December 10, 2008


I'm starting to get an Alice in Wonderland feeling about plans for a US withdrawal from Iraq, under the SOFA, following Obama's "combat troops" out in 16 months in the context of the reality of the Iraqi situation.

So, I'm thinking maybe I'm just wrong about stuff, that I've not been keeping up. But, as far as I can tell, the context is still:
  • Any government, no matter how representative, will have Shiite Arabs running the country, with a practically autonomous province run by Sunni Kurds (with Kirkuk in dispute).
  • There will be no Iraqi national defense capability, to speak of--no air, no armor, no logistical capability.

  • The US and Israel are quite unpopular in Iraq, and will be for the foreseeable future

  • The Iraqis expect to have actual elections
I do not see how an Iraqi government emerges, within this context, that remains allied with the United States, in the absence of occupation forces.  Any such government would have to be selected in some way other than through a representative electoral process. I suppose that the US can continue to play its pre-election role in Iraq that the clerics play in Iran through the next election, but after that, I don't see how that can happen. 

The original plan, of course, was to install a pro-American, English-speaking*, strong man with trappings of apparent elections, but with a result, as Cheney said in 2003, acceptable to the US. NOT like those Palestinian elections. Leaving aside the insane idea that this strong man was supposed to be Chalabi, I don't see how a pro-American (and hence, pro-Israel) government can possibly come to and hold power in Iraq.

I also don't see how relations between Iraq and Iran do not become closer.  Again, this would conflict with the need for a continued US/Iraqi client-state relationship.  Even a government installed by the US, propped up with "foreign aid" and supported, in defense terms by air and armor placed over the border would find it difficult to support US bellicosity with Iran.

Now it may be that Obama will retire the Axis of Evil, and try to improve relations with Iran. This certainly is an overripe prospect; the question is whether it has rotted out entirely, as the US position has weakened, steadily if not precipitously, in the region.  It may be that Governor Richardson's idea of a regional security pact may be negotiated, with Syria, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia agreeing to leave a defenseless Iraq alone.

But even so, I simply don't see how the US can withdraw and not leave Iran as the major player in the region, with, at best,  a face-saving agreement with Iraq that is pretty much limited to oil concessions.  And that's the best case scenario.

The worst is an eruption of civil war by proxies of the surrounding states, with the possibility of the conflict crossing borders along ethnic lines, with Saudi Shiites and Turkish Kurds drawn into the conflict, while the isolated, but still angry Sunni Arab Iraqis keep things complicated in Baghdad.

What's bothering me here, more than anything else, is the absence of any discussion of these issues, publicly.  Contingency planning for these instances have to be going on, even if nobody is telling the president about them, right?  A real plan is being worked out to not make things still worse, even if that does mean a much diminished US role?  The possibility of a two-state solution in Israel as part of an overall plan to tamp down the violence is being discussed?  Right? By somebody who has some idea about what they're doing?

*It's ridiculous that this seems be a required criterion for American support of a ruler.  It enormously limits the possible candidates.


Rose said...

The Iraqis expect to have actual electionsI do not see how an Iraqi government emerges, within this context, that remains allied with the United States, in the absence of occupation forces.

That's why I'm sure there will be permanent bases...

Okay, to answer your question(s) I'll try for my best impression of an establishment foreign policy thinker: 20,000 troops stationed in Iraq, the usual CIA political involvement and the reality that Iraq needs someone to sell its oil to will probably keep them a fairly reliable client state. Any government could be overthrown at (Obama's) will, which would effectively constrain any Iraqi government. They will become closer to Iran, but given Iraq's weakness and its lack of a defense capability, is that even important? They won't actively back US and Israeli policy, but they won't do anything drastic either. And Iran could be weakened, lessening the risk of a dangerous Iraq-Iran alliance. Targeted air strikes - probably from Israel - would weaken Iran. And the worldwide fall in commodity prices will weaken much of the region.

As for the possibility of ethnic wars, well clearly that's real. But is it necessarily bad for the US? The Iraq-Iran war weakened the two states, which may have been why the US supported it. Isn't the biggest risk an alliance between a strong and prosperous Iraq and Iran? Well the alliance itself probably cannot be stopped, but it can be constrained by permanent bases and the distracting possibility of ethnic violence.

Anyway, I'm not sure I agree with anything I wrote in the previous two paragraphs. But my guess is that's the thought process being followed by the foreign policy establishment. It's basically what the UK, France and Russia were doing in the 19th century: Divide and constrain through a military presence and economic power. Which worked really well, as we saw in the 20th century (yes, that's sarcasm!).

I can't imagine Obama pulling out all US troops. He and HRC never said they would pull out all troops in the primaries, which would have been the time they were under most pressure to say so. The scenario I outlined above is awful and morally bankrupt, but I can't actually offer anything much better. This is why starting the war was such a bad idea! Samantha Power's plan -,0,3348120.story?coll=la-opinion-rightrail - is not going to happen. Maybe spending a lot of money on aid and withdrawing all troops is the best plan, but even that could completely fail.

I actually think the first foreign policy priority should be to pressure India and Pakistan to fix their sex-selection abortion problem - we have no leverage with China, and they know they have a problem anyway. If that doesn't get fixed, we will be talking about the same kind of problems in South Asia in 20 years, with over a billion people and nuclear weapons. As soon as you say "sex-selection abortion" it sounds like a soft power thing based on gender rights, which are of course Not That Important. But missing baby girls = war in 20 years.

Jay Ackroyd (@jayackroyd) said...

Thanks Rose. Yes, i think that's pretty much spot on. I expect, though, that you are low on the troop numbers. Oddly enough, I happened to run into Frank Luntz the week there was a candidate debate in Manchester. I asked him what a Dem president troop level would (it was a followup from a tal he'd given the day before) and he indeed said 20,000.

As for the gender gap in China and South Asia, I don't think there is anything we can do about it, and it does, indeed, mean war in a generation.

Better to focus very intently on proliferation, which starts with the US reducing its stockpile. Obama may actually be willing to do that.