Iraq Has Neighbors and the US is Not One of Them, So Let's Talk
As David Ignatius put it in the Washington Post today, Expect The Worse in Iraq... He reminds both Democrats and Republicans that there is no nice way out of Iraq for either the US or Iraqis. Yet, he does offer a number of suggestions to minimize the inevitable fallout - namely:
1. Protect the oil
2. Protect the Iraqi population (as much as the US can)
3. Talk with Iraq's neighbors
4. Push for Arab-Israeli peace
To this I would add,
5. Reposition US troops out of civilian areas into camps in Iraq, Kuwait and the Gulf.
If that all sounds familiar to you, do not wonder because it should. It is basically a recycle of the Iraq Study Group Report recommendations.
Recall the opening words of the ISG report, "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating." Those are words echoed in the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq released in January:
"Unless efforts to reverse these conditions [increase in violence] show measurable progress during the term of this Estimate, the coming 12 to 18 months, we assess the overall security situation will continue to deteriorate...."
More shocking, not only does the NIE state that Iraq is suffering a civil war, but even worse, what is occurring in Iraq is even more complicated than that! So what is more complicated than civil war?
Answer: Multiple levels of violence and actors. The actors are many. Sunni insurgents, Shia death squads backing the government and in turn backed by Iran, Kurdish nationalists (supported, both financially and militarily, by Israel), and foreign fighters stirring the pot. Put it all together and you have a Sunni insurgency (perhaps supported by Syria and possibly in the future by Saudi Arabia) fighting against Shia domination over Iraq and Kurdish encroachment in the north, Shia death squads fueled by Iran wreaking revenge for decades of subjugation and ensuring that they maintain the upper hand, and Kurds supported by Israel in the north who want to protect their new-found independence while grabbing as much land south of them as possible. To make sure that none of this violence subsides, foreign fighters are there stoking the flames with incredulous acts of mass terror.
In short, you have a multi-party internal civil and external proxy war.
But it does not stop there. The US, who unleashed this latent hell, occupies the country, and it now finds itself buttressing an Iranian-leaning [if not out-right supported] government. One of the great ironies of the US grievous blunder in Iraq is that Iran seems to have come out the winner. Now the US finds itself supporting Iraq's government while flirting with an even greater confrontation with Iran, to whom the Iraqi government is allied.
Talk about complicated.
Yet, interestingly the NIE does not seem to agree with just about everyone else except Bush and Cheney. The NIE, while stating that what happens in Iraq impacts and is impacted by Iraq's neighbors, does not agree that there is much value to engaging those very neighbors to find a solution to the chaos in Iraq.
That is purely intellectual dishonesty.
While making the case that Turkey and Syria (while curiously making no mention of Iran in this context) have a vested interest in the outcomes in Iraq, in the same breath the NIE claims that the violence is so path dependent because of the "self-sustaining character of Iraq's internal sectarian dynamics" that no external influence can change its course. Well, if that is true, then there is nothing that the US can do either. Ergo, the NIE has just made the case for US withdrawal!
What is even more glaring is that the NIE in its initial pages makes a big case for how impartial, professional and nonpartisan was the process of generating the report. However, while facilely supporting the Bush Administration's case for not engaging Iraq's neighbors, it has in fact torpedoed the entire argument for US continued presence. Unfortunately, not even they can have it both ways.
Thus, if the US wants to make the case that it must remain in Iraq to protect the Iraqi people and see Iraq through to the shores of peaceful coexistence, it cannot at the same time make the claim that there is no value to involving Iraq's neighbors in doing the same.