Monday, September 20, 2004

Sayonara, Iraq?

Robert Novak lays out a depressing (to me) vision of the U.S. abandoning Iraq, even if Bush wins re-election.

Inside the Bush administration policymaking apparatus, there is strong feeling that U.S. troops must leave Iraq next year. This determination is not predicated on success in implanting Iraqi democracy and internal stability. Rather, the officials are saying: Ready or not, here we go.

This prospective policy is based on Iraq's national elections in late January, but not predicated on ending the insurgency or reaching a national political settlement. Getting out of Iraq would end the neoconservative dream of building democracy in the Arab world. The United States would be content having saved the world from Saddam Hussein's quest for weapons of mass destruction.


The end product would be an imperfect Iraq, probably dominated by Shia Muslims seeking revenge over long oppression by the Sunni-controlled Baathist Party. The Kurds would remain in their current semi-autonomous state. Iraq would not be divided, reassuring neighboring countries -- especially Turkey -- that are apprehensive about ethnically divided nations.

Victor Davis Hanson, on the other hand, makes the case for why this would be a terrible idea.

We have already done something like that before — many times. What rippled out afterwards was not pretty. American helicopters flying off the embassy roof in Saigon in 1975 gave us the climate for the Soviets in Afghanistan, Communists in Central America, and embassy hostage-taking in Tehran. Ignoring murders in Lebanon, New York, East Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, or lobbing an occasional cruise missile as tit-for-tat payback when terrorists harvested one too many expendable Americans abroad, ensured us September 11. In our loony world, losing credible deterrence (and we would) is an invitation for disaster — as bin Laden himself illustrated when he logically thought that the toppling of the World Trade Center would be followed by another Black Hawk Down American pullback.


We also have a moral stake in Iraq, whose people have suffered from 30 years of Baathist state terror and terrible fatalities in three losing wars. Our defeat of Iraq in 1991, our subsequent abandonment of the Kurds and Shiites to a wounded Saddam Hussein, twelve years of occupying Iraqi airspace, the corrupt U.N. embargo, and the recent final defeat of the Baathists brought untold misery to the Iraqi people.

In contrast, for the last year and a half, the United States has paid a high price to ensure the Iraqis a chance for the first humane and civilized government in the entire Arab Middle East. If it was callous to abandon the Shiites and Kurds in 1991, it is certainly right now to ensure that Saddam's gulag is not superseded by either a Taliban theocracy or a Lebanon-like cesspool.


For all these reasons and more, something like "See ya, wouldn't want to be ya" is the absolute worst prescription for Iraq — both for America and those Iraqis who are counting on us in their historic efforts to reclaim their country from barbarism. Amid the daily car bombings in Iraq, murder in Russia, and slaughter in the Middle East, we cannot see much hope — but it is there, and we are winning on a variety of fronts as the world continues to shrink for the Islamic fascist and those who would abet him.

Zeyad, at "Healing Iraq," also has a grim, but probably essentially accurate, vision of what would happen if America left in the near future.

All three groups [Sunni extremists/Ba'athists, foreign fighters, and Sadr's Al-Mahdi militia] have a common enemy at the moment, but each has a different goal in mind. The first two groups watch the actions of the third with growing concern, which I think is the reason they postpone their activities when Al-Mahdi take up arms. It is in their best interest that Sadr is neutralised, otherwise he would prove a powerful adversary in the future.

The most likely scenario in the event of a premature withdrawal of occuppation forces is this: Sadr will move to gain control of the south and most of Baghdad, other Shi'ites will submit by intimidation. The Marji'iya will have no power to intervene unless they are willing to allow a violent civil war between the various Shi'ite factions. Iran is likely to interfere, but perhaps not directly.

At the same time, Sunni elements will move to consolidate their power over their areas. The fundamental foreign and Salafi constituent would be too weak to control any area. Each town would be virtually independent until the strongest (and most ruthless) group can control the Sunni areas north of Baghdad. The Kurdish region would break off the rest of Iraq and the Peshmerga would move to control oil fields in Kirkuk. Later, there would be a bloody confrontation between the different groups until one subjugates the others and controls the country, this would probably take years and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would die, many more would try to leave Iraq.