There are only three options in Iraq.

There are only three options in Iraq. – By Christopher Hitchens – Slate Magazine
In 1991, which is also the year when the present crisis in Iraq actually began, it was Saudi influence that helped convince President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker to leave Saddam Hussein in power and to permit him to crush the Shiite intifada that broke out as his regime reeled from defeat in Kuwait.

Many people write as if the sectarian warfare in Iraq was caused by coalition intervention. But it is surely obvious that the struggle for mastery has been going on for some time and was only masked by the apparently iron unity imposed under Baathist rule. That rule was itself the dictatorship of a tribal Tikriti minority of the Sunni minority andconstituted a veneer over the divisions beneath, as well as an incitement to their perpetuation

The disadvantage of an American-led intervention, it might be argued, was that it meant the arbitration of foreigners. But the advantage was, and is, that these foreigners at least have a stake in the preservation of a power-sharing system. Iraq has only three alternatives before it. The first is dictatorship by one faction or sect over all the others: a solution that has been exhausted by horrific failure. The second is partition, which would certainly involve direct intervention by all its neighbors to secure privileges for their own proxies and would therefore run the permanent risk of civil war. And the third is federalism, where each group would admit that it was not strong enough to dictate terms to the others and would agree to settle differences by democratic means. Quixotic though the third solution may seem, it is the only alternative to the most gruesome mayhem—more gruesome than anything we have seen so far. It is to the credit of the United States that it has at least continued to hold up this outcome as a possibility—a possibility that would not be thinkable if the field were left to the rival influences of Tehran and Riyadh.

I once heard U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad say that he was surprised by how often the different factions in the Iraqi parliament (the very existence of which, by the way, is itself a miracle) would come to him and ask his help as a broker. It was often possible to perform this role to some extent, he went on to say, as long as each group understood that it could not get what it wanted by force. The necessary corollary of this, though, was that nobody believed they could drive the U.S. presence out of the country.

The unspoken corollary of that, however, was that nobody believed that the Americans were going to withdraw suddenly or of their own accord. In that event, each group would immediately start making contingency plans—such as soliciting foreign support—to grab what it could from the impending scramble. The danger now is that all parties in the region are setting their watches and presuming that all they need to do is wait out the moment. This almost automatically dooms any negotiations that are currently being conducted. So the effect of the “realist” doctrine is to heighten the chances of destabilization and extremism. This is surely not what such vaunted elder statesmen as James Baker and Henry Kissinger can possibly have intended?

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