The Break Dance

Posted by sepoy on June 26, 2006 · 5 mins read

In case you noticed, Iraq is kinda back in the news. The Chosen One is up 8-10 points in the polls. The Dems are finding every possible way to not think or act. In the annales of Iraq War, the following would get indexed as high comedy: Republicans say: Stay the Course; Democrats say: Cut and Run; The Generals say run through the course once and then cut to the exit; Iraqi PM says, excuse me! Do you ever get the feeling that no one got the pottery barn memo? Every single party in D.C. has, and continues to, play the Iraq War for domestic politics.

But, what about our thinking heads? What are people who aren't running in elections have to say about the future in Iraq? In a recent essay published in Foreign Affairs, Seeing Baghdad, Thinking Saigon, Stephen Biddle argues that the US has to stop with the Vietnamization of Iraq and instead, a)"slow down the expansion of the Iraqi national military and police" and b)"threaten to manipulate the military balance of power among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds to coerce them to negotiate". Clearly, Biddle is arguing for Direct Rule over Iraq - the stated policy of the British Empire after the Rising of 1857. The objective, then and now, is stability and the clear containment of local powers whether military or political. Biddle may disagree with my characterization but that is my conclusion when I read:

Washington should also avoid setting any more arbitrary deadlines for democratization...Democracy is the long-term goal in Iraq, of course, but getting there will require a near-term constitutional compromise whose key provision must be an agreement to limit the freedom of Iraqi voters to elect governments that concentrate ethnic and sectarian power. Resolving the country's communal security problems must take priority over bringing self-determination to the Iraqi people -- or the democracy that many hope for will never emerge.

To steal from Spinal Tap: "It's like, how much more colonialism could this be? And the answer is none. None more colonialism."

Foreign Affairs asked a group of policy-heads and academics to respond to Biddle's article. Larry Diamond, James Dobbins, Chaim Kaufmann, Leslie H. Gelb came back with their reading of Biddle as well as their suggestion on possible strategies in Iraq. Diamond argues that the UN and EU should be asked to mediate in Iraq and get the communalism under control. Dobbins suggestes that Iraq's neighbors have a vested interest in a stable Iraq and should be given that responsibility; along with a recommendation that US think along the lines of the "counterinsurgency campaigns of Central America in the 1980s, where U.S. military involvement was largely limited to advice and training". Paired, of course, with a well placed dictator, er, diplomacy. Kaufmann proclaimes that Iraq is doomed to "develop internal communal borders with a few heavily guarded crossing points" and the best that the US can do is minimize the ethnic cleansing. And finally Gelb, also takes a page from the British Empire [the end of colonial India time, in his case], and states that "decentralization" is the only real option. A US brokered Partition with some attempt to "to assist those Iraqis who wish to relocate to safer terrain, temporarily or permanently''.

Rather grim, no? What happened to the promised freedom? How did a country in four years develop sectarian and communal conflict so entrenched that one can only speak in terms like 'ethnic cleansing' and 'federated boundaries'? Is there any reading of Iraq's history in these assessments? Any reading of Iraq's present that is not informed wholly by US media or state? Did they think of asking an Iraqi?

I have long maintained that the comparisons between the US adventures in Iraq and the British Empire were short on facts and long on sentiments but after reading these essays in the Foreign Affairs, I am of the mind that the facts are going to catch up to the sentiments, real soon.


exitr | June 27, 2006

Terrific post. The analogy between Partition and a proposed 3-state (or 3-region) solution for Iraq is both shocking and revealing. The arbitrary post-WWI borders that more or less created Iraq are coming back to haunt the former Allies. The obvious solution? New arbitrary borders. The Ottomans are looking like the prophetic power here: Iraq was formed out of the imperial regions of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra.