The Only Solution for Iraq

11/24/06

From the time that we invaded Iraq, I have hoped that American policy-makers would be guided by our experience in Bosnia. The only way to deal with a nation fractured into bitterly antagonistic ethnic communities is to keep them apart—to build walls between them until hostility subsides and people on both sides are content to remain within the peaceful routines of normal life.

Once we gained control of Iraq, we should have moved immediately to divide the nation into three parts: Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd. Governing power in each third should have been handed over to leaders who made believable pledges of protecting residual minorities. Since these minorities offered no threat to the ruling group, they might have been tolerated, at least in that initial post-Saddam period before ethnic hatred had reached the boiling point. Whether they could live safely now in the midst of a hostile majority is problematic. But we have no alternative. Either we will divide the nation under our direction and in the best way to secure our interests, or others will divide it for us. After restructuring the country, we should guarantee safe conduct to anyone who wishes to relocate in a different area of Iraq.

Our leaders would probably reply to this proposal with two objections. First, they had hoped to make Iraq a beachhead for liberal democracy. But this goal was never realistic. The democratic West has neither the moral stature to be justified in expecting that the rest of the world will follow its lead, nor the moral strength to wage a winning crusade on behalf of its traditional values. We must pursue more limited but achievable goals.

  1. We must eliminate Iraq as a threat to its neighbors. Dividing the country would assure that a strong Iraq could not emerge after our departure. Each of the remaining states would be small, weak, and alienated by deep animosity from the other two.
  2. We must put a stop to bloodshed as soon as possible. The boundaries of the three new states should be determined not by negotiation, which would certainly be protracted, but by American fiat. We should quickly develop a comprehensive plan for dividing the country, securing the borders, and establishing a military presence that could be sustained for as long as needed. The plan should be implemented expeditiously, before anyone has a chance to mobilize opposition.
  3. We must prevent the Kurds from being swallowed up by the other groups. Indeed, a Kurdish state would furnish our best opportunity to introduce liberal democracy to the Middle East. No doubt the Kurds would want us to remain on their soil as a protective shield. The Kurdish state could be a multiethnic haven for all Iraqis who love political freedom.

The second likely objection is that the creation of three small states would create a power vacuum that both Syria and Iran would try to fill. In all probability, the Sunni division would become a client state of Syria, and the Shiite division a client state of Iran. Our government would see the expanded power and influence of two terrorist nations as a most unwelcome development. But consider this. In the modern world, every society in bondage to a radical ideology, whether religious or secular, is inherently unstable. The leaders find it easier to maintain control and legitimacy if they can make their people feel threatened by an enemy. Deprived of an enemy to scare the masses, an extremist government eventually vanishes by spontaneous implosion. Therefore, the best way to contain Syria and Iran is to let them alone, to the extent consistent with our vital interests. This conclusion implies additional goals.

  1. We must vacate all of Iraq apart from Kurdish territory.
  2. Although we might feel that the prudent course is to resist the entrance of Syria and Iran into Iraq, we need not look upon it as necessarily a disaster. Their head-to-head confrontation at the border between Sunnis and Shiites could work to our advantage. The likely result would be tension, conflict, perhaps war. It is better that they exercise their bellicose tendencies on each other than on us.