Friday, January 06, 2006

Realism on Ukraine and Iraq

Two items:

The first is Anatol Lieven's piece on Ukraine in today's International Herald Tribune, where he points out "why a serious debate is necessary in the West is
that in recent months, and even over the past ten years, the West's strategy towards Ukraine has been founded on a bizarre illusion: that Ukraine would leave Russia's orbit and "join the West", and that Russia would pay for this process. If continued, this self-deception could lead to a severe geopolitical defeat."

He goes on to note: "Consider the figures: Until the latest price hike for gas, Russia was supplying Ukraine with a de facto annual energy subsidy estimated by independent experts at somewhere between $3 billion and $5 billion a year. That is more than the whole of EU aid in the 14 years since Ukrainian independence. As to US bilateral aid, last year it stood at a mere $174 million - and this after all the talk of US admiration and support for Ukraine's Orange Revolution."

The second, from Larry Johnson's blog, "The Elusive Iraqi Tipping Point":

"The outlook for the next 10 months is not pretty. We will see a continued upsurge in violence, most of it sectarian in nature, with Iraqis dying at a far greater rate than Americans. U.S. military casualties will decline if the United States opts for a garrison strategy (keeping its forces on secure bases and devoted almost exclusively to training Iraqi forces). However, if the United States feels compelled to send its forces into cities to fight the insurgents the U.S. death rate will go up.

"What we can't answer at this point is whether or not an Iraqi Government dominated by Shia religious extremists will allow the United States to play a constructive role in trying to build a secure, safe Iraq, or if U.S. forces will be used as proxies to kill Sunni opponents of the Government, or if the Shia will tell us to get out. My friend, recently back from Iraq, sees little chance that new Iraqi Government will opt for a non-sectarian solution to the security crisis. That leaves us two bad options--killing Sunnis or getting out. Either choice does not strengthen our policy in the Middle East."

What both commentaries have in common is the need for us to think about U.S. objectives, means and "budget" in terms of blood and treasure in defining our policy--but also what options are realistically open to us. If we don't get the secular non-ethnic democracy we wanted in Iraq, or the EU decides not to bring Ukraine in from the cold as a full member in six months--then what do we do?

I agree substantially with Johnson - except: if one presumes increased factional violence with Shia going after Sunni with some American connivance, what's to prevent the US becoming at some point a protector of the Sunni? Seems to me there will be three options not two: Shia will kick US out, US will be forced out by untenable circumstances, or US will form strategic alliance with Sunni. Is this not plausible?
Option three is certainly plausible, it was what guided policy toward Iraq for many decades--both the British and then the Americans have supported Sunni dominance in Iraq and the Gulf emirates.
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