Thursday, 3 April 2008

How to Solve the Iraq Crisis

I've come up with a sure-fire way to solve the Iraq crisis. Note that I didn't say "to end the Iraq War." It might be that my scheme will allow the war to burble along for years.

My idea addresses one of the things that bothers me most about this conflict, I mean besides all the death and destruction. That's the feeling that the people we are ostensibly helping--the Iraqis--don't want us there. So, we just ask them. We have a ballot with a simple question: Stay or Go? If the majority votes "Yes, coalition forces, please stay," we gut it out in the fashion we've done for the last five years. But if the majority votes "No, thank you," we bring the troops home.

After all, hasn't this whole thing been about planting the tree of democracy in Iraq? (More on this later.) To critics who say, "Well you couldn't trust a vote undertaken in such circumstances, the violence, the coercion," I say, "Yeah, but there have been several elections there already. If you don't think the Iraqis are capable of voting honestly in a fair election on this issue then the whole thing is a sham."

Other criticisms:
Voting will follow sectarian lines, pitting majority Shia against minority Sunni and Kurd. So what? Am I wrong in thinking that the continuing drip-drip-drip of violence in Iraq might just be exacerbated by foreign troops? Does the disaffection with an occupying army transcend tribal and religious differences?

An election puts American foreign policy in the hands of foreigners. Wouldn't want that! Wouldn't want foreigners actually having a say in actions that affect them. But seriously, I can understand this criticism. A superpower doesn't stay super powerful by putting everything to a referendum. But when it's something that supposedly is done for the benefit of another nation, that nation ought to have a say, especially when that nation's desires are used--ex post facto, admittedly--as a justification for war. (I wonder how the Vietnamese would have voted....)

If the majority votes for a U.S. pullout, things could descend to chaos--I mean, an even deeper, more chaotic chaos than we have now. Yes, that's a possibility. But to be cold about it, why should we care? Iraqis would have exercised their right to self-determination.

Ah, but what if Iraq then became a hotbed of terrorism? This would only matter if that terrorism was directed outside Iraq, at the United States or its allies. Isn't that really why we're there, to, as President Bush puts it, fight terrorists in the streets of Fallujah so we're not fighting them in the streets of Philadelphia? But I haven't seen any evidence that terrorists in Iraq have tried to mount any operations outside that country. That's proof, perhaps, that Bush's "strategy" is working, but if attacking us was really an aim of the terrorists (and I don't think they're the monolithic group that word suggests) don't you think they would have tried something already, just for the PR coup?

Yes, terrorists attacked the United States. But they weren't from Iraq. The subsequent plots that have been uncovered didn't involve Iraqis. (In fact, they mainly involved Americans.) The 7/7 bombers in London weren't from Iraq. I think the Iraqis are quite content to kill each other without worrying about us.

But that does get us back to what this war is really about. It's only after the fact that it's been advertised as being about democracy. It's been five years, and my memory is kind of hazy, but I seem to remember the invasion being about weapons of mass destruction. Okay, there weren't any. Then it became about stopping terrorism. But Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Now it's about bringing democracy to those people.

If we really believe that, let them vote.

In Praise of Bush
The Guardian's Timothy Garton Ash lauds George Bush's diplomacy in a column today. He means the father, not the son.


mark from alexandria said...

I still say Charlie Rangle had the best idea to end the war, bring back the draft! I'm not sure if we would want the Iraqis to follow our lead. Lets see, since the Sunnis didn't get as many votes as the Shias in the earlier elections, the Sunnis should just drop out of this round and let the Shias decide, I guess.

Old said...

Your suggestion makes so much sense that I'm sure it will never happen.

Henry said...

Agree totally, and would underline a couple of points.
First, there was nothing preordained about the current ethnic and religious violence, despite what some commentators say about the "simmering age-old divisions". Pre and immediately post-invasion Iraqis had a very high sense of national (Iraqi) identity (there are some good Pew polls about that), and by Middle East standards very high levels of religious assimilation (measured by, eg, interfaith marriages). Violence, economic devastation, and the destruction of all other political and social institutions are exacerbating the older divisions (as they tend to all countries), but that could be reversible.

2) The extent to which elections exacerbate ethnic and religious divisions depend a lot on the type of constitition, electoral system and other political and economic institutions put in place. I truly wish the Bush administration had thought harder about this before they started, and come prepared with a more appropriate blueprint which they *may* have been able to help get widespread acceptance. As it is, I fear that the final political settlement in Iraq will only be reached the way it happened in the UK in the 18th century and the US in the 19th - with prolonged struggle between different groups, and massive bloodshed. I hope I'm wrong, but after spending time in Scotland thinking about the 1688 "Glorious" Revolution and the Act of Union, I'm not optimistic...

wiredog said...

I see in your comment over in the Kaboodle that you're looking forward to August in DC.

Oxford can't possibly be /that/ bad. It's springtime! In Soviet UKia! (As we say over at, a UKian website I frequent.)

Candadai Tirumalai said...

We have had the father and the son. Where is the holy ghost?

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

Would ex-pats be allowed to vote, I wonder?

John Kelly said...

@Suburbancorrespondent: That's a very good point and one that I forgot to raise. I think there are something like 1 million Iraqis in Jordan. Should they be allowed to vote? I think that would complicate things. And in sense they've already voted: The situation was such that they felt safer outside the country. They could base a decision to return on how comfortable they were with the vote's outcome. Or they could return to vote.

@MarkFA: Isn't it awful to think that thinking about someone you know getting killed might change the way you'd think about a war? I'm not disagreeing with you.

@Henry: I wonder if we could incentivize assimilation, the way the U.S. incentivizes minority businesses, with tax breaks and the like. We're pouring so much money into Iraq why not give small business loans to Sunnis who find a Shia as a partner, or vice versa.

Richard said...

Colin Powell famously said to GWB about Iraq (I'm paraphrasing) "you break it, you own it". Even if the Iraqis voted to leave, would it be an abandonment of the obligation that the US took on when it invaded, with the UK in its wake, to leave a country in crisis? And while there may have been no terror threat originating from Iraq before the war, there sure as eggs is eggs is one now. And, anyway, I'm dubious that the will of the people is necessarily the wisest view. The point of a plebicite would be to provide legitimacy, rather than a clear-sighted view of what's best.

Unfortunately, therefore, I don't think it's the answer. Rather the answer is the answer to another question: on balance, is the US doing more harm than good in occupying Iraq. Unanswerable with certainty, that's a given. But it is the calculation that has to be made in good faith.


Beatrice said...

I think these are all quite good points, but no matter what the solution ends up being, people will always bicker about it. I sincerely doubt that the US will be able to agree on what to do considering the fact that people have disagreed on every aspect of the war.

And why are you blogging about serious things? Goodness, I always just make fun at things.

Henry said...

Richard's right that we can't just leave because we don't feel like it any more. And the question "Is the US doing more harm than good occupying Iraq?" is absolutely the right one.

But I take John to be saying that collectively the Iraqis know the answer to that question far, far better than all of our US- and UK-based commentators and politicians who know little of the situation and next to nothing of the country, the people or even the language. Why not take the Iraqi's word for it?

Who, exactly, is going to make a better calculation? Dick "There's no doubt they have WMD" Cheney? John "It'll be a Cakewalk" McCain? Paul "The whole thing will pay for itself" Wolfowitz? George "Mission Accomplished" Bush? The "intelligence" services who got it so spectacularly wrong first time around? Anyone else in the FO, State or Defence who doesn't speak the language, has never been out of the Green Zone, and couldn't have put the place on a map 5 years ago? Seems to me our Governments are like Avram Grant of Chelsea - they don't know what they're doing...

As for whether the occupation is preventing or encouraging terrorism at home we know a few things: (1) we know that the 7/7 murderers in the UK cited the Iraq war as a factor and I think the Madrid murderers did too; (2) we know that it is hurting our reputation internationally and (3) we know that throughout history most unprovoked invasions and occupations of sovereign countries end up deeply unpopular, even when the occupiers see their role as enlightened and helpful. (The Chinese government, I believe, are astonished about the bad press they get about what they see as their civilising influence on Tibet)

Given which, if we really don't have any idea whether the occupation is helping prevent terrorism or not (and I don't think we do) - wouldn't the best strategy be to leave unless or until we ARE sure it's doing some good?

Ken said...

The poll's been done - pretty much every year since the invasion...

This year (2008), 72% opposed the presence of coalition forces in Iraq, either somewhat (31%), or strongly (41%).

So, should they stay? The numbers are much closer on that one. 38% thought they should leave now. But 35% thought they should stay till security is restored, 14% thought they should stay till the Iraq government is stronger, 10% thought they should remain until the the Iraqi security forces were stronger, and 3% thought they should stay long term. So 62% thought they should stay a while.

The Iraqi people have spoken - we're staying.... (when I say we, I clearly don't mean me, thank the lord!)

--- the poll, by the way, was done for the BBC, ABC and a load of other organisations. Poll size was 2,200 odd Iraqis over 18 yrs old, and the sampling error is 2.5% with 95% CI

Ken said...

Aside from the Iraqis, there's another good reason to stay - currently trading at over $100 a barrel.

R said...

Enough Iraq.

Give us a gargoyle, John.


Anonymous said...

Hear hear

and another sketchy Daily Mail story please

Anonymous said...

Yeah. Something about breasts.

John Kelly said...

All right, all right. I get it. No more serious stuff. I was going to blog today about Albania's inclusion in NATO but I'll spike that and go with something on sadomasochistic sex and British fascists.