White and Carapico re: Cole, “How to Get out of Iraq”
My piece in The Nation on “How to Get out of Iraq” is generating some good discussion on an email list to which I subscribe. With their permission, I am sharing below comments of two seasoned observers of the Middle East.
Sheila Carapico writes:
Let me second Juan Cole’s central point, which I would reword as follows: instead of the surge vs. unilateral withdrawal debate there needs to be a search for a rational, negotiated or multilaterally monitored disengagement of US troops. I realize it’s a tall order — but not necessarily more daunting than a military solution.
To think about this we need to stop envisioning battlefield scenarios and start imagining ceasefire scenarios, or violence-reduction strategies. And we need to stop acting as if the future of Iraq were an either-or decision to be made in Washington between Democrats and Republicans. It’s going to involve Iran, especially, and Syria, and Saudi Arabia, as well as Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait, and other countries in the region, and it’s likely to be connected to the larger Arab-Israeli conundrum. A plan for peace in Iraq could really use the the active collaboration of Europe, Russia, and China, too.
I wonder whether Pelosi’s visit to Damascus, along with however those British detainees were released, indicates an attenuation of the “Syria-is-naughty, Iran-is-naughty, so we are not speaking to them” line. I am not sure of this, since by many accounts the Speaker went bearing a message from Israel, and not from Washington. But perhaps she brought something home.
There are a vast array of alternatives between pacification by force and a unilateral pull-out (Gaza, anyone?) Let’s try to think of some.
Remember cease-fires, before they were vilified this summer by Rice and Bolton? Is there no one in the world with the moral authority to at least call for all sides to halt the bloodshed, if only for a day? The civil wars in Algeria, Sierra Leone, and Lebanon didn’t only wear themselves out, there were talks leading to negotiations that eventually, if imperfectly, led to a laying down of arms of principle factions. Can anyone imagine scenarios for violence abatement? If a reduction in the American use of force can only make matters worse, as the consensus seems to hold, then are there visions for how, possibly, some other kind of policing or peace-making or financial incentives (or poetry readings?) might mitigate those outcomes?
This discussion also raised anew the question of what we are doing in Iraq, now. Are we there to protect the Kurds? To prevent full-scale ethnic cleansing? Or to preserve the al-Maliki government (which, tautologically, asks us to remain there for that purpose)? or to secure an American strategic presence? or to get a the oil legislation passed?
If we can specify specific goals, then policy debates can be reformulated: what would it take to protect the Kurds, from Turkey or from Iraqi elements? Would the current Iraqi government really survive an American departure? What would it take to secure an indefinate SoFA, if that is our minimal national interest, that would maintain bases but get troops out of the cities? What incentives might Iran be offered to support Shia peacemakers?
With regard to the US and the Kurds in Iraq, Wayne White writes:
|I couldn’t agree more that the Kurds probably do not need U.S. protection as the situation now stands. And I realize that a post-U.S. withdrawal Iraq, viewed from today’s perspective is a rather murky problem to explore analytically, with various possible outcomes (and sub-plots within) which will likely elude the predictions many of us are groping toward at this time, including those of yours truly.
However, it is quite possible that the removal of U.S. and other Coalition troops would allow the Kurds to deal with their territorial claims beyond their current holdings as they please. Consequently, there is a distinct possibility that the Pershmerga (with the assistance of predominantly Kurdish units of the Iraqi security forces) would move to seize control of a number of mixed areas currently beyond what has been generally recognized as the Kurdish autonomous region. Some claims talked about have extended deeply into Diyala Governorate in the south and as distant as Tel Afar to the west. Meanwhile, in the center of the country, Shi’a elements (also backed by many units of the Iraqi security forces) would likely move similarly, resuming their removal of Sunni Arabs from various remaining neighborhoods of the greater Baghdad area and some mixed areas beyond, one way or another.
These are ugly scenarios, for sure. Such actions would be the primary trigger for a post-U.S. withdrawal civil war–with violence much worse than witnessed to date. I agree very much with Juan that staying on in Iraq at this late stage of the game can probably achieve little more than the loss of more American lives & money, but I have no illusions about what might well happen afterward. The only factor that would lie beyond anyone’s ability to predict is the intensity of that struggle.
Indeed, many of those favoring the continued presence of substantial U.S. combat forces for several more years use such potentially dire scenarios as a justification for remaining in Iraq. However, they themselves are making a highly questionable assumption: that by staying on, extending the time-line of our armed presence in Iraq, post-withdrawal outcomes would be any prettier.
One point on the Pershmerga. Although well-organized, let us not forget that before the 2003 war, Peshmerga of Jalal Talabani’s Popular Union of Kurdistan (PUK) were unable to remove the small pocket inside Iraq along the Iranian border containing only a few hundred fanatical jihadists of the Ansar al-Islam, despite at least two attempts to do so. Peshmerga would likely run into far more numerous Sunni Arab jihadists and insurgents in a far larger struggle for substantial real estate in the north, many willing to die (a rough translation of the word Peshmerga, ironically) if necessary, in an attempt to resist any Kurdish efforts to take over significant, additional stretches of territory.
Thanks also to Jeff Severns Guntzel for his comments on the plan.