Friday, March 10, 2006

Monkey In the Middle

An article in The Washington Post explains the US's role in the Iraq Civil War:

"The plan is to prevent a civil war, and to the extent one were to occur, to have the... Iraqi security forces deal with it to the extent they're able to," Rumsfeld told the Senate Appropriations Committee when pressed to explain how the United States intended to respond should Iraq descend wholesale into internecine strife.

If civil war becomes reality, "it's very clear that the Iraqi forces will handle it, but they'll handle it with our help," Abizaid said later when asked to elaborate on Rumsfeld's remark.



First of all, it is too late to "prevent" a civil war. A strong argument can be made the civil war already exists -- just that it's being fought with car bombs in "asymmetrical" style rather than a a traditional two-army/one-front war.

Even if one doesn't accept that there currently is a civil war in Iraq, one must recognize that the conditions have already been laid for one to breakout: sectarianism dating back to before the formation of the country, sectarian violence, the sudden removal from power of the formerly dominant sect, no strong overseeing force, lots and lots of (oil) money to be controlled by whichever becomes the dominant sect. Under these conditions, the country will always be on the brink of, if not actually in the midst of, a civil war. The only way to "prevent" such a war in that instance is to keep the sides physically separated -- which, even if it were possible, is not something the US military is well-equipped to do.

Secondly, security forces do not "handle" civil wars like this. The assumption underlining the US's stance is that the Civil War will essentially be Sunni civilians fighting the mostly-Shiite government. While there certainly is plenty of that, the events of the last few weeks have shown us that Civil War in Iraq is also about Sunni civilians fighting Shiite civilians, with the words of various religious leaders holding sway over the masses. Not only is the Iraqi military not in a good position to "handle" such circumstances, many -- if not most -- of them will likely join one side or the other. In that case, the only way for the US to "help" is to pick one side, obviously the Shiites, and start shooting along side them. And what a disaster that would be to what's left of America's image in the muslim world (most of the world's Muslims are Sunnis).

The Iraqi people may very well "handle" the situation on their own: if, for example, influential religious leaders from the various sects can convince all involved to call off the fighting; if the Iraqi people simply grow weary of inflicting death and destruction; or if one side simply vanquishes the other. But the Iraq military won't "handle" the Iraqi Civil War any more than the US military "handled" that country's civil war. And the current US forces are no more appropriate to "handle" Iraq's civil war than, say, the French military was during Sierra Leonne's civil war.

There are no good options for the US military. It needs to be prepared to get out of the way.

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