likely would have been back cleaning up the mess."

It depends. We didn't do much to clean up the mess when Marcos fell. The filipinos did just fine without us and then they told us to go away.

We didn't do much to clean up the mess in east germany, czechoslovakia, poland, hungary, etc when the XSSR fell and they fell with it.

We didn't move in to clean up after the greek junta fell.

There have been lots of changes of government where we didn't intervene. Isn't it plausible iraq might have had one that didn't need us?

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