Democracy Arsenal

« Why We Can't Leave | Main | Bushies who'll do better »

September 15, 2007

The Bloody Aftermath
Posted by David Shorr

Kevin Drum's critique of the "Chaos Hawks" has challenged the assumption that withdrawal will cause the entire Middle East region to erupt in flames. In a rare break from fact-checking and bean-counting the incidence of violence in Iraq, Ilan (someone please set him free) points out the irony of how clearly surge supporters can foresee the chaotic consequences of withdrawal while utterly unable to show how their own strategy will work.

But a post by Suzanne last month is the only assessment I've seen that looks at the possibility of wider violence and genocide within Iraq from the angle of the responsibility to protect. I agree with much of Suzanne's ethical, security, and political analysis, but still reach a different conclusion: that a large troop presence is not justified on the grounds of genocide-prevention.

The Pottery Barn Rule actually carries some weight with me, and a sense of responsibility for leaving Iraq better than we found it persuaded me, until 2005, that we should stay. In the end, though, my reasons for wanting to get out are the same as my reasons for opposing the invasion to begin with: realism about what our forces can and cannot do. I accept that violence may very likely escalate after we leave -- though Ilan (and Jon Stewart's) point stands about unkowability.

But the US occupation cannot resist the centrifugal political forces that are pulling the country apart. Reconciliation isn't going to come from the bottom up; the bottom is where the power struggle is most ruthless, like a gang war. There are too many fissures in Iraq, in too many directions, for an outsider to help balance all the interests. Even if we wanted to choose sides, and I don't, there are too many choices.

Actually, I look toward one of the principles of the Responsibility to Protect itself for my position: the precautionary principle of reasonable prospects. The Evans-Sahnoun Commission said that a humanitarian intervention should have:

a reasonable chance of success in halting or averting the suffering which has justified the intervention, with the consequences of action not likely to be worse than the consequences of inaction.

In other words, there needs to be a cost-benefit analysis. You don't make a limitless commitment to a very hazy prospect. We are still responsible for working with all the factions in Iraq as well as neighboring governments to try to keep them from making the worst escalatory moves. (Dropping the idea of a partition, which would only raise the stakes of the conflict, is a good start.) But for me that's not a military mission. I can't make this cost-benefit equation come out to justify keeping so many of our troops in the crossfire.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Bloody Aftermath:


Everyone agrees that any solution has to be 80/20 civil/military, but the discussions, in Congress and elsewhere, like this post, have been the opposite. If the diplomatic effort in Iraq were anywhere near the military effort, there could be a solution. The Iraqis got along before, they can do it again. The Northern Irish didn't get along before, but they are now because of diplomacy. I was in Belfast several months ago. It's quiet and enjoying a new prosperity. I'm sure that Ambassador Crocker is a good and decent man, but the US needs more horsepower on the scene, a lot more horsepower, if there's to be any hope of a solution. Let's be honest, people have to be bought or otherwise influenced. Conflict resolution, not bombs and grenades.

Personally, I think the empire likes things just the way they are. Endless war. Avoid the "victory" of an Islamic state under sharia allied with Iran. A million people have been killed in Iraq. We're going for two. Ilan's projected it.

I agree they can 'do it again,' but I don't see a way from here to there. It wasn't until many years of fighting that the Catholics and Protestants found a way to coexist, and the Sunnis and Shia aren't even in the same kind of relatively simple two-sided conflict. I believe in giving diplomacy every effort you can, but I don't believe that diplomacy can always solve any problem. There also has to be strong local leadership who desire a solution. I'm afraid I don't see it. We have to try, but I can't justify the troop presence on these grounds.

David, nobody sees "a way from here to there" because nobody's tried. The ISG report recommending diplomacy involving Syria and Iran was dismised out-of-hand. Syria, with a million Iraqi refugees, has been helpful in Lebanon in the past, and could be in Iraq. But no, they are evil. The Iraq leaders are close with Iran but they are evil too and will be bombed, as Syria just was by our Israeli proxies.

The US policy has been to exacerbate Iraqi sectarian conflict not quell it. One example: The US has been against Muqtada al-Sadr since day one but his party is number two in the government (before he left yesterday), and he is not friendly with Iran. The Iraqi constitution we wrote is sectarian. How do we know what they "desire?" We should just assume that they want peace, that's not unreasonable, and then work for it. And, yes, get the troops out because the Iraqis, particularly the Sunnis, want us out. But without real diplomacy, without political settlement and reconciliation, the troops will stay, no matter what you and I want.

It's a question of attitude. If we have the attitude that military force brings peace and that diplomacy is out because it can't "always solve any problem" then we are doomed to endless war. Apparently we are.

Bill Clinton is revered in Northern Ireland for his peace-making. Isn't that wonderful? It was great to be there as an American. I've seen Ryan Crocker, and he's no Bill Clinton.

I favor political engagement and regional diplomacy. I'm a long-time supporter of engagement with Iran. I also work from the assumption that most ordinary people want peace. All that said, I really think we have to shift focus away from solidiying Iraq federalism (or switching to confederalism).

Ordinary people want peace. They will also accept warlords and communal or confessional politics when these are the plausible guarantors of security. THe question for me is that I don't see who is going to negotiate this peace. There are no discernible (or insufficient, at best) politics of national unity to counterbalance the politics of fragmentation. Regional diplomacy won't fill this gap. We can work at all the political ends you suggest, but I think we have to adjust our objectives.

With all due respect, it really doesn't matter what you or I might think about the final form of any Iraqi resolution, confederation or whatever. We are talking here about the process, not the result, and the process must involve Iraqis. It's their country, not ours (technically).

What the US needs is peacemakers on the scene in Iraq and its neighboring countries to work out a resolution. The Carter Center, for example, has conducted peacemaking efforts in Uganda, Nepal, Palestine and Haiti. There are other experts in conflict resolution. It's not rocket science. Management and unions negotiate all the time, to say nothing of marriage counselors. Same idea--bigger scale.

Unfortunately the party line is: These people have been enemies for 700 years who have never gotten along (false) and they will never get along so there's no sense trying for peace. The US will keep sending troops there forever to occupy the country while Crocker runs the embassy shop. (You say we can't work it out so let's just leave, but that won't happen because of Pottery Barn.)

You say: "I don't see a way from here to there." I say neither do I, but I bet that we have some people smart enough to know how to work with the Iraqi factions, define the specific problems and develop mutually agreeable solutions, supported by Iraq's neighbors who do have an interest. Unfortunately, Bush refuses and you seem to have given up. *sigh* Anyhow, I suppose the coming attack on Iran makes it all academic.

Here's the thing. I have worked in the conflict resolution field. I managed programs in Burundi, Macedonia, and Bosnia in the mid-1990s for Search for Common Ground. I agree that this is important work, but again, we need a sense of proportion for how problem-solving resources stack up against the problem. Not quite 'same idea.' The United States, with maximum diplomatic push, and a strong coalition of other powers and all the neighboring countries MAY have a chance to dampen the conflict. With all due respect to the Carter Center, they're not going to solve this one.

Your point about the final form of the resolution is my point, sort of. The partition idea owes its genesis to the (typically American) presumption that the solution is plain to see. We are so far from resolution that I actually think it's important to acknowledge this. The illusion that a solution is within grasp is itsel a problem, IMHO.

The recent emphasis of the administration on bottom up organization ignores the problems of providing for a functioning oil infrastructure. This will require national security, and all kinds of industry. It requires ports, and most of all some kind of arrangements for sale and distribution of profits. How is that going to happen organically, bottom up?

"(Dropping the idea of a partition, which would only raise the stakes of the conflict, is a good start.)"

The conventional notion of partition may be out of date now. What the U.S. Army appears to be trying to do in the Shia south, following the example of the Sunni west, is to create armed tribal governments in all of Arab Iraq. The result will be partition along tribal lines rather than sectarian ones.

All of this may be superseded, though, if it is true that we are on course for war with Iran:

"but still reach a different conclusion: that a large troop presence is not justified on the grounds of genocide-prevention."

Of course not. Genocide protection actually is recognized under international law as something nations must do, especially if it is beginning. Mentioning the legal, moral and geo-political reasons for preventing genocide in Iraq couldn't possibly trump the masturbatory incantation of "get out now."

To suggest that it would might be to call into question the moral, legal and geo-political competence of this website.

We can't do that. One of FDR's better aphorisms already has been purloined for their use, so we must not mention anything else.

I am so happy to get some Tales Of Pirates gold and the Tales Of Pirates money is given by my close friend who tells me that the cheap Tales Of Pirates gold is the basis to enter into the game.

I gain some pw Gold from other players.

I hope i can get eve isk in low price.
i buy eve online isk for you.

I hope i can get rs gold in low price.
i buy runescape for you.

People may use fiesta money in the game. I need to buy fiesta Gold more and more.

I always can get some aion gold from my friends. I buy aion kina with my spare money.

Only your equipment becomes better, then you can win this game. In Anarchy gold, you can buy everything you want in this game. Tomorrow will be my birthday, so my friends promise to buy AO credits as gifts.

UGG Boots is your best ugg boots sale online Outlet
where you can buy the cheapest Ugg Boots.

Thank you for your sharing! I like i very much!

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In.

Guest Contributors
Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use