Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Channel the Violence

Alexis Debat and I offer our thoughts on the situation in Iraq in the forthcoming International Herald Tribune.

Some excerpts:

Nancy Pelosi, speaker-elect of the U.S. House of Representatives, calls for a "new direction" in Iraq but hasn't provided much guidance. How Robert Gates would do things differently in Iraq from his predecessor as defense secretary is unclear.

Meanwhile, some of those formerly known as neoconservatives have parted company with the Bush administration, arguing that its incompetence is responsible for the present debacle, rather than any fatal flaw in the neocon vision for using U.S. power to transform Iraq into a liberal democracy.

It is easy to see why the U.S. midterm election debate fell far short in proffering any concrete solutions to regain the advantage in Iraq. Despite polls showing over and over that the American electorate responds favorably to pragmatic, hard-nosed foreign policy solutions, Washington's spinmeisters still choose to dress the hard choices ahead in the warm blanket of slogans and sound bites about new courses of action that will be "tough" and "smart."

Neither party has dared glance into the abyss to consider the few remaining strategies for victory in Iraq because they are intricate and politically gruesome. Take "controlling the frontiers." To reduce the flows of funds, arms and recruits across the Iranian, Syrian, Jordanian and Saudi frontiers into Iraq, would lawmakers from both parties support drastic measures - including laying mines - to create effective no-go zones?


The current American strategy - of treating the violence in Iraq as if it is occurring outside of the political process - gives no incentives to the Shiites to negotiate (since the U.S. military is trying to eliminate the Sunni resistance) while Sunnis see no reason to give up their only significant card to play: violence. This is why there has been no progress on settling the most pressing issues that were left out of the Constitution but are the most important for the future of Iraq: what federalism will mean and how oil revenues will be apportioned.

Elections have failed to produce a government that can solve these questions. What is taking place in the streets is the second round, as militias and insurgents use the gun to claim what the ballot box could not deliver.


In a very cold-blooded fashion, the United States, in the course of the Bosnian war, helped to engineer a military stalemate that forced all parties to the negotiating table, turning a blind eye to ethnic cleansing and selectively using U.S. military power to alter the balance of forces on the battlefield.


Channeling the violence toward a political solution, rather than fighting on for "ultimate victory," would require far fewer than the 135,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in Iraq. What emerges would not be a Jeffersonian democracy in Mesopotamia, but if Republicans and Democrats alike are willing to lower expectations, we might just end up with something that works.

Interesting. I tend to think in terms of either going big or going home. Any recommended reads on how Bosnia came about?

Do you think that is where the Baker Commission is going too?

How do you think the growing political uncertainties generated by the approach of the 2008 election will affect prospects for bipartisanship on a lowered-expectations, let-them-exhaust-themselves-first scenario? And how will the militias and insurgency forces, and the forces outside Iraq who must be giving them a lot of logistic support, behave? (Don't you think $60 oil would have made it much more difficult to resolve Bosnia?) And do you think they can be induced to coooperate without a bigger deal that emcompasses the Israel-Palestine conflict?
The Baker commission is an inside the beltway shop which will release a report with a lot of platitudes and no real mechanism for action.
What if we threatened to switch sides and go after the Mahdi Army first if no political solution is reached? Would that alter the balance of power enough to get the Shi'ites to the negotiating table and would that be enough to get the Sunnis to disown the insurgents and look ot us?

That is yet another pipe-dream.

You guys (Americans of all political stripes and persuasions) do not seem to get it; you just do not have the (realized) power to steer the course of events for an alien people half-way across the world.

Yes, I know - WWII and all that. That can be repeated at an enormous cost to US - but you are not willing to pay that price.

So follow what Odom says and leave.
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