2007 July 08 Sunday
White House Faces Need For Iraq Pullback

Senate support for Bush's Iraq war is crumbling. With Senate Republican support for the Iraqi war in decline the Bush White House no longer has time to wait for the final results of the US troop surge.

White House officials fear that the last pillars of political support among Senate Republicans for President Bush’s Iraq strategy are collapsing around them, according to several administration officials and outsiders they are consulting. They say that inside the administration, debate is intensifying over whether Mr. Bush should try to prevent more defections by announcing his intention to begin a gradual withdrawal of American troops from the high-casualty neighborhoods of Baghdad and other cities.

The troop surge has not been accompanied by big political reforms by Iraq's governing factions. The Iraqi people haven't decided to rise up en masse and join freedom fighting brigades. The bulk of the fighting for the sorta government is done by American soldiers.

A growing list of Republican Senators are signing up to support a bill which would move US soldiers out of Baghdad and other hot zones in Iraq by March 2008.

Domenici became the fourth senior Republican in 10 days to significantly criticize the current Iraq strategy, following Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and John Warner (R-Va.).

...

Even more significant are the Republicans who had previously signed on as co-sponsors to the bill Domenici endorsed today. Its authors are Sens. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). Other co-sponsors include other Senate veterans who are especially close to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the Bush White House, as well as a pair of endangered incumbents.

Senior Bush Administration members are getting ready for the Senate debate on Iraq by canceling other plans.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates canceled a visit to Latin America amid mounting criticism of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Partition anyone?

With President Bush's war strategy clouded by limited results and mounting casualties, two scholars are proposing a partition plan that would divide Iraq into three main regions.

The authors, Edward P. Joseph of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, are hoping to draw the attention of Bush administration policymakers.

...

Under the plan, Iraqis would divide the country into three main regions. Each would assume primary responsibility for its own security and governance, as Iraqi Kurds already have in Kurdistan.

"Creating such a structure could prove to be difficult and risky," the report said. "However, when measured against the alternatives - continuing to police an ethnic-sectarian war, or withdrawing and allowing the conflict to escalate - the risks of soft partition appear more acceptable."

They recommend something I've long argued for: Move the ethnic and religious groups away from each other.

In Baghdad, rather than keeping vulnerable minorities in tense parts of the capital, Joseph said, "It might make sense to move them voluntarily to places where they would be safer."

Partition might have a chance at this point. Kurdistan is already semi-independent. But will the Shias and Sunnis allow themselves to get pulled apart? Will the Shia leaders accept the loss of some control over the Sunni area? (not that they have much control now) Will non-Iraqi Sunni fighters keep blowing up Shia targets in order to keep the war going?

The appeal of partition at this point is that it is a card not yet played. It is not simple retreat. The Bush Administration does not want to retreat. They might suddenly grasp partition even though doing so goes against the mythological belief that we all really can get along.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 July 08 11:06 PM  Mideast Iraq Exit Debate


Comments
John S Bolton said at July 9, 2007 12:10 AM:

The NYT lead editorial of Sunday 7-8th-07 mentions the partition possibility,
even if involving the migration of millions of Iraqis away from the high-conflict mixed areas.
The administration would have to admit strategic error, democracy does not cause brotherhood
and equality to suddenly burst forth from enmities and inequality,
which then could be assumed to be an unnatural product of despotic rule.
Freedom can mean freedom to fight, to hate, and to live as if the supremacy
of the majority were the worst outcome; worse than terrorism in your neighborhood.
The cycles of violence start with the Sunni inability to accept Shia supremacy,
if not always, then for the most part.
Iraqis are moslem hostiles; they can believe in the benevolence of our intentions about as much
as Jordanians can believe in the benevolence of Israeli intentions towards them.
If you treat them generously, they will assume an underlying malice drives an unfathomable
ulterior motivation.

Stephen said at July 9, 2007 12:59 AM:

Trans-location on the necessary scale is just logistically impossible.

We're talking a country of 20 million people (well, a fair bit less now...). Lets say 'only' five million actually need to be moved. Its not as if you can just stick each family on a bus and wave goodbye. These families have possessions that they'll want to take with them, they'll want to move directly into another house - or are you thinking of setting up camps? How many thousands of trucks will be needed for this move?

Are they allowed to dynamite their house when they leave? If not, will you start machine gunning families that try?

Also, no country is homogeneously identical, so who gets the oil fields and who gets the empty desert? Who gets Baghdad? Who gets to live where there's adequate food and water? Do you dig up the factories and move them as well? If you don't, what employment will there be for the farmers who now live in the mountains, what employment is there for Basra port workers who now live in the middle of the desert?

How many years would it take? Will you be keeping soldiers on hand for the entire time? How many 100's of thousands of American soldiers will the US taxpayer fund for that many years? How many thousands of US soldiers will you consider acceptable losses over those years?

Oh, and how will anyone be able to tell a Shia from a Sunni? Its not as if they have it tatooed on their forehead. How about the mixed tribes that are 40/60 or 50/50 sunni/shia. Do you split up the tribes as well? What about the mixed families? (remembering that there was a lot of intermarriage until the US set up a political system that emphasised religion). Can a shia husband divorce a sunni wife? Who gets the kids?

Furthermore, who gets to decide any of the foregoing, and who in Iraq is going to feel bound by their decrees?

Imagine how horrendous the above process would be even with a compliant population, now imagine doing it in an occupied population where 80% are sullen at best and the remainder want nothing more than your death.

Still not convinced of the impossibility? Well, let me add one other ingredient:

The Bush administration will organise it.
See, totally impossible.

Wolf-Dog said at July 9, 2007 2:39 AM:

The sooner the new electric cars are mass-produced for all of the United States, and the sooner 200 nuclear plants are built to charge these pure-electric cars, the better it will be. The reason being that a few years after the US leaves Iraq, the pro-American Saudi monarchy will fall, and the oil fields will gradually be controlled by the emerging new Islamic Empire.

Anon said at July 9, 2007 8:06 AM:

The shiites and sunnis will probably migrate the way the hindus and muslims did when India was partioned into Pakistan and India, just with more violence. The kurds have their own little stae set up already. Iraq was cobbled together by the British and it will just revert to its previous condition. I don't see how a partioned Iraq is necessarily bad for the US.

John S Bolton said at July 9, 2007 12:43 PM:

Iraq is a welfare polity with an economy consisting of oil revenue distribution and hardly anything else.
So long as boundaries give equal shares, and are otherwise gerrymandered so as to minimize relocation,
partitioning is not necessarily very difficult.
They want freedom from aggression, but not forced inclusionism with enemies.
Minorties can be allowed to stay in otherwise homogenous areas if they forego their
allowance of weaponry. There can be payments for resettlement, which are attractive for the unemployed,
and much cheaper than full-scale military involvement.
Once the Sunni have their sovereign polity with sufficient oil within its boundaries,
the impetus for further intercommunal terror offensives is largely gone.
At that point, more resettlement of minorities becomes less pressing, and can
be halted entirely when peace returns.
They fear the winner-take-all result, so that once they have sovereign assurance
that they will get something rather than nothing, that they will be the rulers in their
own areas, rather than being an oppressed minority under theocracy,
the remaining major problem wold be the clearing out of foreign terrorists.

momochan said at July 9, 2007 1:31 PM:

One consideration that might factor into partitioning is the geography of oilfields. I heard that land where currently a high proportion of Sunnis live is relatively lacking in oil. Will Sunnis accept partitioning that would almost certainly put them outside of physical possession of oilfields?

stephen said at July 9, 2007 11:23 PM:

Momochan, have a look at this multi-panel map of Iraq - one panel shows oil-fields.

The biggest issue about partitioning Iraq is that its primarily desert with very low population density, while the vast majority of the population live along the banks of the Euphrates & Tigris (eg Bahgdad has a mixed Sunni/Shia population of 5 million). There's insufficient space to geographically separate these people unless Randall proposes dropping a few million in the middle of a scorching hot, waterless, foodless, employmentless desert.

John S Bolton said at July 10, 2007 12:02 AM:

The broad deserts can be used as corridors to connect oilfields to populations which would otherwise be left with little.
Provincial boundaries can hardly be worth our fighting for, especially as the territorial integrity of all Iraq has no
significance to American interests.

John S Bolton said at July 11, 2007 1:53 AM:

If American involvement is to maintain the unity of Iraqi sovereignty,
how is that a part of our national interest?
Officials may imagine that there is a global-imperial
interest in proceeding as if all populations will naturally live in brotherhood,
but loyalty is owed to the citizenry of our nation,
not the non-citizens of the global empire of imagination.
The intercommunal conflicts in Iraq have by now proceeded to the degree that they really have the makings of nations within that incoherent polity. The
new sovereignties would have to have competent rulers appointed
chosen for their terrorist-hunting abilities and commitment;
there is no American interest in democratization of Islamic
nations which remain Islamic, but there is one in preventing
the rise of more terrorist states.

John S Bolton said at July 11, 2007 2:24 AM:

Partition doesn't have to generate perfectly homogenous sovereignties in order to take
away the incentive that the Sunnis have now to continue the terror offensive,
and harbor foreign terrorists.

Stephen said at July 11, 2007 3:12 AM:

John said: the incentive that the Sunnis have now to continue the terror offensive

My guess is that the Shia's are doing most of the killing on a per capita basis. No one can prove it though - especially with the US blaming AQ every time someone gets a paper cut.

Stephen said at July 11, 2007 3:40 AM:

John said: Partition doesn't have to generate perfectly homogenous sovereignties

I agree, but the painful part is the human misery that is inflicted on the poor sods who are forced to flee their family home in order that acceptable ethnicity ratios be achieved in an area. The process is inherently evil.

(Vicente) Fox Hound said at July 11, 2007 3:32 PM:

John said: Partition doesn't have to generate perfectly homogenous sovereignties

I agree, but the painful part is the human misery that is inflicted on the poor sods who are forced to flee their family home in order that acceptable ethnicity ratios be achieved in an area. The process is inherently evil.

That's kind of what's already going on there. Why not speed it along? For the most part Shi'ites already live with Shi'ites, Sunnis with Sunnis, and Kurds with Kurds. It's basically Baghdad and Diyala where the mix still exists. Baghdad will be Shi'ite. The Sunnis will perhaps make Ramadi or Mosul their capital, and Kirkuk will be the Kurdish capital.

Randall Parker said at July 11, 2007 6:05 PM:

Stephen,

As for the infeasibility of separating them:

1) Many are fleeing contact with the opposing group already.

2) Many more would flee if they could afford to do so. We could offer moving services. We could make temporary housing or pay their rents for a few months.

3) Yes, physical separation is possible. We have to choose points where Shias are on one side and Sunnis on the other. It is not equally easy in all sections.

4) What other option do you propose? I see two:

A) Continued US troop presence and continued civil war.

B) US just plain withdraws.

I'm counting on 4-B since support for the war has collapsed in the US among elites and the public.

Stephen said at July 12, 2007 3:21 AM:

Randall asked: What other option do you propose?

I think we would all agree that we're past the point of cost-free answers. Regardless of what happens thousands of Iraqis will die. That said, I think my solution would be built around the following rationalisations:

1) Sectarian violence of this intensity is an anomaly in Iraq.

How can I claim that? Well, there are sunni and shia in Iraq, and if white hot war between them was the norm, then I'd expect one or the other to have become extinct within the last 600 years. Similarly, I wouldn't expect them to be living together in large cities; I wouldn't expect the majority of tribes to be mixed Shia/Sunni; I wouldn't expect inter-marriage to be as common and acceptable as it was just a few years ago; the kurds are also mixed Sunni / Shia and they're not fighting each other (well, they are, but not for religious reasons); the Iranians couldn't get the Iraqi Shia to rebel during the interminable Iran/Iraq wars; Saddam doesn't seem to have been fighting shia/sunni battles - on the whole he was an equal opportunity oppressor.

2) The current Iraqi national government is not seen to be legitimate.

They are collaborators and/or thieves, and everything they touch is tainted by US influence. Put yourself in the position of an occupied civilian - would you do anything that the occupier wanted, and would you trust anyone who did? The Iraqi people know they are an occupied nation, they've long since stopped listening when the US tells them that it only has their best interests at heart.

3) A system of government must be built from the bottom up

The government was imposed from the top down. Worse still, it was primarily built in Washington using political theories that didn't take into account arab society.

4) The central tendency of human beings is to self-organise.

Over the long run, human society is self-organising - from the most primitive tribes to the most advanced society, groups of humans figure out methods to resolve disputes that don't involve a fight to the death.

So, in light of the above, I say get out now. The aftermath will be horrible, but my guess is that all parties will settle down as religious affiliation is trumped by tribal allegiance.

John S Bolton said at July 12, 2007 4:38 AM:

As to the process of partition being 'inherently evil', the question is whether it is greatly
more of an evil, than continuing civil war or terror war to much the same effect, but with necessarily more aggression.
It would not be like intoducing such a process out of the blue, but shaping
and blunting the worst of the violence associated with the scramble for power and resources.
Discrimination, not indulgence of spontaneous freedom-for-aggression, is what's needed, but the administration
is more concerned to primp its image for anti-discrimination, than to find solutions.
May Iraq as a single sovereignty be terminated with extreme prejudice.

Stephen said at July 12, 2007 4:57 PM:

John, in the current political context partition will come out of the blue. Its not as if the US is going to stay there for the next ten years while the following happens:

  • Some sort of multi-religious/ethnic Partition Commission is formed, gains public legitimacy, hires technical advisers in the fields of population movement, infrastructure development, economics etc. Say one year before the Commission is ready to go to work.

  • The Partition Commission conducts a population census (could you imagine going door-to-door in Iraq at the moment?), conducts an infrastructure census, travels the country holding hearings, considers and then reports where the boundaries are going to be. Probably a two year process at the minimum. oops, that was without considering who gets what oil fields - make that three years.
  • The report is heavily debated and marketed so that a critical mass of the population accepts that its both a good idea and fair. Say six months?
  • We'll also need a new constitution if we're having a federal system rather than entirely sovereign countries. We'll pretend that that is being done as part of the marketing & debate phase.
  • Infra-structure needs to be built that reflects the Partition Commission plans (presumably as amended by the debate above), travel plans systematically organised and notified for millions of people. Give that another 12 months.
  • Then the actual move will be done. Probably two years, assuming that you could move 2000 families seven days a week, 365 days a year.
  • Finally, all this is happening in a war zone, so double your estimates.

Partitioning is probably more evil than just letting them duke it out.

Stephen said at July 12, 2007 5:03 PM:

John said: May Iraq as a single sovereignty be terminated with extreme prejudice.

You're sounding very imperialistic John. Its up to the Iraqi's to decide whether they have a country, not Washington.

Randall Parker said at July 12, 2007 7:21 PM:

Stephen,

A lot of the mixing between Shia and Sunni took place under Saddam when they were all under control of a police state that had an iron grip which was driven by intense fear. More rapidly reproducing Shia moved to Baghdad to get jobs.

Bottom up organizing: That's what the militias are about: Entrepreneurial government out of the barrels of competing guns.

Lack of central government legitimacy: Not a solvable problem. We tried elections. More than once even. The Sunnis in particular reject Shia rule. The various Shia factions reject rule by each other. The Arabs really do not vest much loyalty in central governments.

So then do you call for US withdrawal so they can duke it out?

Stephen said at July 12, 2007 8:32 PM:

Randall said: So then do you call for US withdrawal so they can duke it out?

Yes. Basically, I suspect that the US occupation is causing much of the psychosis in Iraqi society, and withdrawing that aggravating factor might allow some form of social recovery. Also, keep in mind that I have no faith that the US actually has the ability to organise a partition; and also, should an imposed partitioning be screwed-up, then the natives will be at each others throat soon after in any event.

The US does have a role though: it must not do the spoilt-brat thing it normally does when it can't get its way - no decades long trade boycotts, spoiling tactics, undermining government, arming certain groups etc. Instead, take a positive position, say sorry, normalise diplomatic relations as soon as possible. Oh, and pay reparations - a trillion should do.

Either way, there'll be a fair bit of blood to flow before its over.

Randall Parker said at July 13, 2007 8:41 PM:

Stephen,

The US does not need to organize a partition. It just has to provide transportation and construct housing in cities that are away from the Sunni-Shia boundary.

But I'm content to have a unilateral withdrawal. We could do it in a month or two. How fast we could do it would depend on how much hardware we'd need to haul out. With additional trucks we could do it more rapidly.

Stephen said at July 13, 2007 10:05 PM:

We have a deal then!

Now comes the small matter of damages, would you support the US paying reparations?

John S Bolton said at July 13, 2007 11:21 PM:

I don't see how it can be argued that we owe the Iraqis anything; it's a matter
of finding a better way out.
When one realizes that Iraq does not have an economy in the same way that most other countries do,
it becomes clear that those who are cut off from the oil revenue distribution
have poor options there, and this can be used to get enemies away from each other.
To be a disfavored minority in a sovereignty gerrymandered from the present territory of Iraq,
would be close to a guarantee of poverty.
If all partitions have equal per capita shares of oil revenue, via boundary-drawing,
there is incentive to move to the area where one's group is favored, and away from one in which
it is disfavored. This would be so even if no one knew the difference between Sunni and Shia.
Infrastructure being subject to the machinations of a neighboring polity, needn't be a problem, any more than it is now, with Turkey controlling the flow of almost all the water in Iraq.

Stephen said at July 14, 2007 7:19 PM:

When one realizes that Iraq does not have an economy in the same way that most other countries do,

John, Iraq may have oil, but that doesn't mean that its population is parasitic (say, in the sense that Saudi Arabia's population is). Iraq has local shopkeepers, farmers, factories, tradesmen etc.

If all partitions have equal per capita shares of oil revenue, via boundary-drawing,
there is incentive to move to the area where one's group is favored, and away from one in which
it is disfavored.

And if these guys do actually hold an abiding, multi-generational hatred of each other, then why would one sovereignty let a neighbouring sovereignty pipe its oil through their territory? If their alleged hatred overwhelms economic sense, surely they'd do nothing that helps their neighbour prosper. Hatred = no oil out, no food in.

I don't see how it can be argued that we owe the Iraqis anything;

Even if you don't believe that the US owes reparations to Iraq, its still important for the US' self-respect that it does something. Also, without a specific economic signal to properly price the negative externalities of waging unjust war, there's no long term way to stop the same type of thing happening again. I'm thinking of an Iraq Reparations Tax lasting a generation. If the US can't bring itself to pay it to Iraq, then maybe pay it to the UN instead.

John S Bolton said at July 15, 2007 1:03 AM:

The UN has no known moral force, and cannot be a repository for the expiation of imaginary guilt.
Morality in the world is not improved by taking from civilization, punishing the virtuous,
to reward the savages for their atrocities.

h-man said at July 15, 2007 5:20 AM:

Reparations? Did somebody mention reparations?...Look as just an ordinary American citizen, I want to state that I will not support requesting reparations from Iraqi's. End of subject.

John S Bolton said at July 15, 2007 11:39 PM:

Regarding hatred between Iraqi groups:
there is some hatred which is new and will not cool down any time soon,
but, more importantly, there is the suspicion which is old.
If there is not a total pullout, American forces can police
the hostilities between partitions, not all the way,
but sufficiently to allow flow of commerce.


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