Thursday, August 24, 2006

Alternatives for Iraq

This blog has complained on more than one occasion about the lack of discussion of alternative Iraqi policies. We are presented with only two options – stay the course or withdraw now. Although they seem to be opposites they both have one major thing in common – they both equal disaster.

Staying the course has produced this disaster. As if it wasn’t already obvious, the President’s press conference a few days ago only confirms there is no strategy to deal with the situation, only wishful thinking and empty rhetoric. The sectarian violence is spiraling out of control. Despite the denials, the country is already experiencing a low-level civil war. We have alienated allies and united enemies. Iraq is becoming a training ground for terrorists who will haunt us in the future. The United States has become Dr. Frankenstein and Iraq may soon become our monster.

Withdrawing from Iraq immediately, as tempting as that may be given the mess the Bush administration has created, is not a good idea either. The civil war will not disappear with American troops. Rather it will grow because the armed forces and police of the central government are not trustworthy. Given turmoil and no secure borders meddlesome neighbors will likely intervene. Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia and especially Iran all have local interests in Iraq. Their intervention would possibly result in a regional war. And, of course, just as the abandonment of Afghanistan by the West after the withdrawal of the Russian created a vacuum filled by fundamentalists and terrorists the same would likely hold true for Iraq too.

We desperately need a third way.

Senator Joseph Biden has a piece in today’s Washington Post with an alternative plan. It is a follow-up to a plan he and Les Gelb, of the Council on Foreign Policy, presented four months ago and is somewhat of a variation of the proposal by former ambassador Peter Galbraith. He writes,
The new, central reality in Iraq is that violence between Shiites and
Sunnis has surpassed the insurgency and foreign terrorists as the main security
threat. Our leading civilian and military experts on Iraq -- Ambassador Zalmay
Khalilzad and Gens. George Casey, Peter Pace and John Abizaid -- have all
acknowledged that fact.

In December's elections, 90 percent of the votes went to sectarian
lists. Ethnic militias increasingly are the law in Iraq. They have infiltrated
the official security forces. Sectarian cleansing has begun in mixed areas, with
200,000 Iraqis fleeing their homes in recent months for fear of sectarian
reprisals. Massive unemployment feeds the ranks of sectarian militias and
criminal gangs.

No number of troops can solve this problem. The only way to hold
Iraq together and create the conditions for our armed forces to responsibly
withdraw is to give Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds incentives to pursue their
interests peacefully and to forge a sustainable political settlement.
Unfortunately, this administration does not have a coherent plan or any
discernible strategy for success in Iraq. Its strategy is to prevent defeat and
hand the problem off when it leaves office.

Meanwhile, more and more Americans, understandably frustrated,
support an immediate withdrawal, even at the risk of trading a dictator for
chaos and a civil war that could become a regional war.

Both are bad alternatives. The five-point plan Les Gelb and I laid
out offers a better way.

First, the plan calls for maintaining a unified Iraq by
decentralizing it and giving Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis their own regions. The
central government would be left in charge of common interests, such as border
security and the distribution of oil revenue.

Second, it would bind the Sunnis to the deal by guaranteeing them a
proportionate share of oil revenue. Each group would have an incentive to
maximize oil production, making oil the glue that binds the country

Third, the plan would create a massive jobs program while
increasing reconstruction aid -- especially from the oil-rich Gulf states -- but
tying it to the protection of minority rights.

Fourth, it would convene an international conference that would
produce a regional nonaggression pact and create a Contact Group to enforce
regional commitments.

Fifth, it would begin the phased redeployment of U.S. forces this
year and withdraw most of them by the end of 2007, while maintaining a small
follow-on force to keep the neighbors honest and to strike any concentration of

To be sure, this plan presents real challenges, especially with
regard to large cities with mixed populations. We would maintain Baghdad as a
federal city, belonging to no one region. And we would require international
peacekeepers for other mixed cities to support local security forces and further
protect minorities. The example of Bosnia is illustrative, if not totally
analogous. Ten years ago, Bosnia was being torn apart by ethnic cleansing. The
United States stepped in decisively with the Dayton Accords to keep the country
whole by, paradoxically, dividing it into ethnic federations. We even allowed
Muslims, Croats and Serbs to retain separate armies. With the help of U.S.
troops and others, Bosnians have lived a decade in peace. Now they are
strengthening their central government and disbanding their separate

At best, the course we're on has no end in sight. At worst, it
leads to a terrible civil war and possibly a regional war. This plan offers a
way to bring our troops home, protect our security interests and preserve Iraq
as a unified country. Those who reject this plan out of hand must answer one
simple question: What is your alternative?

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