Hogan's Alley

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Iraq Is Broken Beyond Civil War - It Is A Leaderless Jungle

The recent preposterous and pompous announcement by NBC News, via its apparent key world affairs maven, Matt Lauer, that they now view the situation in Iraq as a civil war is so wrong it hurts.

Civil wars involve two or three distinct, identifiable, and unified groups struggling for power. In Iraq the number of distinct factions is beyond counting. As Tom Friedman says in today's Times (Timesselect firewall warning):

There are so many people killing so many other people for so many different reasons — religion, crime, politics — that all the proposals for how to settle this problem seem laughable. It was possible to settle Bosnia’s civil war by turning the country into a loose federation, because the main parties to that conflict were reasonably coherent, with leaders who could cut a deal and deliver their faction.

But Iraq is in so many little pieces now, divided among warlords, foreign terrorists, gangs, militias, parties, the police and the army, that nobody seems able to deliver anybody. Iraq has entered a stage beyond civil war — it’s gone from breaking apart to breaking down. This is not the Arab Yugoslavia anymore. It’s Hobbes’s jungle.

The situation is now much closer to anarchy than to civil war.

Why? Because for the last one and a half to two years the only debate in America has been over how quickly to pull out. Let us remember that our political debates are carried out over the satellite airways and are closely observed throughout the world and especially in places like Iraq that have a special interest in our future behavior. The rational result of this observation is the current maneuvering for positions of power in a post-American Iraq. No one there, or here for that matter, expects the US to remain strongly in country for the ten or more years with double our current troop levels that Friedman suggests is the only viable alternative. Everyone is angling for their best bargaining position in that expected future.

...Iraq was already pretty broken before we got there — broken, it seems, by 1,000 years of Arab-Muslim authoritarianism, three brutal decades of Sunni Baathist rule, and a crippling decade of U.N. sanctions. It was held together only by Saddam’s iron fist. Had we properly occupied the country, and begun political therapy, it is possible an American iron fist could have held Iraq together long enough to put it on a new course. But instead we created a vacuum by not deploying enough troops. That vacuum was filled by murderous Sunni Baathists and Al Qaeda types, who butchered Iraqi Shiites until they finally wouldn’t take it any longer and started butchering back, which brought us to where we are today.

There is currently no potential presidential candidate who argues for increased troop strength and long term commitment except John McCain. Are we then to wait two years to see if McCain can survive the Republican primary process and be elected? Does anyone believe the American people are willing to reconsider their dislike of the current state of affairs in Iraq and recommit to a more costly battle, the longest in our history? How many kids, therefore, do we consign to the cemetery in the name of some unknown time when the Iraqi government and people will wake up and see the need for them to take control of their streets?

I no longer see any possibility of a healthy outcome. Our national interest will be best served by a process which gets us out to nearby states with the understanding that we will strike from there any emerging terrorist training or operational sites. It is not in our control whether Shia or Sunni prevail. It now seems clear that the winner will be a strongman and that repression of the other side and the al Qaeda types will ensue. Such is the spawn of incompetence.