Tuesday, August 14, 2007

As You Turn to Walk Away, as the Door Behind You Closes

Swopa makes a point that bears emphasizing:

...I know that it's become somewhat popular in the liberal blogosphere to dismiss predictions of increased violence as scaremongering from people who would prefer the U.S. stayed in Iraq indefinitely, but there are people who support withdrawal (myself among them) who think this is the most likely aftermath as well.

Not that anyone should necessarily take my word for it, of course. But I think if you look at events in areas where the occupation is already a dwindling presence -- say, in Basra, or north of Basra, or in Karbala, you see the kind of every-faction-for-itself anarchy that will fuel the post-withdrawal bloodletting. This is a battle for power and control of Iraq's resources, and it won't end just because U.S. troops leave.

To be clear, the "genocide" card has been played by many war advocates to rather disingenuous ends - militarily evenly matched groups (such as the various factions in Iraq) don't possess the leverage and dominance necessary to perpetrate genocide. However, the inter- and intra- ethnic/sectarian civil wars will mostly likely accelerate after we leave. As will the ethnic cleansing. Then again, these events have been moving ahead at a pretty steady clip while we remain.

It is precisely that inability to halt the violence and ethnic cleansing that makes staying in Iraq at a rate of $10 billion a week and 700-1,000 soldiers a year (as well as myriad other significant costs) so utterly futile. There is an underlying dynamic whereby the "battle for power and control of Iraq's resources," as well as a rejection of an occupying power generally speaking, have created an unstable and bloody spider web of conflict that has taken on a life of its own.

While we lack the ability to halt the cycles of violence, and can at least remove the "occupier" flash point, it's not as if the Sunnis and Shiites will decide that peacefully sharing power is in their interest just because we leave (as if such a decision would be made now, but is somehow precluded by our presence). Nor is it likely that even within each faction, the bloody rivals will agree to cease their armed competition due to our removal from the scene.

Animosity, religious zealotry, greed, power lust, fear, insecurity, vengeance and the many other motivations plaguing Iraq will not simply dissipate once the occupying force leaves. Nor will a well-functioning state interested in, and capable of, protecting and serving all of Iraq emerge in our wake. Neither still, will Iraq's neighbors cease meddling in Iraqi affairs in pursuit of their own interests.

Civil wars that are as complex, shifting, multifaceted and amorphous as those that roil Iraq typically play out until the various actors are exhausted and forced, by the urgency of the circumstances, to embrace alternative means of reaching a modus vivendi.

Again, this is why staying is so pointless. There are no ponies for us in Iraq, no magic bullets. Tragically for the Iraqi people, and as a result of this inhumane and unprovoked war, our departure will not prove to the be the deus ex machina moment either.* It's just a question of how much we want to bleed before we, ourselves, are exhausted and forced by the urgency of the circumstances to embrace alternative policies.

(* There is a remote chance that if we announce our withdrawal, and use that time period effectively to compel the various Iraqi and foreign actors to reckon with the impending consequences, that we can shift the calculus such that compromise and cooperation become appealing enough. The odds of this working were likely higher earlier on in the occupation, but they were never very good. Less so now.

Which is not to say we shouldn't put energy and effort into attempting to forge these accords upon our exit. We need to try what we can to contain the unthinkable damage, destruction and human suffering that we have already unleashed. It's just that we shouldn't operate under any illusions about what departure holds in store for Iraq and the region. That is the true nature of this catastrophe. Only after many decades will we be able to assess the total human costs.)

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