2007 January 04 Thursday
Iraq: What To Do Once Troop Surge Fails?

Once Bush tries his next set of futile and foolish policies in Iraq we'll be down another hundred billion dollars with another thousand Americans dead with tens of thousands permanently injured. At that point what should we do next? I suggest we stop throwing good money after bad and write off Iraq like a really bad investment. But for those who still want us to try to accomplish something before we withdraw the debate will likely move on to the question of partition. What to do once US troop surge doesn't stop the Iraq civil war?

WASHINGTON – As President Bush readies a new strategy for Iraq, some experts in Washington are looking beyond the question of US troop levels to what might happen if worst-case scenarios come true. Call it Plan B: How the United States might handle Iraq's partition.

It may still be possible to hold Iraq together, many of these critics believe. A surge in American military strength might help. But the hour is late - and a lack of contingency planning on the part of US officials may be one reason the situation has become so dire.

What is the main reason the Bush Administration is still in fantasy land in their public pronouncements and plans for Iraq? How about a lack of willingness to admit the sheer scale of the wrongness of their model of human nature? Bush's obstinate refusal to admit error about human nature underlies the Iraq debacle. Bush's government has admitted serious problems in Iraq. But they have not admitted that they formulated their Iraq policy based on very wrong myths about human nature. Bush would rather be wrong than admit to being wrong.

Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution says we should look at Bosnia both as a model of how bad the deaths can get and how we can partition to stop the killing.

The US might need actively to aid Iraqis in relocating to parts of the country where they feel safer, says Mr. O'Hanlon. This sort of resettlement assistance wouldn't be unprecedented, he notes. The US did it in Bosnia.

Such a policy would perhaps preempt the violent Balkans-style ethnic cleansing that is already occurring in Iraq, O'Hanlon says. Sectarian strife is displacing 100,000 Iraqis a month.

"One-third to one-quarter of the ethnic cleansing that might occur [in Iraq] has occurred," says O'Hanlon.

Michael O'Hanlon and Edward Joseph have an essay in The American Interest arguing for the need for a back-up plan should the US troop surge fail (and it will). The essay is entitled Toolbox: A Bosnia Option For Iraq and they argue we should assist Shias and Sunnis to move away from each other.

The war in Bosnia ended only after as many as 200,000 civilians died and half the country’s population had either been expelled or fled from their homes, leaving the country a patchwork of ethnically homogeneous pieces. NATO airpower, a reinforced UN contingent and the military successes of Muslim and Croat armies were critical elements leading to the 1995 Dayton Accords. But Dayton could not have been negotiated had not ethnic relocations already occurred, creating definable and mostly defensible territories.


Facilitating voluntary relocations is difficult to time correctly. If done too soon, government-assisted relocations could codify an ethnic segregation process that most Iraqis do not inherently desire. It could even encourage some militias to accelerate violence against minorities within their neighborhoods in the belief that it would be relatively easy to drive people from their homes if they knew that new jobs and houses awaited elsewhere. If done too late, however, much of the killing that we hope to prevent would have already occurred (as in Bosnia). This is why the Bosnia Option needs to be discussed now, even if it might not be implemented for several more months as we try to salvage success from the current strategy.

The key--and the most challenging part of an ethnic relocation policy--is to get the parties to informally accept it. With an informal understanding among belligerents, ethnic relocation can be less traumatic and destabilizing. For example, the vast majority of Croatia’s Serbs were expelled during two military operations (in May and August 1995) that had at least tacit acquiescence from Belgrade. Without minimizing the trauma to the Serbs (indeed, the Croatian commander will be tried in the Hague for alleged war crimes), the fact is that they suffered nothing like the calamities of Muslims forcibly uprooted from Serb-held parts of Bosnia. Likewise, thousands of Serbs left western Bosnia after the war, without violence, as part of land swaps agreed between Croats and Serbs at Dayton.

My guess is that hundreds of thousands Iraqis want to move right now and would if moving was made easy with prefabricated housing to live in once they have moved.

As the Sunnis and Shias become more separated what I want to know is just how much killing will continue due to the Shia tribes fighting each other? How much of the death toll today is due to clan warfare? How much of the killings are due to criminal gangs fighting?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 January 04 09:16 PM  MidEast Iraq Partition

John S Bolton said at January 5, 2007 12:38 AM:

How much is due to the nonsensical strategy premise, that everyone, including moslems, desires freedom and democracy, and that ordered liberty can be assumed to arise spontaneously from human nature, as soon as the constraining hand of the tyrant is removed?
How much is due to the strategy premise that it is man's nature to want to live in brotherhood and peace,
even when there are enemies close at hand, and even when these generic humans are moslems with deeply committed loyalties to clan and locality, cemented by close breeding?
Partition is feasible if a large part of its theoretical maximum level has already been effected, and resource division can be ~equal, and especially if provincial boundaries are not regarded as obstacles to the necessary gerrymanders.
Baghdad is divisible like Derry, and parts can connect through a desert corridor, to the sovereignty of Basra.
Neocon anti-particularism considers itself, no doubt, so far above being a party to the line-drawing of a divided city.
American troops can be freed to operate occasionally against the more disorderly sort of ethnic cleansing, and appear as politically correct as a blue helmet police action against savage ethnic fighters of non-exempt identity.
This is why it may happen; the administration wants to appear to be doing good, not causing chaos nihilistically.
Neocon scholars can cry atomization of the world, as if every precedent had to multiply all the way out.
Our foreign policy, though, is not really a precedent for how other countries run their internal affairs.

Ned said at January 5, 2007 10:51 AM:

The duration of US involvement in Iraq is probably limited by the 2008 presidential election. I cannot imagine that either candidate will favor continuing US military presence in that unfortunate country. The Iraqis know this and understand that they can outwait any troop surge. Over fifty years ago, Senator Robert A. Taft ("Mr. Republican") wrote in "A Foreign Policy for Americans":

"There are a good many Americans who talk about an American century in which America will dominate the world. They rightly point out that the United States is so powerful today that we should assume a moral leadership in the world . . . The trouble with those who advocate this policy is that they really do not confine themselves to moral leadership. . . In their hearts they want to force on these foreign peoples through the use of American money and even, perhaps, American arms, the policies which moral leadership is able to advance only through the sound strength of its principles and the force of its persuasion. I do not think this moral leadership ideal justifies our engaging in any preventive war . . . I do not believe any policy which has behind it the threat of military force is justified as part of the basic foreign policy of the United States except to defend the liberty of our own people."

How far the GOP has drifted from its roots. GWB looks like the reincarnation of LBJ.

Borat said at January 13, 2007 9:08 PM:


Bush Administration finally trying to make some attempt to understand Iraqi culture?

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