Monday, August 07, 2006

You Break It, You Own It

The continuing carnage in Iraq leads me to ask a simple question. If 100 people were being killed daily in any one of the capitals of the West, how would the government there react? Would it perhaps embark on a constitutional review process? Or maybe call new elections? Not likely. The affected country would probably declare martial law, impose curfews, suspend the constitution, and take any and all measures necessary to impose calm. Only then would it pursue a political dialogue to solve the causes of the conflict. Why is this not being done in the case of Iraq?

In the interest of full disclosure, let me first state that I supported the US invasion in 2003. I wasn’t particularly pleased with the way they went about it (ignoring the UN, disbanding the Iraqi army etc.) But I was of the opinion that it was unconscionable for the international community to continue to impoverish and kill Iraqis through a 12 year sanctions regime that at the time seemed to be achieving little in deterring Saddam Hussein from developing the now fictitious WMD. And since the dictator would not, by all accounts, provide a full accounting of his much feared arsenal and spurned numerous opportunities to do so peacefully, it seemed right to take measures to ensure the security of the world and to end the suffering of Iraqis.

However, this mission was hijacked by the neo-cons in Washington and “regime change” became their new mantra. Instead of simply seeking to disarm Saddam and ensure Iraq’s full compliance with Security Council resolutions, the US and her “Coalition of the Willing” sought to impose freedom, prosperity and democracy with the force of arms. They destroyed the structures (and mostly strictures) that were holding the country together and in the process opened a Pandora’s Box of ancient hatreds that had been simmering below the surface during the long years of Saddam’s rule. Now Sunnis and Shiites are busy massacring one another while the West engages in meaningless word games (civil war or not?) reminiscent of the UN debates on the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

So what needs to be done? The first priority has to be to impose order and stop the killings. This will be accomplished, not through a long term political process (though this should be ongoing and will be the ultimate guarantee of future calm) but through a single-minded determination to root out the “insurgents”. The Iraqi army is incapable of doing this and will remain so for the foreseeable future despite the Iraqi Premier’s rosy assertions. The US policy of launching periodic offensives against the militants and then retreating back to the safety of the “Green Zone” has also not worked. The US military presence needs to be beefed up and expanded, not scaled down.

Some might say the presence of US forces in Iraq is fueling the fire and is at the root cause of the conflict but this is misleading. It is true that the foreign fighters represented by the late Jordanian Al Zarqawi are motivated by a desire to defeat the US. However, they are a tiny minority of the militants in Iraq and are universally detested by all Iraqis. Most of the violence is sectarian in nature, is perpetrated by Iraqis and targets other Iraqis. Al Qaida bombs have provided the impetus, and US incompetence the opportunity, for settling long running disputes that have little to do with the West. Withdrawing the troops now would not end the violence. It would multiply it exponentially. The US needs to be fully committed to closing down the window of opportunity for violence it has inadvertently opened up in Iraq and should not be seeking a backdoor excuse to get out. As former Secretary of State Colin Powell famously said, “you break it, you own it”.


jon said...

"The affected country would probably declare martial law, impose curfews, suspend the constitution, and take any and all measures necessary to impose calm. Only then would it pursue a political dialogue to solve the causes of the conflict."

Absolutely right, except, if you look at Northern Ireland when the Troubles started, it didn’t take 100 a day, and possibly averaged less than 10 a day.

Thankfully, a political solution is in place there, and hopefully it will remain so. Unfortunately Iraq is politically a long way from Northern Ireland and I suspect the US is putting too much hope on the ‘British experience’ to solve regional issues.

Granted, historically, Britain does have much experience (particularly when compared to the US) with issues like sectarian killings (Northern Ireland as well as the formation of India/Pakistan), and that experience probably taught Britain that such issues are extremely tricky to say the least!

Gathara said...

The US nation-buildng record is nothing to be ashamed of. Just look at Japan, the Philippines and South Korea (not to mention the whole of Western Europe after WW2). However, in those instances there was enough political determination and savvy to see the job through. In Iraq today, the entire US political establishment seems more interested in securing a face-saving pretext for withdrawal rather than sorting out the mess they have created there.