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October 16, 2007

What's Your Plan?
Posted by David Shorr

I agree with Ilan about many things; the potential value of pursuing a new federal governance system for Iraq is not one of them. Ilan's argument is that it can't hurt. Aah, but it can. One key point has been missing from the debate about federalism and partition; a rarely noted but key feature of any such 'solution' is its fixity. Here's what such a policy would say to the leaders of the various factions: "Okay, we're getting ready to set borders and codify powers." Far from paving the way for compromise, this will be the starting gun for all sides to strengthen their military and political position to bolster maximalist negotiating positions. In other words, the very neatness is exactly the problem. How can we believe that preparing to solve things once and for all will induce moderation?

In his plan, Sen. Joe Biden makes much of the precedent of Bosnia. I was taught in grad school to be wary of reasoning by historical analogy -- 'look at the differences as well as the similarities between cases,' they taught us. Okay, one really big difference, Bosnia was a full-out civil war between three essentially cohesive combatant forces: Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims. By 1995, battlefronts and areas of control were relatively clear (relatively) and exhaustion was setting in. In Iraq, forces are not cohering, areas of control are far from clear or contiguous, and I wish the sides were becoming exhausted.

Our responsibility gene makes us want a solution. But if this impulse leads us to clean up the mess from our last constitutional experiment with another, my plan is 'don't just do something, sit there!' I believe there are things we can do. Working from the outside-in, using the leverage of the neighboring states (as the Baker-Hamilton commission recommended) is critical. But when it comes to a neat negotiated outcome, we'd do well to heed the warning o the prophetic coauthors of 'The War as We Saw It':

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers.


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We seem to entirely lack a responsibility gene when it comes to our own soldiers and Treasury. We can't just "do nothing and sit there." The future of Iraq is far less important than the safety of our troops. Bring them home now.

If I believed our troops and spending could help push Iraq in a positive direction, I would support a continued presence. I did not support the War, but believed in a moral responsibility to leave the country better than we found it. About two years ago, I concluded that we were losing our ability to make a positive difference.

I don't mean 'sit there' literally, as in remain in Iraq. I mean, don't start meddling in the governance structure again. I think the realities of a multi-multi-sided civil war, power struggle really, is the strongest argument for pulling out -- which is why I keep citing 'Strategic Reset' and 'The War as We Saw It.'

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