constructing the underdog, part iii: iraq policy
why are we even bothering to save iraq?
by jeffrey d. walker
This article is part a series intended to foster open discussions on the issues as we get set to elect the next President of the United States. See here for more info on the concept, and here for the piece on immigration. You're invited to add your two-cents by joining the discussion.
This month, I'm taking on the war in Iraq.
THE ISSUE : Ongoing U.S. troop involvement in Iraq. I'm not going to replay the how and why we're there; the focus of this piece is to discuss what the next President should do.
A full examination on this issue must consider the history of Iraq, before the U.S. occupied the area, before even Saddam Hussein and George Bush. Wikipedia's History of Iraq indicates that "throughout most of the period of Ottoman rule (1533-1918) the territory of present-day Iraq was a battle zone between the rival regional empires and tribal alliances." Following World War I, the region was carved up by British forces, and formally given the name "State of Iraq" in 1920.
The inhabitants of the "State" revolted, but were eventually suppressed by British soldiers. The local forces identified as revolting against the British at that time were Sunni, Shia and Kurds, and these were the groups that were continually suppressed through and until Saddam Hussein was toppled by the United States. It should come as no surprise that the primary forces now struggling for control of Iraq are Sunni, Shia and Kurds. Who'd a thunk it? Three groups forced to coexist in a country whose borders were drawn up by westerns don't get along?
So I say, why does the United States bother trying to save "Iraq" as we know it?
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's see WHAT THE CANDIDATES SAY:
(1) John McCain, the Republican candidate apparent, has a page on his website entitled "Victory in Iraq", where he states that: "... there are simply not enough American forces in Iraq. More troops are necessary...". A full review on McCain's policy confirms a by whatever means necessary strategy to secure Iraq as its own country. He fully intends to, if elected, send many more troops to Iraq. As the only viable Presidential candidate touting such a policy, if this is the answer you believe Iraq needs, then he's your guy.
(2) Hillary Clinton states that she is ready to pull troops out of Iraq in her "First Days in Office." However, she then goes on to discuss a "redeployment" focused on "...stabilizing Iraq, not propping up the Iraqi government". As such, Hillary has promised to take the troops out, only to send them back in. Only, according to Hillary, the redeployed troops would be engaging in "Non-interference. Working with the U.N. representative, the group would work
to convince Iraq's neighbors to refrain from getting involved in the civil war."
Excuse me? If I'm getting this, Hillary plans on withdrawing our troops from what she proclaims to be a "civil war", and then she's putting U.S. troops back into the middle of the civil war in order to stabilize Iraq without interfering in the civil war. I find this a difficult prospect for a number of reasons.
Hillary goes on to discuss this non-interference, coupled with mediation and reconstruction, is an effort to "...develop and implement a strategy to create a stable Iraq." So Hillary confirms that she supports stabilizing Iraq as we know it.
(3) Barack Obama states on his website that "Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda."
Barack then stresses diplomatic means to calm the region, but Barack, unlike Hillary, isn't "redeploying" any troops to help coerce good behavior within Iraq. Though Barack does appear to support keeping Iraq, noting that he wants to work "... to seek a new accord on Iraq's Constitution and governance."
And I say, what's so good about saving Iraq?
The question as far as I can see it is, why should America help re-establish the State of Iraq? This is an especially serious question where as far as I can tell, the parties in that area (Sunni, Shia, Kurds, what have you) don't want to be unified as a single group. What duty is it of the U.S. to try to maintain a country using lines drawn up by the British in the aftermath of World War I?
If the ultimate goal really is to bring peace in the region, the answer may involve dissolution of the "State of Iraq" entirely. I propose letting the Sunni, the Shia, the Kurds, and the what have yous divide up the region and exist thereafter as separate states.
Forget the government the U.S. has struggled to impose, and the "Green Zone" where people live behind walls, passing legislation to govern the chaos outside of those walls. I say, let the subgroups have their peace of the pie, and let them do with it as they choose. I believe that this will achieve peace in the region in a lesser amount of time, and in a lot simpler way than trying to drive a united "Iraq" down everyone's throat.
Of course, insuring the safe dissection of Iraq should be of primary importance to the United States. Where it was us (the U.S.) who ultimately upset the former régime, we, too, should be there to see that the division into new states goes smoothly.
But much like Obama, I don't think that American troops, traveling in conspicuous vehicles and uniforms, should be the parties promoting tranquility in the region. U.S. soldiers are moving targets in that region.
So who should be there? Is it the UN and other neighbors, as Hillary suggests? I think this is a bigger flaw in Hillary's plan. Considering that these parties were previously uninterested in getting involved in the mess in Iraq, I'm not sure why Hillary would think they would get involved now.
No, it should still be Americans. But I say, send in the private contractors. In case you hadn't heard, there are a fair number of private security companies (some call them mercenaries) operating within Iraq. It's been reported that the ratio of private soldiers to U.S. soldiers is one-to-one.
If you are so inclined to hear one of the least favorable viewpoints on private soldiers, you can watch this. I'm sure you've heard of Blackwater. Yeah, some of these private soldiers have gotten themselves a bad rap.
But I see these guys as having a level of freedom to move that U.S. soldiers don't enjoy. They've been hired to protect some of the most hated people in that area and have succeeded. I see private security forces sort of like the Strike Team on the Shield: effective, fast moving, hard hitting, and less conspicuous than your government soldier, and worth it even if their tactics are a little outside the lines.
Private forces can stay until Iraq divides safely into new states. And if one or more of the new states is engaging in terrorist activities, well, then they can stay a while longer. But they won't be there under the guise of a military deployment. They'll be there in smaller numbers, hiding off the radar, watching every move of any potential enemy in the region.
I think this will work. But what do you think?
A practicing attorney and semi-professional musician, Walker writes for his own amusement, for the sake of opinion, to garner a couple of laughs, and to perhaps provoke a question or two, but otherwise, he doesn't think it'll amount to much.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
3.26.08 @ 1:28a
I think this will work. But what do you think?
Do you really want to know? I think your view of the war is selective and twisted, and that's the only reason I can fathom that might explain the fact that you purposefully uttered flaccid remarks like:
It's been reported that the ratio of private soldiers to U.S. soldiers is one-to-one.
Stop talking shit. This is a total crock and you know it. 150,000 private' soldiers to 150,000 U.S.?
Come on, man! What the fuck?
3.26.08 @ 3:57a
You know, perhaps I'm biased, I AM Iraqi... but when people suggest that all the little factions that range from religious to ethnic should divide up a country that is surrounded by other countries that have the same issues, if not worse issues (I suggest you read up on Turkey's oppressive treatment of Kurds, and they're infamous for this) it makes my blood boil.
Why should Iraq be the guinea pig??? If that's teh case, then let's chop off bits of Syria, Iran and Turkey, too to accommodate all these factions.
Needless to say, I'm very much against this "divide it up" deal. It's the equivalent of asking Americans to let California or Texas become separate countries, just because they have a lot of different ethnic groups. Sorry, no can do.
3.26.08 @ 9:08a
Dan: It is reported by at least one source that the number is one to one. Other places report less. The main reason you can't get good stats is because this administration is not open about information on private soldiers in Iraq. The source you're citing probably supports your sick and twisted view of the war. Which, by the way, if you're going to call my view twisted, have the decency to say what you think is a better idea. Or would you rather just use profanity, dipshit?
3.26.08 @ 9:23a
Reem: Iraq is a guinea pig, and was from the day the British (a conquering country) drew up the lines encompassing neighboring tribes against their will. What's the difference in letting those tribes return to self-governance and self-control?
Which, if you don't mind me asking, though you are Iraqi, why did you leave Iraq? Was in it part due to violence in the region, typically between groups that don't get along? Did you fear for your safety? What if the dissolution of Iraq could fix that?
The reason the time is ripe for Iraq is because that is the place where we as Americans are trying right now to prop-up a government that can't rule itself. Why should we?
3.26.08 @ 9:56a
I asked the same question five years ago, before we got brow deep in this morass. I was sick and tired of the United States being the first nation called when people need help, and the first nation blamed when people wake up to find they don't have whiskey in their faucets or 100 virgins in their beds.
This goes beyond military policy, which is completely FUBAR these days. This is foreign policy, and economic policy -- that of the US and every other country that forms its plans on what the US does or doesn't do. It's a sociopolitical addiction based on reactivity rather than logic or foresight.
For as many friends and colleagues I have known who are either immediate emigres from the Middle East, or are of one ethnicity or another (Israeli, Egyptian, Pakistani) from the region, and knowing that they were all sensible, intelligent people, I am still left with the generalization that this is a region of the world that is unwilling to overcome the thug mindset. Without a firm -- even brutal -- hand, the people of many of these nations immediately descend into factions determined to kill those who are not their own, whether those differences are ethnic (Kurds) or religious (Shia, Sunni). Those who would attempt change for the benefit of all, who would reach across these divisions, are at best ignored as weak or ineffectual, or at worst are assassinated by those who prefer the clash of warlords and the continuation of economic and intellectual poverty. It is easier to keep a people on its knees when they are poor and ignorant, after all; thus modus operandi for the Taliban, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Saddam Hussein...
...and George III. Ah, but of course, we didn't wait around for Prussia or France or Spain to invade England and effect regime change. We were tired of the Crown's oppression, so we declared ourselves done with all that and kicked the Brits out time and again until they got the message that we would have our own government. Self-establishment is a powerful thing.
I was not convinced that we need to enter Iraq in the first place; I am not convinced we need to remain there one day longer.
3.26.08 @ 1:59p
Jeff, to answer your question, my family left Iraq in the late 70s, because my Dad wanted more job opportunities and a challenge in the oil industry. So the fam settled in the United Arab Emirates, and that's where I was born and lived until I came to the States (first, because of school, and second because of the gulf war), because that's where my Dad worked.
Notice how nothing is political, or about feeling safe here. We visited family there each year up until the Gulf War, and I remember walking home in the middle of the night from one aunt's house to another aunt's house, and never once feeling unsafe with my teenage sister. The only ones making the place unsafe for Iraqis are the Americans from DAY ONE, in my perhaps warped and biased view.
My parents were both born and raised in Iraq-- Baghdad and Mosul to be exact, and they lived with a hodgepodge of people of all religious factions and ethnicities, without any issues, political or personal, or otherwise. All these people considered themselves IRAQIS.
Honestly, I agree that the US needs to get the hell on and get out. I won't say it'll fix things right away, but I think Iraqis need to solve their own problems... they refused to topple a leader whom they supposedly hated, and just sat around waiting for a miracle to happen. I am Iraqi, and I will always be Iraqi and I love my country with all my heart and soul, but I think the only way to "fix" the damage is to let Iraqis fight it out, and if people die, so be it. They've been dying for the last five years, might as well let it be for a good cause. That scares the heck out of me, seeing as how I have a lot of family out there, but it looks like civil war is inevitable, and the only way it can happen already and done already is for the US to get out.
If kurds or shiites, or whatever other faction or 15 people want their own state, they're just gonna have to fight for it like all honorable people do who have a good cause.
And the entire Middle East was drawn by the British... why don't we just erase all the lines and do it the way the good ole' pioneers did it with a race and spikes to stick in the ground?
3.26.08 @ 2:48p
The problem with "letting the [various ethnic groups] divide up the region and exist thereafter as separate states" it never, ever stops. Virtually any sovereign country is artificial, and the borders were drawn by a victorious neighboring force, or imposed by an outside empire, or thrown out the window when another country was torn apart by internal strife. In that sense, Iraq is no different from the USSR or Yugoslavia or other countries the US did not insert itself into the process of "keeping together". The US itself had a little problem with keeping itself together not too long ago, round about the 1860s.
The difference here is this: we went in and screwed it up. We have some obligation to help "keep together" something stable, because we're the ones who destabilized it. And no, I really don't know how far that obligation should go, and in general I'm in favor of serious troop withdrawal.
But in direct answer to your questions here, Jeff, about why it's our duty to help maintain the country in its current form, I don't think "insuring the safe dissection of Iraq" would be faster or safer or more successful than trying to maintain it as a single country.
3.26.08 @ 3:54p
... why don't we just erase all the lines and do it the way the good ole' pioneers did it with a race and spikes to stick in the ground?
While rounding up and massacring Indian tribes so we could have the land.
3.26.08 @ 4:23p
Reem, we hear a lot about how recent the actual Iraqi state in its current extent is; in your experience, do most self-identify as Iraqi first, or as part of their province, ethnicity, or religious group first?
3.26.08 @ 4:25p
Sloane, I didn't want to say it, but you said it.
And Jael, thank you! The entire world is built around artificial lines drawn on the map. Why should the Middle East be the only place where this is always brought up and used to ease the idea into our minds of breaking up a country that's been around a long time without issues until it was destabilized for nothing but a power trip?
Again, how would the US feel if some state with a large population of hispanics, or Arabs, or Asians, or what have you, decided to break itself off and become a country all on its own? There's Kurds in Turkey, Syria, Iran... they're everywhere. There're shiites everywhere as well... why should Iraq be the only one to divide itself up?
Brian: I identify myself as Iraqi. YOu ahve to pry and ask me for more details, and that's how everyone I know who's Iraqi is to this day. This ethnicity, religious issue thing is like a huge surprise to all Iraqis.
3.26.08 @ 4:47p
Thank you, Reem. I simply didn't know the answer; different locations and cultures have different answers to the question, and I wanted the opinion of someone with first-hand knowledge.
3.26.08 @ 4:55p
Thanks Brian for asking :-D
3.26.08 @ 5:06p
For no other reason than as a primer for those unfamiliar with Iraq's history, here's a brief timetable of Iraq and its owners/leaders:
~650 BC - 750 AD: Sumerians, Neo-Babylonians, Persians, Macedonians and Parthians took turns claiming the land
750-1257: Islamic Caliphate, and the Islamic Golden Age
1258: Baghdad leveled by Mongols
1401: Baghdad (nearly) leveled by Mongols
1535: Ottoman Empire takes Baghdad
1609: Iranian Safavids take Baghdad from the Ottomans
1632: The Ottomans take it back
1747-1831: Mamluks (Georgians) rule on behalf of the Ottomans
1831-1917: All about the Ottomans
1918-1931: British Invasion and occupation, followed by a League of Nations mandate. Baghdad and Basra united into one nation (1921); Mosul added in 1926.
1932: Iraqi independence under Faisal.
1941: British invasion #2.
1947: Iraqi independence #2, Hashemite monarchy under Faisal II.
1958: Army coup installs Abdul Karim Qassim.
1963: Army coup (encouraged by CIA) removes Qassim for Abdul Salam Arif.
1966: Abdul Rahman Arif succeeds his brother, who dies.
1968: Abdul Rahman Arif overthrown by Ba'athists under Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr.
1979: Saddam Hussein (a Ba'athist) comes to power by killing most of his rivals.
2003: US invasion removes Hussein, establishes a vague democracy
3.26.08 @ 6:30p
Basically, get off our backs, people. We've been through a lot! :-P
4.2.08 @ 10:33a
Jeff, I have a few problems with your analysis, which I will expound upon in several, long-winded posts! To begin with, I take issue with your summation of Hillary’s proposed policy. (Although, frankly, I can’t really blame your misinterpretation, since she’s trying very hard to have it both ways right now in order to win the nomination in a party that is rabidly anti-war.)
McCain, Clinton and probably even Obama know that if the U.S. pulls out of Iraq it will explode. McCain’s solution is to fully commit U.S. forces in the way that we probably should have done right from the beginning. 300,000 or 400,000 U.S. troops could almost certainly have secured and stabilized the country at the beginning of the war. We could still do that now, but at what cost? As distasteful as McCain’s promises of keeping troops in Iraq for 100 years may be to me, objectively, I think his plan would best serve the long-term interests of the Iraqi people and U.S. reputation. However, given the political and economic situation we face in this country today, not to mention the rising influence of Russia and China that has resulted in part because of the distraction caused by our Iraq adventure, I feel McCain’s plan is fundamentally untenable and a non-starter. This country is war weary and broke, and our military is approaching a meltdown. To my mind, McCain’s policy might have been viable five years ago, but it’s simply too late for it to work now.
Obama’s plan to pull out entirely, talk nice, and try and look the other way as Iraq goes up in flames, was the policy we followed at the end of the Vietnam War. In that case, it worked out ok for America in the long-run (not so great for the people who lived there, though). The region did go up in flames, of course, there was genocide in Cambodia, etc., and our embassy was sacked and evacuated via airlift, but that region of Asia was pretty much a backwater at the time and not central to world stability. Nor did it have the long history of internal volatility and religious conflict that we face today in the Middle East. Our reputation was about the only significant U.S. “interest” damaged by the war and Vietnam today is peaceful and thriving...(continued in next post)...
4.2.08 @ 10:33a
...The problem with this approach in Iraq, however, is that the country is not in a backwater but at the very center of not only the most vital region to world stability on the planet, but also the most volatile. If the stabilizing presence of U.S. troops were to be removed entirely from Iraq, it is very likely that the historic religious schism between Sunni and Shia Islam would find fertile ground to wage a fresh holy war upon the killing fields of Mesopotamia. If that were to occur, the entire Middle East might become involved, as different states – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, etc. – all waged a proxy war with each other via the Sunni and Shia populations of Iraq. Israel could be draw in and instead of the bloody and costly, but fundamentally minor conflict we face now, we could be staring down the barrel of WWIII. Imagine a world of $200 or $300 a barrel oil, where Chinese, Russian and U.S. forces are all arrayed in one region to protect their national interests. The risks are tremendous!
To me, Obama’s policy is both dangerous and naïve, and primarily predicated on his arrogant assumption that he can use his impressive rhetorical skills alone to create effective diplomacy, as if words could ever bridge the blood born historical feuds of hundreds of years. To my mind, Obama is a smart and politically sexy wuss; a light-weight, selling empty hope on the cheap to a party that is tired enough and hungry enough to buy anything labeled “change,” no matter how fundamentally vacuous that change really is. I’ll be voting for Nader in protest if he gets the nomination.
The flaw in Hillary’s policy (and, sadly, her campaign) is that she is unable or unwilling to be completely honest about what she really means. Hillary knows that a full U.S. pullout spells disaster for Iraq, the Middle East and global stability. But she’s had to appease the rabid anti-war voices in the Democratic Party in order to have any hope of getting nominated. Thus, her seemingly counterintuitive policy of pulling out our combat troops, only to redeploy some back into Iraq. But the purpose of the redeployment in Hillary’s plan, as you quote – “Non-interference. Working with the U.N. representative, the group would work to convince Iraq's neighbors to refrain from getting involved in the civil war…” is basically to create a big fence of U.S. (and perhaps U.N.) might around Iraq to both contain the violence within the country, as internal factions battle each other for supremacy, and, perhaps more importantly, to prevent the infiltration and direct involvement of forces from regional powers such as Iran in the conflict. This policy of “containment,” i.e., keeping the lid on Iraq while removing the bulk of U.S. forces, is the least bad of the options currently on the table. It is, however, intellectually nuanced and not sufficiently conclusive, which is why it’s a hard sell to most people...(continued in next post)...
4.2.08 @ 10:38a
... Both Obama’s and McCain’s plans share the virtue of being straightforward, and I find Americans tend to like things kept simple and easy to understand, especially when it comes to foreign policy, which most care very little about except in times of war. Hillary being Hillary – i.e., wonky, conflicted, less than honest and straightforward, dark and light at the same time, etc. – is at a distinct disadvantage in the company of McCain and Obama. (Not to mention the fact that she’s a woman.)
I think Hillary’s plan would also be the only one that might actually result in the ends you profess to seek here, Jeff. McCain wants to keep Iraq whole. I think Obama’s plan leads to long-term bloodshed on a region-wide scale, with no satisfactory end in sight. Hillary’s plan, if successful, could very well lead to a brokered dissection of Iraq, as leaders of all the factions involved realize that the coming civil war will be that much harder for each side to win without the material support of their various sponsors in the region. If the Shias can’t count on Iran’s involvement and the Sunnis, Saudi Arabia, they may each come to the conclusion that a deal is the best way to go. Diplomacy will ultimately be the solution, but Hillary maintains enough of our military leverage in the region to see that it actually happens. If all these factions can count on their sponsor’s ability to back them up without restrictions in whatever conflict arises, they have much less incentive to deal peacefully with each other. Obama’s plan would remove all our material leverage and open the flood gates for money, arms, and men to pour into Iraq from all its neighbors. Thus, I find that his plan not only demonstrates his utter naïveté in matters of foreign policy, but also highlights his genuine misunderstanding of the fundamental role that effective use of military power plays in achieving diplomatic goals. As Teddy Roosevelt so memorably put it, we need to “speak softly and carry a big stick” in Iraq, and HRC is the only one who proposes to do just that.
8.13.08 @ 1:03p
Hey Dan. Remember saying my 1-to-1 ratio for soldiers vs. private contractors in Iraq, and you balked? Well, private contractors OUTNUMBER troops right now. (click).
Still waiting on your sources to refute the same. And waiting... 'cause you got nothing but hot air.