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February 21, 2007

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Approximately how long do you advocate limbo go on? What do you believe will be the stage after limbo?

Rare occasion, but I can't disagree.
One point that the US should concentrate on in my opinion is to reduce the amount of oil additionally poured into the flames. Keeping a lower profile and abstaining from actionism could do a lot, for all too often the trouble seems to travel with the patrols (i.e. relative peace in absence of allied forces in many areas that is destroyed the moment it is decided that the area needs 'pacifying').
Let's first see what the 'withdrawal symptoms' will be without actually withdrawing, so to say.

"Iraq would turn into Yugoslavia-on-the-Tiber"

If Iraq moves to Italy, the implications for the EU would be staggering. Did you mean Tigris?

As for the rest, while your position is a distinct improvement from where you were fairly recently, I join with Gary in inquiring how long you want to stay in limbo, and at what point do the words "fish or cut bait" apply. Staying in limbo, while bleeding 75-100 US soldiers, thousands of Iraqi civilians and roughly $10 Billion per month without any improvement to show for it is not an attractive option, either.

Sticking it hopes that diplomacy can accomplish things is a reasonable strategy if, and only if, you have diplomats there's reason to trust in who enjoy the attention and support of their bosses. I'm at a loss to imagine who you might see filling that role for the Bush administration, though - who can speak maybe useful counsels and be heeded by Bush and Cheney? This isn't me being flippant, either, because I'm painfully aware of the limits of my knowledge and I'd like a reason to feel better about any part of it. But from where I sit right now, it looks like wishing for different people prosecuting the war as a precondition of strategy, and I don't find that at all acceptable or even respectable.

OT and perhaps black humor to boot, but I have to point out that one of the winners of the Bad Faulkner contest a number of years ago was "Yugo Down, Moses", where Flem Snopes was a Yugo salesman.

Nothing much else to say, other than welcome to the way I think a lot of the commentariat has felt for what seems like forever. While you weren't/aren't going around calling people loser-defeatists, please spare a thought for everyone who got sick and tired of those kinds of labels and kicked back.

And without employing repression, is an "Iraq" possible? Looking at the voluntary federations around the world - which usually became "voluntary" after the fact - there are significant and perpetual independence movements. Quebec, Scotland, Catalonia, etc. And these are in prosperous, stable countries.

What incentive do the 3 main Iraqi groups have for pooling together over the long term? And if there isn't one, then wouldn't it be better to separate the parties in as orderly fashion as possible? Which is next to impossible, but compared to the alternative......

Did you mean Tigris?

Erm, yes. Fixing it now.

Approximately how long do you advocate limbo go on?

The great thing about limbo is that you don't necessarily know how long it will go on. I can only say that, in light of apparent efforts by the Iraqi government to step up, "not yet." Should the Iraqi government alter course, we need to reassess.

What do you believe will be the stage after limbo?

If you have faith, heaven. But I lost my faith quite some time ago.

As for the rest, while your position is a distinct improvement from where you were fairly recently, I join with Gary in inquiring how long you want to stay in limbo, and at what point do the words "fish or cut bait" apply.

I'm not sure where you think I was "fairly recently," so I can't comment on that. (I've been arguing for more troops and warning of the Balkanization of Iraq since before the war started.) As for when to cut bait, it again depends on whether the Iraqi government continues its recent path in taking steps towards an acceptable outcome where Sunni, Shia, and Kurds can coexist.

By the way, for the same reasons I deplore the Balkanization of Iraq, I also deplore Sen. Biden's strategy. At one point, I thought the man was a reasonable voice on international affairs; his current stance (Balkanization Yes!) has convinced me that he may be the one presidential contender who will be less competent on Iraq than President Bush.

But from where I sit right now, it looks like wishing for different people prosecuting the war as a precondition of strategy, and I don't find that at all acceptable or even respectable.

The folks at Foggy Bottom are starting to reassert themselves, and there have been some helpful noises from Sec. Rice. The real issue, however, will be whether the sabre-rattling on Iran will bear fruit. I think Tony Snow and the President did a good job diffusing unnecessary tensions (tensions brought about by their own misactions), but until the US demonstrates a willingness to reach an understanding with Iran on Iraq -- and by understanding I mean something other than us attempting to dictate terms to them, something that has not worked and will not work -- the question marks will remain.

Regarding Kurdish/Shia/Sunni splitup and Spartikus' comment:

And if there isn't one, then wouldn't it be better to separate the parties in as orderly fashion as possible?

Possibly, but if separating the parties in an orderly fashion is the goal, now is not the time to attempt it. If you believe that Iraq, like Gaul, is ultimately divided into partes tres, the first step to an orderly division has to be a nominal federal government that can govern the intracttable disputes between the parties (over oil, money) without requiring them to resort to violence. So the goal would be a federal government for now, which gradually cedes power to the provinces over the course of a decade or more.

von,

"I'm not sure where you think I was "fairly recently," so I can't comment on that. (I've been arguing for more troops and warning of the Balkanization of Iraq since before the war started.)"

Where you have been fairly recently is saying that the consequences of failure in Iraq are so bad that we must continue to fight the war, no matter the cost in lives or material. Going from there to a limbo where you are contemplating a future where the US will need to pull out is, as I noted, a distinct improvement.

Where you have been fairly recently is saying that the consequences of failure in Iraq are so bad that we must continue to fight the war, no matter the cost in lives or material. Going from there to a limbo where you are contemplating a future where the US will need to pull out is, as I noted, a distinct improvement.

OK -- you're correct that's a change.

The great thing about limbo is that you don't necessarily know how long it will go on. I can only say that, in light of apparent efforts by the Iraqi government to step up, "not yet." Should the Iraqi government alter course, we need to reassess.
If the Iraqi government doesn't alter course, in the sense that you mean, and continues its current course, and yet if -- hypothetically -- little significantly changed in the situation, how long would you advocate the United States continue its current policy and "surge"? One year? Two? Four? Ten? Less than a year?

What would you advocate should be the fallback strategy if either the situation simply didn't change, or if the Iraqi government did change course? More American troops? Fewer? Something else?

What do you believe will be the stage after limbo?

If you have faith, heaven. But I lost my faith quite some time ago.

Possibly a more serious answer?
By the way, for the same reasons I deplore the Balkanization of Iraq, I also deplore Sen. Biden's strategy. At one point, I thought the man was a reasonable voice on international affairs; his current stance (Balkanization Yes!) has convinced me that he may be the one presidential contender who will be less competent on Iraq than President Bush.
Would you say that Iraq is already somewhat Balkanized, or not?

So the goal would be a federal government for now, which gradually cedes power to the provinces over the course of a decade or more.

But what's the incentive for the 3 parties to do this? There's avoiding bloodshed, but some calculations might see the use of violence as beneficial to their interests.

Also, the above would require deep trust in the process (a trust that isn't there quite frankly) that the federal government or important parts of the government - like, say, the army, won't come to be dominated by one group or the other. Sort of like what we're seeing now. A federal government also has a built-in interest to perpetuate itself.

There haven't been too many orderly dissolutions in history. Czechoslovakia is the only one that comes immediately to mind.

I like your article. While I think your fine line will prove difficult to walk, I appreciate your view. Of course, I also sincerely hope for some flavor of victory (or even just a down cycle of violence) that will allow for an early withdrawal, but I really appreciate your movement.

he Balkanization of Iraq is among the very worst of the worst of the worst-case scenarios.

i often hear this, but i never hear it explained. care to try ?

Actually, the Tiber slip in a post advocating limbo made some sense -- it evoked the image of fiddling away as Iraq burns.

Will you make appearances before army and national guard families in order to inform them that they too must remain in limbo for the next few years while we dither in Iraq? And appear at the funerals of the next 1,000 dead in honor of the limbo?

Advocating limbo means you are advocating staying until 2009 when another president gets to decide what to do with the mess. It is indistinguishable with acceptance of whatever Bush does to continue to stay the course, no matter whether he labels it a "surge" or whatever.

The reason is that there are only two basic options -- whatever Bush wants to do and whatever changes that he might be forced to adopt regarding what he wants to do. Limbo is agreement with the surge since it will do nothing to stop it.

As for the worst case scenario of Balkanization, it is essentially already here. It remains to be seen whether there is a more formal break-up, or only a rotten ineffectual central government with power shifted to the regions. It will be avoided only if the Shia are permitted to exercise their hegemony (and which Shia -- Sadr or SICRI?). That includes the Kurds not trying to take Kirkuk (the looming flashpoint) -- that seems very unlikely. That is supposed to be resolved by elections later this year. Indeed, when are the next national elections in Iraq? That ought to be an interesting gauge of whether the country can hang together at all.


No one actually KNOWS what will happen if we leave or announce our intention to leave at a "date certain." One thing we do know is that the situation in Iraq is fraught with uncertainty and chaos. Speculation runs rampant. One possible outcome of leaving or announcing a date would be to provide that certainty to the situation. A starting point. Something everyone knows and agrees on. I believe that setting a date and showing troop movements to back that up will help stabilize the situation in Iraq. It will also make clear that we will not be choosing sides in the conflict or doing the Shia's bidding by killing Sunnis.

What to make of the Balkanization scenario depends on which version you're imagining: one in which Iraq turns into three separate countries, or one in which it turns into a federation of sectarian "states" (in the US sense, not the separate countries sense) within a federal system.

Both would involve considerable ethnic cleansing, since the boundaries between the various populations of Iraq are not neat. This is going on as we speak, and it's not clear how much we're presently managing to do to stop it. It also involves the problem of whether Kirkuk would be within the Kurdish section or not, though again, this will be a problem whatever happens. And it's not clear how the rights of ethnic or religious minorities who are not part of the three major groups would be protected. (Turkmen, Christians, etc.)

Also, any decent version of this would have to involve a settlement whereby the Sunnis get some resources, although I read recently that some oil and natural gas have been found in Sunni territory, which might help.

These are all problems that Iraq generally has to face; the worry is, basically, that it would make them worse, and remove any prospect of reconciliation. The counterworry is: geez, this is all happening already. Iraqis are in fact separating themselves, and a federal system is, or will shortly be, the best possible outcome in any case.

The three countries version adds a whole lot of other worries. Will the Turks countenance a separate Kurdish state? Probably not, especially if the Iraqi Kurds give safe haven to separatist groups of Turkish Kurds. Will the breakup of the country be violent, and if so will Iran and the Sunni neighbors feel compelled to intervene? Will this lead to a regional war? Etc. This version is not just worse than the first, but arguably avoidable.

"Also, any decent version of this would have to involve a settlement whereby the Sunnis get some resources"

I vote to give the Sunnis control of the water & electricity, without which the oil just stays in the ground. Not really.

I really don't think partition works, and if attempted Anbar becomes a terrorist mega-factory which makes the resurgent al-Qaeda in Wazir-Qaedastan look insignificant. 4th gen in Baghdad forever.

Remember SA has ordered us to stay. We stay.

...the fear that Iraq would turn into Yugoslavia-on-the-Tigris is one reason why I -- and others, like former Army Sec. Thomas White and Gen. Eric Shinseki -- warned that more troops were needed in Iraq almost four years ago.

In the pre-war, various neoconservatives (& a few of their liberal-hawk allies) explicitly said that a break-up of a major Arab state wouldn't be the worst thing that ever happened. Wurmser & Tom Friedman come to mind.

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