Get it over with already

Fortunately for all of us who missed APSA, Robert Farley has a summary of a panel on withdrawal options from the Iraqle. ((Thanks to MT for this suggestion. I mean, why say “Iraq debacle” when you can just say “Iraqle”?)) The panel featured James Wirtz of the Naval War College, John Mearsheimer, Juan Cole, and Stephen Biddle.

Biddle noted that the only intellectually defensible options regarding Iraq lie at the extremes–escalation or complete withdrawal. The former has little chance of success and complete withdrawal is preferable to virtually any scheme involving residual forces.

Mearsheimer argued that because of domestic politics and institutional dynamics we’ll still be there in five years and beyond. Quoting Robert now, referring to Mearshimer’s remarks:

Ten years ago, I doubt I would have believed that Mearsheimer’s critique of US foreign policy would essentially mirror a standard leftist perspective. There are differences, of course, but on Iraq Mearsheimer is making an argument that would fit very comfortably into the netroots… The stab-in-the-back narrative that’s being prepared by the Republican Party will succeed in scaring a Democratic president and Democratic congress from taking any decisive steps to end the war.

That last part shows as much as an concrete policy problem what is so fundamentally wrong with the two-party straitjacket and the presidential form of government, but in the presence of such death, destruction, and depression, I’m not in the mood to use the Iraqle to make the case against American political institutions. I leave it as an exercise for the interested reader.


A “huge exodus” is underway from Iraq.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says 30 per cent of the 1.8 million Iraqis who have fled to Jordan, Syria and elsewhere come from the minorities. The Christians, who have lived in Iraq for 2,000 years, survived the Muslim invasion in the 7th century and the Mongol onslaught in the 13th but are now being eradicated as their churches are bombed and members of their faith hunted down and killed along with other minority faiths. […]

…half of the minority communities in Iraq, once 10 per cent of the total population, have fled. They include Mandaeans, whose main prophet is John the Baptist and Yazidis whose religion is an offshoot of Zoroastrianism and may be 4,000 years old. […]

The so-called Faili, or Shia Kurds, who were stripped of their belongings under the old regime and expelled to Iran are now being forced to run again – forced out of Shia areas such as Sadr City because they are Kurds and Sunni cities such as Baquba, because they are Shia.

The small Jewish community, whose members arrived in chains as slaves, has been all but destroyed by persecution and the pervasive suspicion that Jews have collaborated with the US-led invaders. […]

Christians are frequent targets of kidnappers because they are thought to be rich and to have no militia or tribe to protect them. Mandaeans are traditionally jewellers and goldsmiths and this again makes them attractive targets for abduction. […]

One of the worst affected minorities is the small, 35,000-strong Palestinian community, many of whom had been in Iraq since 1948. Seen as being under the special protection of Saddam Hussein, they have suffered severely since his fall.

How will those responsible for this humanitarian disaster that has followed the destruction of the Iraqi state atone for what they have done?

The above excerpts are from an item that originally appeared in The Independent on 26 February; my source was The Jews of Lebanon.

50,000 per month

Far too little attention is being paid, especially in the USA, to “one of the world’s great man-made disasters” taking place in Iraq: Forcible population displacement. The UNHCR estimates that 50,000 Iraqis per month are being forced out of their homes. Patrick Cockburn, in the Independent (one of the world’s great English-language newspapers), notes that “Iraq is experiencing the biggest exodus in the Middle East since Palestinians were forced to flee in 1948 upon the creation of Israel.” About two million so far have fled the country–with Syria being the one neighbor that has “formally recognised a need for temporary protection for Iraqis”–and another 1.5 to 2 million are internally displaced.

One man from Baghdad told Cockburn, “Sometimes I have asked myself if it is not better to die than to live like a Bedouin all my life.”

As a result of these massive population movements:

There are fewer mixed areas left in Iraq. In Baghdad, militias now feel free to use mortars to bombard each other knowing that they will not hit members of their own community. […]

The land routes to Jordan and Syria run through Sunni territory. Shia trying to reach safety have been taken from their vehicles to be shot by the side of the road. But Shia can move to safety in south Iraq and therefore make up the bulk of the internally displaced.

For Sunni there is no real place of safety in Iraq. In Baghdad they are being squeezed into smaller and smaller areas. Cities like Ramadi and Fallujah are partly ruined and very dangerous. […]

What a tragedy. What an utterly preventable tragedy. What a Made-in-the-USA tragedy.

Meanwhile, all is not quiet on the northern front. The LA Times quotes an International Crisis Group report as saying, “Kirkuk is as likely as Baghdad to produce a calamity that can fracture Iraq.” Later this year, as mandated by the Iraqi constitution, there will be a referendum on the status of Kirkuk province. Kurdish officials are already taking steps to ensure the “correct” outcome.

Rogue elephant

Robert Fisk:

Few paid attention late last year when the Islamist leadership of this most ferocious of Arab rebellions proclaimed Bush a war criminal but asked him not to withdraw his troops. “We haven’t yet killed enough of them,” their videotaped statement announced.

Well, they will have their chance now. How ironic that it was the ghastly Saddam, dignified amid his lynch mob, who dared on the scaffold to tell the truth which Bush and Blair would not utter: that Iraq has become “hell” .

And on how Bush’s escalation only compounds past, irrevocable, errors:

“Democracy” should have been introduced at the start ­ not delayed until the Shias threatened to join the insurgency if Paul Bremer, America’s second proconsul, did not hold elections ­ just as the American military should have prevented the anarchy of April 2003. The killing of 14 Sunni civilians by US paratroopers at Fallujah that spring set the seal on the insurgency. Yes, Syria and Iran could help George Bush. But Tehran was part of his toytown “Axis of Evil”, Damascus a mere satellite. They were to be future prey, once Project Iraq proved successful. Then there came the shame of our torture, our murders, the mass ethnic cleansing in the land we said we had liberated.

And so more US troops must die, sacrificed for those who have already died. We cannot betray those who have been killed. It is a lie, of course. Every desperate man keeps gambling, preferably with other men’s lives.

It now seems like ancient history since the Baker-Hamilton report urged a change of course (albeit an overly moderate one) and also urged engaging Iran and Syria diplomatically (however unlikely they would be to throw Bush a lifeline). Now Bush responds with an escalation and with a military raid on an Iranian diplomatic office. The incident, widely and justifiably condemned internationally, took place in Kurdistan, and has angered the US allies in control of that part of the (former?) state of Iraq.

Will anyone stop this rogue elephant?

Horowitz on Iraq

Donald Horowitz is one of the leading experts in political science on ethnic conflict. I often disagree with his specific electoral-institutional recommendations, but his views on any conflict he turns his attention to are always worth considering seriously. By way of Kenneth Anderson’s Law of War blog, following are some key excerpts of a recent piece by Horowitz from the Wall Street Journal. Continue reading

Cover story

I have resisted the temptation to comment on the Iraq commission report. Till now, that is.

I take it as axiomatic that the commission is not a serious policy exercise, but rather an exercise in political cover. But the question remains, cover for whom?

    1. Cover for a Republican government looking to manage defeat while calling it “victory”?, or

    2. Cover for a Democratic party to sign on to an open-ended commitment while calling it a “change of course”?

Alas, there is nothing in the behavior of either party over the last six years to lead me to believe that it could possibly be no. 1.

This assessment is only enhanced by the presence on the commission of its chairman James Baker–a critical player in steering the aborted 2000 Florida recount Bush’s way–and especially of noted foreign-policy expert Sandra Day O’Connor–a pivotal member of the US Supreme Court’s coalition that intervened against the full recount by then underway.