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September 18, 2007

Chaos Hawks and the Genocide Arguement
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Barry Posen had an excellent piece about chaos hawks six months ago.  (Proving once again that he is smarter than all of us). Posen systematically rips apart the various arguments for why we can't afford to lose.  One particular argument that has escaped notice to this point. 

Genocide. The humanitarian consequences of this intensified fighting could be grave. But genocide happens against unarmed populations; all groups in Iraq are heavily armed. Still, the violent ejection of minorities from particular areas is likely. Instead of convincing minorities to stay in neighborhoods where they are vulnerable to murder by local majorities, the United States can help people resettle in parts of Iraq that are safer.

Posen is right.  Genocide happens when a weak and unarmed population is systematically rounded up and killed.  Exactly, who is weak and unarmed in Iraq?  The small minority Christian groups and the Yezidis are vulnerable and that may need to be addressed.  But surely not the Sunnis, Kurds or Shi'a.  In fact, an unintended consequence of the "Anbar Awakening" has been to ensure that the Sunni tribes are better armed and organized to resist anything approaching genocide.  What you are likely to see in the case of withdrawal is continued ethnic cleansing and population displacement as the groups physically separate.  The sectarian civil war will continue.   But the genocide argument is a red herring.


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You realize how hilarious this is, right? We're justifying our departure from a war we started by saying, "Well, at least there won't be a *genocide*--all the parties hate each other sufficiently to make sure that they're well-armed."

Chris is absolutely right. We can't justify our departure based on the condition we're leaving Iraq in. The condition just won't be good. We have to justify our departure by saying this: our people feel they were misled into the war, they never supported it strenuously in the first place and don't support it at all now. That's it. That's the justification. We're a democracy and our people demanded that our government change course.

There is nothing in either the accepted public understanding, nor international law, that says that genocide cannot happen to armed groups. That's simply spurious, and, I suspect, a misguided pre-excuse for events that are obviously going to happen or be exacerbated.

Genocide is the intentional destruction of an ethnic, racial, national, or religious group. I've seen nothing in the literature that says, 'well, that guy's brother had an AK-47, so he doesn't count as a victim.'

Dan Q. Public: I think the point is that if the two sides are comparably armed, then instead of a 'genocide' you get a 'civil war'. In a genocide, one side slaughters the other. In a war (civil or not) two sides slaughter each other.

The sick point of this is that if the US left Iraq and one side was better equipped and killed 50,000 people of the other side, that's genocide and a humanitarian disaster. However, if the US left Iraq, and two sides were relatively equally balanced, and 200,000 people died in a massive and bloody ethno-sectarian conflict for political dominance, that's a disaster, but it's not genocide and therefore not as 'bad'.

Similarly, if the most extreme estimates of deaths in Iraq are correct, then between a half-million to a million people have already died as a result of the war. But since they died during the occupation, they died from 'terrorism' and 'sectarian killings,' but not genocide or a civil-war.

Death is death, the only thing that changes are the euphemisms. Just ask Crocker and Petraeus.


That's right except that genocide generally has a much higher rate of death than sectarian civil war. In Rwanda the genocide killed 800,000 people in a month (And I think Rwanda has a smaller population than Iraq but I'd have to check). In Iraq (according to most estimates), you haven't had nearly that mean people killed in a 2 year civil war, which was preceded by a 2 year insurgency.

You are talking about roughly 5 million or so Sunnis in Iraq. Those who argue that genocide would occur believe that 2-3 million of those people would likely be killed with the rest displaced. My point is that that scenario is not going to happen. The reality of a civil war, while still tragic and awful, is much less grim.

Good point. I would also add that genocide has a tendency to lead to larger conflicts (a la Rwanda). Would Syria or Saudi Arabia really sit tight if a Sunni genocide was a possibility. And rather than that being an argument for the chaos hawks, I think it bolsters the view of more limited consequences of a US pullout. The Shiites in Iraq are not stupid, and I doubt that they would push hard enough to create a larger regional conflict. I don't think anyone else in the region (Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc.) wants that. Aside from Baghdad, is there any area of Sunni-Iraq that the Shiites want control over? I was under the impression that there is little to no oil or anything else of value in that area. What is the end goal of the Shiites in Iraq? If all they want is a partition of Iraq, wouldn't that avoid the regional conflagration, and genocide?

Last small point: why do you divide the last 4 years of conflict into an insurgency, and now a civil war? I'm not trying to be snarky, I'm actually just curious.


Generally speaking before the Samarra bombing in February 2006 the biggest source of violence was probably the insurgency. But afterwards it really became sectarian violence. Not really an exact science. You could argue that the low grade civil war has been going on for much longer, and there is still is an insurgency. So, just a question of emphasis.

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