2004 May 04 Tuesday
Unilaterally Withdraw From Iraq Or First Partition?

William E. Odom, retired US Army Lt. Gen., former director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan, and currently at the Hudson Institute has told the Wall Street Journal that the best the United States could do in Iraq is to withdraw rapidly. (same article here)

It was hard to disagree with Odom's description of Mr. Bush's vision of reordering the Middle East by building a democracy in Iraq as a pipedream. His prescription: Remove U.S. forces "from that shattered country as rapidly as possible." Odom says bluntly, "we have failed," and "the issue is how high a price we're going to pay - less, by getting out sooner, or more, by getting out later."

At best, Iraq will emerge from the current geopolitical earthquake as "a highly illiberal democracy, inspired by Islamic culture, extremely hostile to the West and probably quite willing to fund terrorist organizations," Odom explained. If that wasn't enough to erode support for the war, Odom added, "The ability of Islamist militants to use Iraq as a beachhead for attacks against American interests elsewhere may increase."

Odom sees Bush Administration Iraq policy as an unmitigated disaster. Strong stuff coming from someone with his record.

Democracy scholar Larry Diamond has decided not to return to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq because Diamond thinks the attempt to establish a democracy in Iraq is a lost cause.

"We just bungled this so badly," said Diamond, a 52-year-old senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. "We just weren't honest with ourselves or with the American people about what was going to be needed to secure the country."


"You can't develop democracy without security," he said. "In Iraq, it's really a security nightmare that did not have to be. If you don't get that right, nothing else is possible. Everything else is connected to that."

Noah Millman of Gideon's Blog asks what is the Bush Administration's plan and what alternatives are there to whatever it is?

Perhaps the best way of talking about Iraq is not in terms of democracy or stability but legitimacy: how can we constitute authority that will be legitimate in Iraqi eyes and congruent with American interests? Elections, even if they lead to a questionably liberal result, would certainly do more to assure legitimacy than other methods of choosing a government, as Mickey Kaus points out.

But his questions beg another question: alernative to what plan? What, precisely, is the plan that gets us to stable, democratic legitimacy in Iraq? Is there one? Does Kagan have a suggestion beyond keeping on keeping on? Would he have reduced Fallujah to rubble, damn the consequences, to teach the jihadis a lesson? Does he think we're giving al-Sadr too much rope - or just enough to hang himself with? Shouldn't he have to lay this out in the same kind of detail that he demands of the cut-and-run set, or do idealists get a pass here? If he knows better than Paul Bremmer how to do his job, oughtn't he to enlighten us?

Millman makes clear his uncertainty as to what the next US move should be. What he and other analysts need to do is to stop asking how to achieve various goals and instead ask what (very modest) goals can actually be achieved. The very first and absolutely necessary step is to develop an understanding of just why any realistic goals must be very modest. Before the war Stanley Kurtz laid out a case for why the time needed to develop conditions favorable for democracy in Iraq is on the scale of decades or longer. The American elite and people obviously do not have the patience for an imperial rule of Iraq long enough to make that happen. Since Kurtz wrote his article I've accumulated an even longer list of reasons why I think democracy isn't achievable in Iraq. See my recent post High Costs And Dismal Prospects In Iraq: How To Derive Benefit? for links to a number of reasons why liberal democracy is not going to succeed in Iraq. Here's a brief summary.

Having laid out the reasons why our goals must necessarily be modest let me repeat once again what is likely our best option: Partition Iraq. There are compelling arguments for partition. De facto partitioning is already underway as Arabs are being ethnically cleansed from Northern Iraq.

Currently the Kurds are far more favorably disposed toward the United States than the Shia Arabs and Sunni Arabs. It is unlikely we can do much to alter Shia or Sunni Arab views toward the United States for the better. But we could manage to destroy the good will that Kurds have toward the United States. How? By forcing the Kurds to join a national Iraqi government that may well end up becoming as corrupt and cruel as Saddam's regime. One of our chief goals should be to leave the Kurds in a position where they will not eventually be screwed over by the Arabs. The only reliable way to accomplish this goal is a partition of Iraq that creates a new sovereign Kurdish state.

I see less downside from helping the Kurds set up their own country than I do from trying to turn all of Iraq into a federal democracy. The Turks will be unhappy and concerned that a Kurdish state will embolden their own Kurds to try to secede. But a free Kurdistan would be friendly toward the United States and desirous of US help in maintaining its security. Will the Shias and Sunnis dislike the US any more as a result of our spinning off Kurdistan into a separate country? Perhaps. But if the Sunnis were simultaneously given their own slice of Iraq to govern as their own country they might see that as a net gain for them versus the alternative of being ruled by a Shia majority.

The American elites and populace are unwilling to brutally put down all opposition and send hundreds of thousands of troops to rule Iraq with an iron fist for decades while successive generations are educated to create a semi-liberal ruling elite. Therefore no deep cultural change will be made that is of the sort needed to cause lasting political changes that would make Iraq less dangerous to US interests. The best we can hope to do is to break Iraq up into smaller pieces that will each be less capable of being a threat and more inclined to turn to the US for help in security matters.

One question I have at this point: Will the US kill Saddam before allowing the new Iraqi government to take possession of him? If the US doesn't kill Saddam then what are the odds that Saddam might manage to make it back into power once again?

Update: Aside from my reluctance (for both moral and strategic reasons) to see the Kurds left at the mercies of the Iraqi Arabs I have one other reason for being opposed to unilateral withdrawal at this point: Osama Bin Laden saw US withdrawal from Beirut and Somalia after taking casualties as a sign of decadence and this emboldened him to attack us. We have to follow a path that will not be perceived as simple retreat. A partition of Iraq followed by withdrawal from any part whose government wants to go forward without a US presence (the Kurds will likely want us to stay to defend them) will make our withdrawal a logical conclusion to a series of deliberate steps to remake Iraq.

The other factor that partition has going for it is that it effectively greatly reduces at least one factor (distrust between Kurds, Shias, and Sunnis) that weighs against successful democracy. Fixing that one problem still leaves all the other problems. The Sunni and Shia countries may still become dictatorships after their initial rounds of elections. But the Kurds will probably manage to make a go of maintaining a democratic system.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 May 04 03:08 AM  MidEast Iraq Partition

andy said at May 7, 2004 9:35 PM:

SHOW: Today

DATE: April 29, 2004

KATIE COURIC, co-host:

A new poll out today shows American support dropping sharply for the war in
Iraq. Retired Army General William Odom is a former director of the National
Security Agency who predicted the trouble in post-war Iraq before the war even

General Odom, good morning to you, Sir.

Lieutenant General WILLIAM ODOM (Former Director, National Security Agency):
Good morning.

COURIC: We just heard from Secretary of State Colin Powell talking about the
fact that diplomacy requires time and patience. The security situation in
Fallujah has to be gotten under control. And yet you are one of the few former
high-ranking military officials to say publicly, that United--that the United
States should get out of Iraq and get out now. Why?

Lt. Gen. ODOM: Well, first let me say I think we will be successful in Fallujah
and Najaf. It might cause--cost some more blood, but I don't think there's a
lack of US power to destroy these particular groups. The question is, whether
you can bring together a political situation in Iraq that's going to be stable
and will be pro-US. I don't think an effective Iraqi leader can gain wide
support there if he is pro-US. And I don't think we can expect a liberal
democracy to be brought about any time soon. Therefore, if we are getting into
a long term commitment, it just doesn't make sense for us. I think our
military strategy and the use of military force is becoming unhinged from our
political strategy not only for Iraq, but for the larger region, and also for
fighting what in my view is a far more important campaign, and that's against
al-Qaeda. We have diverted our forces enormously from al-Qaeda. Things don't
look all that good in Afghanistan.

COURIC: General Odom, why are you so skeptical, though, that a political
solution, a successful transition of power can take place?

Lt. Gen. ODOM: It depends on what you want to transfer it to. The first place,
in Iraq there are three parts, Shiite, Sunnis and Kurds who don't like each
other. And the prospects of them getting on under one roof are not very good
in the short run, maybe not even in the long run. We see even western states
like the Scots and Britain and Quebecois and Canada talking about breaking off.
Well, you can multiply that to the tenth power and you have what tensions you're
seeing in Iraq. I don't see how we can put that together in the short run.
Then furthermore, in no Arab state has there been any tradition of
constitutional regime that could be properly called a successful liberal
democracy. We do have one example of a Muslim society with a liberal
democracy, which still has trouble, and that's Turkey. But that took....40 or
50 years...So to expect that we're going to
have a liberal democratic regime that's pro-Western in Iraq any time soon, one
can never say it won't happen, but it would defy all odds of anything we know
about how liberal regimes come about.

COURIC: Well, if a political transition is so unlikely in your view, what's the
point of maintaining a military force in Iraq? Would you favor that?

Lt. Gen. ODOM: That--that's why I suggested we get the military force out. I
think sooner or later the Iraqis will have to settle this among themselves. And
we probably won't like the political choices that they come up with because
intense minorities like these militias in Fallujah are going to decide the
issue, not majority votes, because the structure there doesn't--doesn't permit
the majority votes to prevail.

COURIC: But General Odom, as you well know, many people will say the
United States simply cannot up and leave. What will it do for the reputation
of this country around the world...which we should point out has suffered
considerably--if the administration doesn't have the stick-to-it-ness, if you
will, to get the job done, to continue what was started in the first place.

Lt. GEN. ODOM: I think you've misunderstood what I said. We have already
failed. Staying in longer makes us fail worse. If we were a small power, we
might have to worry about our so-called credibility. I don't think that's the
issue. The issue is how effective we were going to use our power. The longer
we st...if we blindly say we should stick to it, we're misusing our power and
we're making it worse. Let me put it more bluntly. Let's suppose you murdered
somebody, and you suddenly look and say, `We can't afford to have murdered this
person, so therefore let's save him.' I think we've passed the chances to not
fail. And now we are in a situation where we have to limit the damage. And
the issue is just how much we are going to pay before we decide to limit the
damage, not rescue ourselves by throwing good money after bad.

COURIC: And given the administration's position, do you think that anyone in
this administration will be receptive to your position?

Lt. Gen. ODOM: I don't think they will. But I must say this, I think President
Bush is in a better position to turn this around than a Kerry administration
might be given the position that Senator Kerry has taken thus far, where he
said that we can't afford to fail, just as the Bush administration has said
that. I think if he did turn it around, he would probably bring the public
with him on that. I would hope that if Senator Kerry were elected, he would
decide to change his view and come to the same conclusion for a reasonably good
pull-out. Now I don't think we would have to leave the region. In fact, I
think we make our capacity to maintain overall stability in the region weaker
by doing this. We need to go back and get support from our allies so that we


Lt. Gen. ODOM: ...tamp down this larger problem from Afghanistan to the eastern

COURIC: All right. General William Odom. General, thank you so much for
talking with us this morning. Appreciate your time.

Brock said at May 8, 2004 11:11 AM:

Of course, the "real" reason we are in Iraq and Afghanistan is 9-11. 9-11 was caused by Al Qaeda, but there are many people in the Middle East who are not formally a part of al Qaeda who would love to strike a similar blow against the Great Satan. Concentrating our fire-power and resources on Al Qaeda is successful short term, but unsuccesful long term.

Al Qaeda is much like a weed. We can pull it up and toss it in the shredder, but as long as the conditions which allowed the weed to grow and prosper exist, more weeds will follow. So our task is two-fold: (1) Rip out weeds as they appear. This is easy. (2) Change the cultural chemistry of the Middle East so that terrorist-weeds can't grow any more.

Of course, there will be a time where they will continue to grow, but as our efforts continue, hopefully they will be less successful over time.

Unfortunately, pulling out of Suni and Shia Iraq will not help Goal #2. Frankly, the Kurds (as wonderful as they are, God bless them) are not as much a concern of ours. Kurdish society is not fertile ground for terrorism. They need us to keep the Sunnis from terrorizing them, but they really don't need us in any other way. Their civil society is progressing quite nicely without us. If we did partition Iraq, our more sensible strategy (for Goal #2) would be to stay in the Sunni and Shia parts and stay out of Kurdistan.

Unfortunately, everything you said is correct. There is only one example of a poor non-Christian country becoming a somewhat successful Democracy that I can think of: India, and that was only after generations of British rule. Not something I think that Americans are in for.

Somewhat OT, somewhat tangentially, Iraq is also a great example of why the 2nd Amendment is not enough to secure liberty against tyranny. Pretty much every family in Iraq has an AK-47 or two, but they still can’t keep the tyrants out. The problem is that they don’t have a social fabric holding them together. There is no understanding that allows two Iraqis, meeting for the first time to say “This man is my Countryman, even if he’s a Red Sox fan or votes Democrat, there are some core principles we hold in common.”

There is no answer to our dilemma that does not involve staying in Iraq for the long term. Also, of course, Islam needs to change or be replaced. And “moderate” Islam is not the answer. Islam needs a model of religion that allows local Mosques to meet, organize, decide on matters of faith and governance, and not need to consult with or seek permission from Mecca or Iran on any of it. Just as Protestantism needed to break away from the dogma of Catholicism and start thinking for itself before the Modern Age could begin; Muslims need to do the same if they are going to ever really be a part of the Modern World. Only through the every day practice of Muslims thinking for themselves and practicing self-government can OUR Goal #2 be achieved.

Modern technology means that we can’t get away from them. There is nowhere on Earth to hide. It must be confronted and defeated.

Randall Parker said at May 8, 2004 1:05 PM:

Brock, how can we, as you put it, "change the cultural chemistry of the Middle East"?

Start from the goal and work backward. What policy tools are available for changing the Middle East?

I can think of a few like having more broadcasts from sources like Voice Of America. But with satellite dishes spreading I'm not sure that will make much difference. Maybe.

Since I'm pessimistic about our ability to change the culture of the Middle East I favor more indirect methods for dealing with the problem. One reason I repeatedly argue for a huge research effort to obsolesce oil is that the result would be to defund the Wahhabis. That would be a big win for us.

Brock said at May 8, 2004 8:47 PM:

Well, it goes without saying that finding a 'cure' to the oil addiction would be a huge turn for the better (for the US).

However, even that would not be a long term fix. It is a truism that technology will continue to advance, and with it the barriers to WMDs will fall. If the Middle East is suddenly deprived of oil revenue their ability to overcome those barriers will be severely curtailed, but it will not last indefinately. This is purely my guess, but I think it would push back the possibility of a nuke in New York or Tel Aviv no more than half a century.

Of course, we can't change the mind of Arabs directly, but we can (and must) increase the incentives of Modern behavior while also increasing the costs of non-Modern behavior. If we make it cheap & easy to be a Good Modern Citizen (tm), the benefits of modern society will draw them in. Simultaneously we have to make it VERY expensive to be a Bad Old Fashioned Jihadist (tm).

I'm pessimistic myself sometimes. Maybe our odds of success are 1 in 10. Who knows. But they WILL come for us one day if we don't do anything about. If we're not even going to try, sign me up for the first Lunar Colony. I will not go quietly into the night the way Europe seems content to do.

Brock said at May 8, 2004 8:57 PM:

Whoops, tools you asked, right.

Well, hmm ...

We don't have to "out Broadcast" al-Jazeera you know. Every human has a BS detector (some more finely tuned than others of course). If al-J keeps on telling lies, and we provide Iraqis with access to information they can compare it to, it will catch up with al-J eventually. Many Iraqis already know that al-J has an agenda which is not common cause with a free Iraq. I'm sure you read the Iraqi blogs.

The best things we can do for the Iraqis (IMO) is set a good example (disciplining those Abu Ghraib prison guards, and communicating that to the Iraqis is a good example) and make sure that no Fascists interfere with their national debate. Ask yourself this: How did the Anglosphere reach where it is today? It's not like anyone taught us, we just figured it out. The Iraqis aren't stupid. Assuming we can give them the stability to think long term, set a good example, and provide them access to info, they can learn the lesson just as easily as we. More easily, actually. They don't have to mess with all the failed experiments (like Communism). We've already done the hard work.

So tools: Internet, Public Forums free from censorship, peace & stability, good example.

The theory is that everything else will be an emergent property.

Bob Badour said at May 9, 2004 2:05 PM:

Brock, with all due respect, I find your post more than a little pollyanna-ish.

The anglosphere arose from a sequence of cultural developments spanning a millenium. At each step, the individual was empowered as the ultimate rights bearing actor and the chieftain, tribe, clan etc. disempowered. During this millenium of cultural development, Islam moved in exactly the opposite direction. What makes you think they will suddenly reverse course?

Have you read Randall's posts on consanguineous marriage, polygamy, etc?

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