Hogan's Alley

Friday, December 08, 2006

Bugging Out, Good For The Middle East?

Tom Friedman has now come around to the view, stated in today's column, hidden behind the Timesselect firewall, that pulling out of Iraq within ten months will not only be what the people of America apparently want, but will in fact have a salutary effect on Iraq and the entire Middle East.

Key quote:

The only hope of moving the factions inside Iraq, not to mention Syria and Iran, toward reconciliation is if we have leverage over them, which we now lack. The currency of Middle East politics is pain. And right now, all the pain is being inflicted on us and on Iraqi civilians. Only if we tell all the players that we are leaving might we create a different balance of pain and therefore some hope for a diplomatic deal. Trying to do diplomacy without the threat of pain is like trying to play baseball without a bat.

Yes, yes, I know, the conventional wisdom is that if the U.S. sets a date to leave Iraq the whole Middle East will explode in a Shiite-Sunni war. Maybe, but maybe not.

Let’s play this out. What happens if we set a date to leave? The war in Iraq will get worse, but for how long? Right now our troops are providing a floor under the civil war that allows some parties to behave outrageously or make impossible demands — because they know that we won’t let things spin totally out of control. Would they behave more cautiously if they knew they had to pay retail for their madness? I’d like to find out.

Well, that's a hell of a gamble with the lives of Iraqis, who we promised a very different outcome three and a half years ago. Lest we forget, the vast majority in Iraq voted their hopes for a unified democratic nation. The majority do not live lives tied inexorably to their religious or tribal faction. In the large cities they have lived for years often intermarried in mixed neighborhoods. All we can see from this distance is the small percentage who live and die by their tribal connections and who have found, through the application of terror, the means to provoke these ancient hatreds. If we leave, they have no reason to stop the madness. Those criminals do not see it as madness. To them it is a tactic, and one that has produced positive results. These factional madmen have small armies, funding streams, burgeoning bureaucracies and growing institutions they direct. Why give that up once the Americans are gone?

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