Kos Discussion of UN Option
Many thanks to “Mark in San Francisco,” who runs a diary at Daily Kos, for provoking an extensive and often acute discussion of my piece on the “UN Option” there.
The first thing I should say is that people shouldn’t get too hung up on the exact composition of a UN force. The UN member states are numerous, and if the UN takes this on, it will be responsible for finding the peace-enforcing troops. It has before, in Cambodia, East Timor, etc. I envisage the US continuing to provide a couple of divisions, as well, until things wind down, under the general UN command.
The main response I have is to the diarists who remain unconvinced that an Iraqi civil war would draw in the neighbors, because the neighbors have too much invested in stability. I was in Lebanon in 1974-75 when everyone said that the troubles would never escalate to a civil war because the Lebanese wealthy classes had too much to lose, and that the neighbors had every reason to want a stable Lebanon. In fact, the various factions began fighting, and if the bourgeoisie objected it was taken out and shot. Mostly it went to Paris. And then virtually everybody in the world began actively intervening in Lebanon, often by backing one faction or another. The US, France, Israel, Syria, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Italy– you name it, they were there. The Lebanese Civil war led directly to the Israeli invasion of 1982, which involved some actual fighting between the Israelis and the Syrians, though mostly the Syrians stayed out of it. Likewise you had wars of the camps between Palestinians and Shiites. And you eventually had fights between the bourgeois Shiites and the peasant Shiites (Amal and Hizbullah), with the latter backed by Iran. So frankly all this optimism about how an Iraqi civil war won’t break out or won’t involve the neighbors is naive.
Similar international interventions occurred during the Iran-Iraq War, one of which was marked by Donald Rumsfeld’s two visits to Baghdad to make an alliance with Saddam and to assure him it was all right if he gassed the Iranians.
Anyway, here is the beginning of the exchange. The discussions are great.
Wed Jun 22nd, 2005 at 06:58:48 PDT
Recently the noted historian, middle east expert, and blogger opined that a pullout of US troops from Iraq could be accomplished by way of a UN Option. This marks somewhat of a shift from his email response to me a month ago, in which he said that the US would be in Iraq for many years, and I welcome his new thinking.
There has been criticism of this plan, However, or at least the following aspect:
[Cole wrote:] “As for getting anyone over at the UN to take on Iraq, I fear I think there are few third world armies that couldn’t be enticed by a couple of billion dollars– the kind of money they would probably be rewarded with if they really could help Iraq.”
Yesterday I emailed Prof. Cole to ask his perspective on this. He was kind enough to reply and our email exchange is quoted below.
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My email to Prof. Cole:
I’d like to thank you again for responding to my (and others) request for your views concerning the possibility of the US pulling out of Iraq (my email of 5/22/2005 and the dailyKos diary ).
There are now comments at dailyKos and BMT concerning your comments today regarding third-world militaries shouldering the burden in Iraq (under UN auspices) in return for financial rewards. I think this is an interesting approach, however many seem to believe that you were seriously advocating this approach rather than simply mentioning the possibility (the latter is my take).
Which is it? I and many others rely on your expertise regarding the middle east and I don’t want to see your credibility damaged by internecine warfare, at which we on the left seem to be very accomplished.
Please let us know, either in your blog or as an email response, which I will post on the blogs mentioned above.
Many thanks for your hard work. You have my vote for Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs (or at least a fat consulting contract) in the next administration.
Prof. Cole’s reply:
I have been unable to convince many of my readers of what I know. A US withdrawal could well throw Iraq into civil war. Civil war in Iraq would bring in the Iranians, the Saudis and the Turks. The success of petroleum pipeline sabotage and refinery sabotage in Iraq will suggest it as a tactic to the guerrillas fighting in this Fourth Gulf War.
If Saudi and Iranian petroleum production is sabotaged, gas in this country will go to $20 a gallon and the US will be plunged into the Second Great Depression. The unemployment rate will skyrocket to some 25%. Not only will you and I likely end up unemployed, but the global South will be de-industrialized. Countries making progress like India and Pakistan will be thrown back 30 years.
We already saw petroleum spike to $40 a barrel in the early 80s, in 1980 dollars, which is probably $80 a barrel in our money. Cause? [A run of speculation in the markets prompted by the] Iranian Revolution and Iran-Iraq War. Only a kind of MAD prevented Saddam and Khomeini from destroying each others’ oil fields; at that, they were sometimes attacked. Guerrillas do not give a rat’s ass about MAD. The oil shock in the 1970s virtually de-industrialized Turkey for a while, and very badly hurt the Caribbean (islands depend on boat transport even for basic foodstuffs). I have seen this kind of scenario. It is not inevitable but it is entirely plausible.
Since the US military seems incapable of winning the guerrilla war in Iraq either militarily or politically, someone else will have to do it if we are to avoid Gulf War [IV] and its consequences. The Europeans cannot do it. They only have a surplus capacity of about 10,000 troops for deployment outside the continent, and they are already in Afghanistan. You could argue that they should reform their militaries so that they did have more troops for external deployment, but that would take time we don’t have.
That leaves a United Nations command leading troops from the global South, with perhaps, one or two remaining US divisions. The Southerners are culturally better suited to negotiating an end to the Iraq hostilities anyway, and some of them have excellent militaries. Gulf War [IV] and Very High Oil Prices would hurt them more than it would hurt the US and Europe, so they have every interest in intervening. Moreover, they will be richly rewarded with billions in future Iraq contracts, which they need more than Texas does.
Some are construing this proposal as me having the poor people in the global South suffer for Bush’s mistakes. But at $60 a barrel they are already suffering for Bush’s mistakes. Do you know how many factories will have to close over this, or will never open in the first place, in Pakistan and India? Factories are very sensitive to energy costs, which have tripled, and could go even higher. Iraq is adding $10 to $15 a barrel to the current price because of uncertainty and speculation, and the removal through sabotage of about 1.5 million barrels a day also contributes to the problem.
I am saying that the UN and the global South can solve the problem, that they have every incentive to solve the problem, and that they will be richly rewarded for solving the problem.
Moreover, this way of proceeding would deeply hurt the whole American nationalist war party. It would be a victory for cosmopolitan multi-lateralism. It would dampen down US militarism by creating an Iraq Complex. It would put two US divisions under a United Nations command, setting a precedent. It would strengthen the United Nations so that the US Right can’t just order around or ignore it the way the Bushes do their kitchen help. It is progressive in every way. And it is a perfect reply to the Right’s insistence that the US has to remain in control until ‘the job is done.’ No, it doesn’t. This is a job for the world.
In other words, it isn’t all about us, in the sense of US. It is about what would be good for the world.
I wrote back to him:
Thank you so much for writing back to us. After reading and thinking about your words I have to say that you have convinced me. The regional destabilization that would be risked by a US pullout would indeed be an economic disaster for the world as well as a potential (increased) humanitarian disaster in the middle east.
Offering other nations the possibility of securing Iraq as well as its borders under UN auspices is clearly an excellent approach to legitimizing a foreign security force in Iraq, a force that is currently seen by the vast majority of Iraqis as illegitimate. The internal US political effects that you mention are, of course, additional advantages, both for the administration’s opponents as well as the country in general.
I will argue this on BoomanTribune and dailyKos in diaries that I will post Wednesday morning so as to ensure wide visibility (I got home a bit late to post this tonight).
Cheers to you too!
What do you think?