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March 30, 2006

Iraq: Plan B

My friend and fellow blogger Jeff Jarvis asks “so how would you solve Iraq?”  He identifies himself as a liberal hawk and a “warblogger” because he supported going into Iraq in the first place as did I.  Nor am I as sure as almost everybody seems to be now that that was a mistake; I’m not claiming to have been misled on WMD or terror links.

But Jeff says this question is not about how we got there; it’s about what we do next.  What we’re doing now doesn’t seem to be working and the President hasn’t presented a convincing plan for moving forward.  By “not working”, BTW, I DON’T mean that our presence in Iraq is responsible for Muslim extremism nor that the French (and many others) have made Iraq the latest in a long line of excuses for anti-Americanism.  “Not working” simply means that brave Americans and Iraqi civilians are being killed and wounded without convincing progress towards a more stable situation despite the fact that an election was held with impressive turnout.

Since putting Iraq together as a democratic and stable country may simply be impossible, we need a plan B.

Plan B is pretty simple: stop trying to put Iraq together.  It has no history of existing as a single country other than in the ruthless bonds of a tyranny or, before that, as an convenience for British imperial  administration.  What was India became India and Pakistan; what was Pakistan became Pakistan and Bangladesh.  The end of Soviet imperial rule was quickly followed by Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia splintering and the splinters are finally beginning to prosper and escape their legacies of hatred. Who says there has to be a country called Iraq?

The most likely partition of Iraq is a “Kurdistan” in the north; a Sunni country in the west; and a Shiite nation in the east. There’s plenty not to like about plan B. 

The Turks don’t want their own Kurds just over the border getting any ideas about independence. But that’s not really our problem.  This part of Iraq has actually functioned pretty well and democratically as a nation in all but name since Gulf War I. We protected it from Saddam.  It is doing well now and doesn’t suffer from the sectarian violence and attacks which have plagued the rest of Iraq. The Kurds would be overjoyed.  We CAN provide them with protection (which they may not need much of) at an acceptable cost because American troops are welcome and not targeted in Kurdish territory.

The Sunni region might get too close to Syria.  Not sure that matters much or that it would actually even happen. The Sunnis are pretty independent and, in general, more secular than the Shiites.

The Shiite region almost certainly would be uncomfortably close in more than geography to Iran. But so what?  It won’t make Iran any more nuclear than it already is. Muqtada al-Sadr is likely to be as much a thorn in the side of the Iranian clergy as he is to almost everybody but his supporters in Iraq. It is the Shiites who would have most to lose by partition since they would be the majority in a unified Iraq – if such a thing is ever to be.

Implementing a partition solution is hardly pleasant. Borders, especially near oil fields, wouldn’t be easy to establish.  Sunnis will be isolated in predominately Shiite place and vice versa. Given the level of hatred, people will be probably be forced from their homes. But this is happening now!

From an American point of view, if it is impossible to establish a stable unified Iraq, this can’t remain our goal. If Iraq is more stable in three pieces and we can go home, good. New Kurdistan would be the only winner in the short-term. The other two areas have to work out their own futures. Good luck to them.  Neither is likely to be a threat to us although they remain threats to each other.

Now suppose this already is our plan B.  If so, the President has a quandary because he can’t announce it. If he does, the Kurds and Sunnis lose all incentive to work with the Shiites on a unified Iraq. If I were President (this is the way Jeff Jarvis asked the question), I would whisper plan B in the ear of the Shiites in the current Iraqi ruling coalition. Tell them they have x months to make the concessions necessary for a stable unified Iraq.  If that doesn’t work, whether it’s their fault or not, plan B.

This could be a reason why the President has been unable to articulate a clear strategy.  Can’t go public on plan B without torpedoing plan A. Probably not but could be.

The Kadima Party, which just finished in front of the pack in the Israeli election, is really a party built on Israel’s plan B.  If negotiations don’t work, withdraw into defensible borders and build a wall around them.  Not a first choice but it is one that allows the Israelis to set the pace rather than their adversaries.  A partitioned Iraq alternative with a deadline does the same thing for us.  A good plan B – a credible plan B – gives plan A a better chance of working because it lets enemies know they can’t preserve an untenable status quo indefinitely.

Any plan for leaving Iraq has to be vetted against its effect on Iran and North Korea.  When it looked like we had a quick success in Iraq, they started to soften and Libya folded.  When it began to look like we are stuck in Iraq, losing public support at home, and deserted by most of the rest of the world, both of these countries hardened their positions.  If we succeed in plan A and leave a democratic and unified Iraq – wow, that would be great.  Why we keep trying.  The present leaders of Iran and North Korea don’t want this democracy thing happening to them. That’s one reason we try so hard.

But, even if we leave a partitioned Iraq behind, we send a pretty powerful message. Part one is if you threaten us enough there will be regime change – we’re good at that – see Iraq and Afghanistan (and don’t forget Germany and Japan). Part two is that we’re better at taking regimes apart than putting new ones together although we did succeed at that after WW II. But, the message goes, we will still flush out a regime which threatens us (that’s different from “displeases” us) and that part of our mission  usually only takes a week or so. We’re actually freer to shove a dangerous Humpty Dumpty off a wall if we don’t feel that we have to put him together again.

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Irakischen Politikern und Analysten zufolge befindet sich das Zweistromland gegenwärtig in der schlimmsten politischen Krise seit dem Fall des Hussein-Regimes. Die Spannungen zwischen Schiiten und Sunniten drohen auf politischer Ebene zu eskalieren und [Read More]


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