Monday, May 01, 2006

An Iraq "cool down" period?

George Packer writes in this week's New Yorker:
Many officials in the Administration now admit, privately, and after years of willful blindness, that the war, in which almost twenty-four hundred Americans have died, and whose cumulative cost will reach $320 billion this year, is going badly and shows no prospect of a quick turnaround. Asked why the President doesn’t take this or that step to try to salvage what will become his legacy—fire his Secretary of Defense, for example—they drop their heads, as if to say: We know, he should, but it’s not going to happen. At the same time, they can’t quite bring themselves to abandon hope for a miracle.

Last week, hope took the unlikely shape of a hard-line Shiite politician named Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who was finally named Prime Minister of the permanent government in Baghdad, more than four months after it was elected. He is a compromise candidate among Iraq’s warring groups, which include two opposing factions within what is still called the Shiite alliance. If he inspires any confidence here, it is because no one knows anything about him. The idea is that Iraq, which an Iraqi official recently described as “a country near death,” will somehow begin to consolidate around the government of Prime Minister Maliki, and the violence will somehow begin to subside. As a strategy, this amounts to muddling through the rest of the Bush Presidency, without being forced to admit defeat, until January of 2009, when the war will become a new President’s problem.


The choice in Iraq should not be between the Administration’s failed eschatology and the growing eagerness of most politicians to be rid of the problem. Both moral obligation and self-interest require that Americans accept the consequences of the war and, if the Administration will not, imagine new ways to resolve it. Leslie Gelb and Senator Joseph Biden, in an Op-Ed they have written for the Times, propose that the United States, with the involvement of Iraq’s neighbors, broker a political deal among the country’s three main groups, based on terms set down in Iraq’s new constitution: a division into three autonomous regions, a weak federal capital in Baghdad, and a fair share of the oil revenue for the Sunnis. The premise is that if the Iraqis are to have a chance of living together in the future, they need a period of separation now. This is, admittedly, the logic of desperation, raising a thousand questions and provoking as many vexing problems. Nor is it entirely a new idea. But, after three years of war and a chronic inability of leaders in both countries to think beyond next month, a fundamental change of policy deserves to be taken seriously. If there are no more Wise Men in Washington, can there at least be wisdom?
Juan Cole has a great deal of analysis on this proposal:
You will say, the Sunni Arab Confederacy is double dipping, getting shares from both Kirkuk and Rumaila. And I will say, bingo! They can go on blowing things up, or they can be Kuwaitis. Their choice.

You will say, how can the federal government live on these percentages of the oil money? I will say that it isn't good for the federal government to hog the oil income--it makes it too powerful and reinforces dictatorial tendencies. And I will say, if it needs money, it should put in an income tax like every other government.

Finally, the amount of petroleum profit sharing is not absolute. It assumes good behavior. Baghdad could make reductions for too many militias in a province, for instance. Bad behavior would be punished.

So that's my plan for keeping Iraq together as a federal state with substantial provincial sharing of oil income. I say, instead of just doing ad hoc policy and waiting for the blow-up, as Bush keeps doing, lets spend what political capital we have and make some forward-looking settlements right now. But lets make settlements that might produce social peace, not ones that lead to genocide and further inter-statelet wars.
The idea of partitioning Iraq is nothing new.

Slate from 2004:
"Iraq is not salvageable as a unitary state." So writes Peter Galbraith, America's pre-eminent Kurdophile, in the May 13 New York Review of Books ("How To Get Out of Iraq"). Leslie Gelb, formerly an assistant secretary in Jimmy Carter's State Department and subsequently a diplomatic correspondent for the New York Times, made a similar point on the Times op-ed page in November. Ralph Peters, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who writes on military strategy, has been calling for the breakup of Iraq for nearly a year. Reluctantly, Chatterbox is starting to think Galbraith, Gelb, and Peters have a point.
In fact, as you can see, we're about to celebrate the idea's second birthday (at the least.)

It is a nice theoretical exercise, and I think a lot of noted minds want to present something more robust than the administration's spin-to-victory. But, if this president refused to remove Secretary Rumsfeld under fire from a number of prominent generals, do you think he'd split his new "democracy"?


Post a Comment

<< Home