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June 12, 2014

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Two big arguments for not intervening in Iraq (besides the fact that getting public support for it would be difficult in the extreme):

First, there is nobody to intervene in favor of. Maliki is a disaster. The ISIS is worse.

Second, even if you managed to get support in principle for intervention, that would evaporate when it became clear that the only option would be to simply take over and run Iraq as a colony with no local government. And nearly as harsh a totalitarian regime as Hassan had.

About the only thing that might have any up-side would be additional support for whatever formal Kurdish state emerged from the ashes in the north.

heckofajob, Bushie et al

I guess it's lucky we weren't taxed for this debacle so we can't ask for our money back.

I simply don't understand why the Sunnis and Iraq as a whole were not transformed into a tranquil shopping mall by the flat tax we bequeathed them.

Ingrates.

I read somewhere this morning that at the confirmation hearings for the new U.S. Ambassador, with the current Ambassador at his side, were not asked a single question about this Sunni earthquake by their interlocutors of either Party the other day.

I guess Sarah Death Palin hasn't twatted her policy formulations yet to get the ball rolling.

What does Brat think?

He must have an answer somewhere in the sewn-up pockets of his ideological motley.

Maybe ... "Clearly, we must have Jesus tend miraculously and with a sharply reduced budget to the blown-off limbs, tinnitus, and PTSS of our veterans on time and then order them to hop deafly and madly back over there to load as much of that oil into tankers as possible so we can stop the solar/wind power cronies from ameliorating even a tiny bit the myth of global warming."

America, where being completely full of sh*t means never having to say you're sorry.


The always thoughtful Josh Marshall weighs in.

His piece includes this observation about the ISIS militia:

And any question about who and what they are can be settled by remembering that they are the only major al Qaeda 'affiliate' booted from the organization for being too brutal and indiscriminate in the taking of innocent lives.

Yikes.

Allawi:

Really the problem is that nobody cares what happens to Iraq.

McClatchey:

the Senate Foreign Relations Committee met to question the man President Barack Obama has nominated to be the next ambassador to Iraq. Yet not a single senator asked him directly about the Iraqi government’s apparent loss of control.

They also didn’t ask questions of the man who sat next to him, the current U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

...

A Senate staffer, asked about the omission, acknowledged surprise at the lack of curiosity from the Foreign Relations Committee about a country where nearly 4,500 Americans had died.

“I think that there is a general sense of apathy about Iraq,” the staffer explained, asking not to be identified because the comments might be seen as critical. “Iraq is mostly viewed in terms of other issues.”

“I think that there is a general sense of apathy about Iraq,”

Ah, there's that cynicism again. Thanks for the links, russell. They've been educational, if not encouraging.

Kirkuk was taken. By the Kurds.
Filkins has a good perspective.
We could've stayed and kept al Maliki from his baser impulses, but elections have consequences.

The fate of Iraq was pretty well sealed by two decisions.

First, once Saddam was gone, we could have said something like "We know that most of those who worked for the government, and many of those in Saddam's party, were just ordinary people trying to get by. So we will remove those who were leaders of the government. But those outside the security services will be assumed to be OK, and expected to continue to do their jobs. Individual exceptions will be addressed individually."

But instead, we said "anyone who worked for the government or belonged to Saddam's party is out. Period." Which meant that there was nobody available who knew how to run the government. (And we had made no provision to put our people in place to do them.) So government functions became unavailable, including things as mundane as utilities. Not the way to win hearts and minds.

Second, we could have said to the Iraqi military, "Return to your barracks and remain there. Pay will continue as before, for those who do so." Which would have given all those guys an incentive to stay where we could find them, and their weapons likewise. Instead, all those soldiers found themselves out of work . . . and with weapons at hand.

Reverse those two decisions, and you have a chance of keeping Iraq at peace and functioning as a state. But as it went down, there was no chance.

Wow, oldtimer's day at the mothership.

I'm trying to think what leader would have been able to convince the American people we needed to stay the course in Iraq. Perhaps some magical combination of Gandhi, Houdini, Stalin and Hari Seldon.

Been thinking of going through Istanbul this summer, was highly intrigued by the Turkic culture in Krygyzstan. Wonder if having the Kurds consolidate those parts of Iraq will make things less or more calm in Turkey.

LJ, the Turks have developed reasonably cordial relations with the Kurdish regional government in Iraq. And Turkish companies are doing big business there, giving the Turkish government an economic incentive to keep things cordial.

Turkey may still be a little twitchy about the possibility of Kurdish separatists in Turkey getting support from Kurdistan. But far less so than they were a few years ago. Just as well, since it looks like the Kurds are finally going to get a formal nation of their own when Iraq fractures -- which it looks almost certain to do. (And the Turkish government is presumably aware that a friendly Kurdish government is more likely to restrain would-be Kurdish separatists from military action than one which isn't friendly.)

When, exactly, were the wheels on?

I do not believe Iran can let the Shite government of Iraq fall....what are their options?

We could've stayed and kept al Maliki from his baser impulses,

And then?

elections have consequences.

You got that right.

The fate of Iraq was pretty well sealed by two decisions.

I'd say the fate of Iraq was sealed by two guys, named Sykes and Picot.

I don't see how our geo-political engineering and micro-management is, was, or would be likely to be, any more astute than theirs was.

When, exactly, were the wheels on?

You'd probably have to wind the clock back to the Ottomans, they at least recognized the distinct nature of the different regions within what's now Iraq.

A longish, slightly wordy explanation of the crosscurrents coming to the fore in Iraq, by someone who has been there and knows the neighborhood:

http://www.balloon-juice.com/2014/06/12/more-on-iraq/#more-154797

This is getting scary, Iran is already involved - some perspective from Juan Cole:

http://www.juancole.com/2014/06/second-american-switch.html

It's Japan and China's turn to clean up the sh!t in the Middle East.

You'd probably have to wind the clock back to the Ottomans, they at least recognized the distinct nature of the different regions within what's now Iraq.

Yes, but there were many periods of ethnic cleansing and other unhappiness during the Ottoman Empire. Certainly there were some periods where people lived peacefully together, but that doesn't seem to have been the norm.

Maybe Donald Rumsfeld can be dispatched to Iraq to shake Saddam Hussein's hand and restore stability.

I'd like to ask George W. Bush if his plan was to have us sending in American drones and air power to help Iranian Shiites help Iraqi Shiites put down a Sunni insurrection in Iraq.

"It's all shit and shinola to me," he'd smirk and then go into a lengthy staccato of heh, heh, heh, heh, heh in his fake Texas drawl.

"Obama's in a tough spot, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh," he'd conclude, before going back to painting a portrait of his toes in the bathtub.

wj: "Second, we could have said to the Iraqi military, "Return to your barracks and remain there. Pay will continue as before, for those who do so." Which would have given all those guys an incentive to stay where we could find them, and their weapons likewise. Instead, all those soldiers found themselves out of work . . . and with weapons at hand.

I'll skip over #1, which was a motherlovin' disaster, and just comment on decision #2.

What most people don't realize is that before Cheney made that decision, the US occupation had asked for former members of the Iraqi Army to come and register.

Now, if your country was defeated, and the occupiers asked you to come in and register, would you do it?

130,000 Iraqi soldiers did.

That's an incredible amount of trust, since this could easily have been registering to be killed.

Bush and Cheney *had* the situation almost salvageable, and quite deliberately trashed it.

It's Obama's fault.

Yes, but there were many periods of ethnic cleansing and other unhappiness during the Ottoman Empire

A very good point. Maybe you have to wind the clock back to Ur of the Chaldees.

I think Charles, and wj, and Barry, and others, all make very good points about how things could have been handled in better ways post-invasion.

What all of their arguments leave unaddressed is the reality that Iraq is not naturally a coherent nation. Nationhood was imposed in it, by fiat, via a secret agreement between the UK and France after WWI.

Basically, Mesopotamia was carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey, for reasons having little to do with the interests of the folks who lived there.

So, it's possible that we, or Al-Maliki, or who-knows-who-else, could have kept a more effective lid on the underlying situation, but the underlying situation would still be there.

It's not in our interest for a rump government made up of guys who were thrown out of Al Qaeda for being too nasty to emerge in northern and western Iraq. Nor is it in Turkey's interest, or Iran's. But apparently, at least some number of folks who live there are open to the idea.

How much money and how many lives are we willing to spend trying to tell other people they should do what we want them to do?

I think the folks in north and west Iraq are open to the ISIS running things only because the alternative, as far as they can tell, is Maliki and the current Iraqi government. It is, for them, a choice between horrible and even worse. Not a choice between something OK (let alone desirable) and something really bad.

As you say, the closest to a stable option in the area is separate countries for the Iraqi Shia (who are willing to take Iranian support, but apparently do not what to be part of Iran), the Kurds, the Sunnis in Iraq and Syria (either together or separately), and the Alawites in Syria. Anything else will, it appears, be possible only with a seriously totaliarian state -- and at this point it isn't obvious that it is even possible to get there from here.

Granted, getting to separate countries will be messy, at best. And what kind of government will emerge in each remains to be seen. The Islamists have the edge in the Sunni areas at the moment. But once that area is safely out from under Maliki and Assad, their prospects are uncertain. From what I am reading, they aren't exactly popular in their own right with the majority.

As for what we can constructively do, the answer is "Not much." We can provide some support for the Kurds, who seem to have worked out a way to govern their territory with some level of peace and security. But that's about it. Anything else we do to try to influence (never mind control) events will be an egotistically optimistic flushing of resources down the drain.

One point which stood out to me is that Mosul was (allegedly) taken by ISIS with about 800 men, bringing about its abandonment by a better armed defending force of around 35,000.

A clearer demonstration of the futility of trying to prop up a failed regime with money, arms and training is hard to imagine.

Compare and contrast with the nascent Kurdish state in the north - which no one outside of Kurdistan (and the late Christopher Hitchens - one of the handful of things he might have been right about) seemed to want.

Wow.

I knew Blair is still a messianic true believer (or plain nuts, if you prefer), but reading the Telegraph live blog it appears he is not entirely alone:

Over at the Guardian, John McTernan - Tony Blair's director of political operations during the British deployment in the country - defends the decision, insisting it was right to topple Saddam but arguing that Britain has the responsibility to "go back to Iraq to rescue democracy":
"Supporting the Middle East's second full democracy after Israel is still the noble cause it was when I was in No 10 working for Tony Blair, and when I worked in the prime minister's office in Baghdad. Complex conflicts need strategic patience – the kind that won the cold war. It will take as least as long to rebuild Iraq as it took Saddam Hussein to destroy it..."

I doubt that much more than 1% of the population of the UK (and probably a similar proportion of our armed forces) are going to be convinced that we should "go back to Iraq to rescue democracy".

Whatever that means.

The Ottoman Empire's record should probably be compared to the records of other places at the same time. The US was a slave society slavery that also engaged in ethnic cleansing and small scale genocide in the 1800's.

My point being that I don't think the Middle East for most of its history is really out of the ordinary in its level of violence--it's only been in the past generation or so that Western countries have become halfway civilized within their own borders (not counting what they do outside them), and not all countries that call themselves Western democracies have stopped practicing a form of apartheid. And when people look back at 20th Century violence, the only episode in the Middle East that comes close to what was going on in Europe and eastern Asia (under the Japanese and then Mao) would be what happened to the Armenians (this was post-Ottoman Empire).

In the 19th century there's a throwaway line In Alistair Horne's "A Savage War of Peace", which is about the French/Algerian conflict in the 50's. He's summarizing the French conquest in the 1800's--

"At the time of the conquest the indigenous population stood at somewhere less than three million; then a combination of war, disease and disastrous famine reduced it by 50 percent."

I think we miss hearing about this sort of thing sometimes.

We could've stayed and kept al Maliki from his baser impulses, but elections have consequences.

Indeed. Except the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq was signed by Bush, in late October 2008.

I'm confused as to how that was a "election has consequences" thing. Was Bush not going to sign it if it looked like Romney would win?

How much money and how many lives are we willing to spend trying to tell other people they should do what we want them to do?

i vote zero, zero.

now where do i put my ballot?

cleek, isn't that a little extreme?

How about $10K per year telling them what we think they should do; and zero lives? Nothing all that wrong with making yourself feel better by giving unasked-for advice. ;-)

Actually, there were some slaughters of Armenians before the Young Turks, come to think of it. The genocide was later.

I'm going on about the Middle East not being more violent than other places, because, well, it isn't, not in the grand scheme of things. During the 70's and 80's people thought Latin America was just one seething cauldron of civil wars, and rightwing military dictatorships, with one or two communist ones in the mix. Africa was a basket case. Europe--well, 1st half of 20th century. China went through hell in the 20th century and the 19th century was arguably worse (in per capita terms--the absolute number of deaths was smaller in their 19th century civil war). So the Middle East could well change for the better--the Arab Spring withered, but it could happen again. Stranger things have happened.

Should we intervene in Iraq? Hell no. We've been doing nothing but intervening since 91 and arguably before.

as an aside, just wanted say welcome charles bird, cool to see you pop up here again.

May I ask under what legal authority the President would be acting should he bomb Iraq at Maliki's request?

Or perhaps to more focus the issue, suppose the President of Iceland asked the U.S. to bomb some armed force within Iceland's borders, could the President do that without some additional authority from Congress?

Ugh: Isn't Iceland part of NATO? I think that would make a difference.

Try something further afield, like Sri Lanka.

Iceland, as a member of NATO, could ask for help if they were attacked. (Attacked by an outside force. Internal uprisings are not covered.)

But we don't have a mutual defense treaty with Iraq. So it isn't at all clear (at least to me IANAL) that we have any legal rationale for striking at a force inside Iraq. Even if they ask nicely. Even if they had been a lot more cordial than has actually been the case recently.

An interesting point regarding Chelsea Manning's evidence:

http://www.emptywheel.net/2014/06/13/what-if-us-government-had-not-demanded-we-drop-it-on-malikis-corruption-in-2010/
I read the transcript, and followed up with her, asking for her take on its contents. She said it was easy for her to transcribe verbatim since I blew up the photograph and laminated it. She said the general nature of the document was benign. The documentation, as I assessed as well, was merely a scholarly critique of the then-current Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. It detailed corruption within the cabinet of al-Maliki’s government, and the financial impact of this corruption on the Iraqi people.
After discovering this discrepancy between FP’s report, and the interpreter’s transcript, I forwarded this discovery, in person to the TO OIC and Battle NCOIC.
The TOC OIC and, the overhearing Battlecaptain, informed me they didn’t need or want to know this information any more. They told me to “drop it” and to just assist them and the FP in finding out where more of these print shops creating “anti-Iraqi literature” might be. I couldn’t believe what I heard, (24-25)...

The always thoughtful Josh Marshall weighs in.

I strive always to remember that the always thoughtful Josh Marshall was convinced by Pollack that Iraq War II was necessary, and was in favor of invasion.

I'm going on about the Middle East not being more violent than other places, because, well, it isn't, not in the grand scheme of things.

My point wasn't that the Middle East was more violent than other places. My point was that it was plenty violent before the partition. That's not to say that the partition was a sensible thing, or accommodated a peaceful future for the Middle East, but it's not necessarily the cause of the violence that's happening now.

The wheels are coming off because the vehicle was never designed to have wheels in the first place. The Iraq War was a supremely cynical and mendacious atrocity from the git-go, and no amount of after-market accessorizing can undo that.

The MSM has already found veterans to lament that not going back in and "doing something" would mean their comrades were maimed and killed "for nothing."

To which the only correct answer is: It *was* for nothing. How many more comrades do you need to see maimed and killed before that becomes clear?

some of us were telling the world that the war was 'for nothing' before it even started. and now we're the people who, once again, are told we do not honor our military.

The people who don't honor the military are the politicians who send it to do unnecessary things.

And now Obama is sending "advisors."

Bad idea. Terrible idea.

IMO they will accomplish nothing, and some will be killed or wounded. At which point we will have another round of "escalate and get the bad guys," or "cut and run" or whatever. And the stupidity wheel continues to turn.

I think this is just a case of Obama reaching for sort of conventional wisdom middle-of-the-road approach without thinking it through.

Big mistake.

I think this is just a case of Obama reaching for sort of conventional wisdom middle-of-the-road approach without thinking it through.

IMO it's a case of reaching for a sort of conventional wisdom middle-of-the-road approach *after*, and as a result of, thinking it through.

We "have to do something", but we don't want to do "too much".

I agree, a very bad idea. We're in for a penny now.

Yes, it's an armchair expert opinion, and it's my armchair expert opinion.

Russell,

The question is what he thought through.

I fear it had more to do with politics than a careful look at the situation in Iraq. He doesn't want to be blamed for a descent into chaos there, but I doubt he can either prevent it or avoid being blamed, however unfairly.

The question is what he thought through.

I fear it had more to do with politics than a careful look at the situation in Iraq.

That's a fair point, and I agree that it had at least as much to do with the politics as with what was actually going on in Iraq.

I'm mind-reading here, based on the resulting public actions, because I have no idea what Obama's thought process was. I can only see what he does.

The situation is a mess, but I can't see how we are going to improve it.

When we send 300 people to train one side's army, we have de facto picked a side.

So, we're in it now.

I'm still amazed at the casualness with which the U.S., whether it be our leaders, the press, pundits, etc., suggest we should just select other nations' leaders for them.

Big headlines "Maliki must go says ____" Oh really? Drives me nuts. Does this happen in, say, Japan?

Actually, LJ does it?

When we send 300 people to train one side's army, we have de facto picked a side.

we had already picked that side, though, right? we picked the side of 'strong central government'.

and, to me it seems like those 300 are going to be spotters for airstrikes, because we wouldn't trust the Iraqi military to tell us where to bomb. we'd want our own eyes for that.

which doesn't mean i like it.

Cleek,

So you're saying we're going to be bombing also? Guess I missed that.

It just gets better and better.

The only way to achieve a "strong united government" in Iraq is to support I.S.I.S.

My post dated check is in the mail.

Interesting question. I can't recall ever having seen such a headline. I think I've seen similar headlines/expressions in UK papers by politicians, but I can't imagine Japanese politicians telling any other country what to do. I'll put up a post about something that is in the news here.

We don't do the "Maliki must go" thing with powerful countries. If we did, I imagine Obama would have said "Putin must go", which I don't think he has, unless I've missed it. It's an imperialist thing.

I sorta half-sympathise with Obama on this likely debacle, for once. It's probably a position taken under domestic political pressure, but that's a real factor. He looked pretty upset on the front page of the NYT the other day. Probably a good fraction of our foreign policy debacles are undertaken because someone is afraid of being called "weak" back on the home front.

And maybe he'll get lucky and Maliki will make nice with moderate Sunnis and the Kurds.

This, btw, is what happens when war criminals and their cheerleaders in the press are still treated as though their views deserve to be taken seriously. They get to exert pressure and act as though their views have been right all along. But that's okay--the DC world is united in seeing one class of people as being beyond the pale--whistleblowers.

So you're saying we're going to be bombing also?

that's one of the assumptions in this MSNBC article: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/iraq-turmoil/what-u-s-militarys-new-mission-iraq-help-thwart-isis-n136811

Not that there haven't been previous calls for unity from Iraqis, but it's heartening to see a cleric calling for unified Iraq to face ISIS and urging people not to join religious militias.

www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/06/20/230989/iraqis-top-shiite-cleric-calls.html

I almost said this when the news first broke, but there's always the hope that this situation, awful as it is, might push Iraq towards unity and marginalize extreme sectarian groups.

Maybe that's too hopeful.

It seems more likely that the Arab Sunnis, after separating from the Iraqi Shia (and the Kurds, of course) will decide that their next priority is crushing ISIS. But until then, they will find ISIS a useful ally of convenience. "The enemy of my enemy" and all that, for all that they want little part of what ISIS is selling otherwise.

is there a compelling reason for iraq to remain a single country?

A compelling reason? It depends on how much one is compelled by the theory that, if we let one (artificial) country split up, it will start a cascade of fragmentation.

On one hand, the world seems to have survived the split of Slovakia from the Check Republic, South Sudan from Sudan, and Kosovo from Serbia. On the other hand, the world refuses to acknowledge Somaliland as a country -- and if there is another reason not to, I haven't found it yet.

Perhaps the logic is this: If a European country splits, well that's OK; we all know the history and it's probably not going to make a big difference. But if a country which was drawn by Eurpoean powers for non-Europeans splits? Well who knows where "those people" will take things -- total Balkinization (hmmm...)!

is there a compelling reason for iraq to remain a single country?

Not as far as I'm concerned. But if they do stay together, they need something to unite them culturally. "Against ISIS" is as good a reason as any, at least to start.

United or divided, its up to the Iraqis to decide. Or at least it should be.

is there a compelling reason for iraq to remain a single country?

It's about the oil. The oil revenues need to be evenly divided. Joe Biden wanted the country divided into three regions, with a federal head of state in Baghdad to divide up the oil revenue, so that the Sunnis (whose geographic portion of the country is oil-poor) are appeased.

Oh yes, the oil. I read that in Saudia Arabia the richest oil fields are in a region with majority Shiite population and close to Iran. Part of the Saudi hostility to Iran can surely be attributed to that and the connected fear. And Kuwait too is in essence an artifact existing only due to its oil. If there was none, no one would seriously have gone to war with Saddam over the annexation (if the state would have been created in the first place as separate from Iraq).

United or divided, its up to the Iraqis to decide.

Holy hell. They're "deciding" alright.

Hartmut,
Not only is the Saudi oil all in Shiite-majority areas. But all the Gulf states are Shiite, too; their Sunni ruling families an artifact from earlier times.

All the same concerns, and all for the same reasons. Also gives a clue why a) they are not much on the concept of democracy and majority rule, and b) why the Saudis, in particular, don't much care for the idea that countries can be split up among their ethnic/religious groups.

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Whatnot


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