Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 12, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

A PROVOCATION....In my ongoing effort to embarrass myself in public, I'm going to revisit the subject of the feared Mideast meltdown that might follow in the wake of an American withdrawal from Iraq. First, though, to make my position absolutely clear: I do believe that the Iraq civil war itself would likely get worse if we leave, but I don't believe this would necessarily lead to a broadening of the war to the entire region (the "Middle East In Flames" theory).

My skepticism of the MEIF theory is mostly grounded in two things. First, it's a theory that gets an awful lot of uncritical acceptance without much in the way of actual detailed argument. That's always a bad sign. Second, worst case scenarios have a long history of being trotted out as a convenient way of forestalling unwanted action, and that's what seems to be happening in this case.

Beyond that, though, there are the specifics of the MEIF scenario itself — and this is the part where I go to work without a net. Here's the nickel version of why I suspect an Iraqi civil war won't spread.

The four neighbors that are most likely to get involved in a wider war are Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan, and Syria. Basically, I consider Saudi Arabia a paper tiger. They're militarily incompetent and will never get directly involved in Iraq, no matter how much the local Wahhabi imams rant about the persecution of Iraq's Sunni minority. Iran is more competent, but over the past 30 years they've never displayed any territorial ambitions. They prefer working through proxies. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran may provide some modest funding for their "side," but probably not much more.

Jordan has no desire to get involved in any kind of war, and in any case we have a moderate amount of influence with King Abdullah. We can almost certainly keep Jordan from taking precipitate action as long as they don't feel too threatened. Syria is harder to predict, but they've got plenty of problems on their plate already. Besides, they've been making fairly consistently conciliatory noises lately, and as Eric Umansky reminds us, they actively tried to cooperate with us in the early days of the Iraq war until Donald Rumsfeld put the kibosh on them.

Needless to say, no one can predict the future with any confidence, especially in a region as turbulent as the Middle East. And it's impossible to prove that a worst case scenario won't happen. Still, I think most of the regional players are more invested in stability than we give them credit for, especially if the United States takes a sane and energetic diplomatic approach to things. Saudi Arabia and Iran both want to keep their oil flowing, and both continue to keep bilateral talks plodding along. Syria will follow Iran's lead. Jordan will hunker down.

But having said all that, here's the thing: I'm talking through my hat. My instincts tell me that the MEIF theory is overblown, but I don't know the region well enough to say this with any confidence. So take this post as more of a provocation than anything else. What I'm hoping is that a few genuine regional experts will read it and chime in, telling me either that I'm full of shit or else that I'm onto something. Anything just to get the MEIF theory out in the open and the subject of genuine conversation. You may all fire when ready.

Kevin Drum 1:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (145)

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Also, the Turks. They don't want the Kurds to get their whey, er, way.

Some sort of civil war seem inevitable. What I don't automatically accept, though it's stated as a point of fact with Bush and McCain, is that Iraq will become some sort of home base for terrorists.

What faction in Iraq would shelter them once we're gone? Why would they put up with terrorism? The Sunnis have already shown they're not pro-terrorist.

Posted by: zenger on September 12, 2007 at 2:04 AM | PERMALINK

Will second zenger. Believe there's a reasonable possibility for continuing border skirmishes between Turkey & Kurdistan.

Don't believe that the MEIF has much currency - listening to the right wing talks shows, their arguments boil down to "we can't give Al Qaeda a victory". Don't hear much mention of either MEIF or Iraqi internecine genocide.

Posted by: tarylcabot on September 12, 2007 at 2:20 AM | PERMALINK

I think the Turkish aspect is the most alarming. They have a very strong interest in preventing the emergence of an independent Kurdistan, and the armed forces to back up that interest. (Not to mention my turkish brother-in-law might get called back to military service if war breaks out.)

Posted by: jimBOB on September 12, 2007 at 2:23 AM | PERMALINK

Zenger beat me on the Turks. I think they are the most likely country in the region to get involved if we leave. Iran would certainly be involved, but in a more covert way (since they favor a Shiite government).

Posted by: Mark S. on September 12, 2007 at 2:25 AM | PERMALINK

Posted by: zenger: The Sunnis have already shown they're not pro-terrorist.

Perhaps because the terrorists in Iraq have concentrated on killing Iraqis to destabilize the country (which they have done very successfully), U.S. troops being too difficult a target.

Iraq may well be a haven for anti-U.S. terrorists after we leave. I wouldn't exaggerate the love of the Iraqi people for America, democracy, and Israel. While we're there they have to suck up to the powerful occupier, but after we leave, who knows.

Posted by: Luther on September 12, 2007 at 2:32 AM | PERMALINK

Jordan, Syria, Kuwait - not interested in any involvement except to keep the refugee flow down.

Saudia Arabia - gets involved only if Iran sticks its nose in, or if Iraq dissolves completely.

Iran - interested in remote-control influence over Shia factions, unlikely to send in the military unless someone else intervenes first, or if Iraq dissolves completely. Likely to send intelligence agents, but crossing the ethnic divide (Persians in an Arab country) put limits on the numbers.

Turkey - most likely to intervene, but little territorial ambitions. Controlling the oil around Mosul would be nice but would bring a lot of Kurds along with it, adding to domestic issues.

But when crude oil is consistently over $120/bbl (current dollars) all bets are off.

Posted by: F. Frederson on September 12, 2007 at 2:34 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't "The Middle East Will Dissolve Into Chaos" code for "We Won't Control Their Oil Any More"?

Posted by: MFB on September 12, 2007 at 2:47 AM | PERMALINK

I left out Turkey deliberately because border skirmishes with the PKK have been going on forever. It doesn't strike me that a civil war in Iraq really changes things much unless Kurdistan formally declares independence -- which I think we have the influence to prevent them from doing. That aside, there might well be border clashes, but nothing more serious.

Though, as with the rest, who knows? There's no question that Turk-Kurd relations are in a parlous state these days. I'm just not sure that a more gloomy than usual assessment is called for.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on September 12, 2007 at 2:56 AM | PERMALINK

Enjoyed the Article Kevin. The dollar is at a 15 year low. Is this related to Iraq or the sub-prime 'securisitation' crash?

Posted by: EYEHAIOU on September 12, 2007 at 3:40 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't "The Middle East Will Dissolve Into Chaos" code for "We Won't Control Their Oil Any More"?

Lol.

Exactly. Russia and China are waiting to swoop in where the Bushies made such a big mess. US control is on verge of a complete meltdown - all thanks to Bush and Cheney wonderful liberaltion policies.

Bush says "it'll be the new killing fields" only it already IS the new killing fields. NO matter what comes up out of the ashes of Iraq - it won't be pro US.

Who knew Western oil contractors could be so nasty - well everybody knows it now, the entire world.


Posted by: Me_again on September 12, 2007 at 4:13 AM | PERMALINK

A very interesting analysis, Mr. Drum. You have given me reasons to hope that the destablization caused by the US invasion might not be as great as I have imagined.

No one has mentioned Afghanistan, Israel or Pakistan yet. We assume that the US stays in Afghanistan, trying to stablize that country and keep it out of the hands of the Taliban? The US would still have a presence in the ME, on the border of Iran, which might keep some of the anti-Israel hostility under the tipping point.

Pakistan is a wild card. I hate to think how things would play out if Musharref were be ousted by right-wing extremists.

I wonder about the Kurds. They have been our most loyal allies, they are the ones who have had something like a functioning democracy, they have oil resources, and Kurds in Turkey would like their independence, but Turkey doesn't want that. Maybe in Iraq, when the Shi'a and Sunni have killed enough of each other, the Kurds will be able to get some airtime.

It is always hard to ignore the oil wars angle of this, given the six years that have passed without any intelligent efforts at conservation and development of sustainable, non-carbon energy sources....

Posted by: PTate in FR on September 12, 2007 at 4:32 AM | PERMALINK

Invading Iraq was not the problem. Doing without a plan was. So now we're retreating WITHOUT A PLAN!! AGAIN!

We never ever ever learn anything!

I've started twitching a lot. I just don't understand politics anymore.

Posted by: exclab on September 12, 2007 at 5:30 AM | PERMALINK

you left out some big players, as others have mentioned above, particularly the only one local to the region with nukes.

Posted by: supersaurus on September 12, 2007 at 5:30 AM | PERMALINK

Invading Iraq was not the problem. Doing without a plan was. So now we're retreating WITHOUT A PLAN!! AGAIN!

Given that the alternative is staying without a plan... I'd say leaving is still the least awful option.

Posted by: ginsweater on September 12, 2007 at 6:16 AM | PERMALINK

I don't want to sound like I necessarily disagree with you, but I wonder if the foreign jihadi-types don't, to a significant extent, come from—ergo will return to—Northern Africa when a US withdrawal makes their continued presence in Iraq untenable (lack of targets, more concentrated resistance from the natives). Without trying to make too much of it, I am most nervous about development in this area (from Morocco to Somalia [maybe including Yemen]). Add to this our intention of establishing an Africa Command.

Posted by: jhm on September 12, 2007 at 6:48 AM | PERMALINK

Kurdish independence (even quasi-independence under a loose confederation) still presents the biggest problem for continued instability in the region. The folks in that region have long memories. The Turks will be remembering what happened to Turkey (the old Ottoman Turkey) back during the day when the Romanians, Bulgars, Serbs, and Greeks were nibbling at the Turkish state trying to "reclaim" pockets of their lost brethren in the Balkans.

We Americans forget (if we ever knew) about the Balkan Wars which raged from the early 1800s right into the 20th century. The Turks haven't forgotten and they're not about to let a third of Anatolia slip away. They'll do what they did to the Greeks after the Greeks tried to reclaim western Anatolia, and that wasn't pretty. The Turks will know from real experience that if the Kurds get independence, just like the Serbs and Bulgars did in the 1890s and the early 1900s, the Kurds will be supporting irredentist movements inside Turkey no matter what the Kurdish government might be saying now. If the Kurds go back on their word, will the American try to punish the Kurds for supporting terrorist acts against the Turks inside Turkey? That is the question which must be put to the Bush administration.

Posted by: PrahaPartizan on September 12, 2007 at 6:59 AM | PERMALINK

...if the United States takes a sane and energetic diplomatic approach to things.
So obviously we're talking about a policy to be enacted after Bush and Cheney leave office.
Isn't the main concern (well-founded, or not) not inter-state conflict, but a pan-Arabian religious war between Sunni and Shia that largely disregards state borders?

Posted by: FearItself on September 12, 2007 at 7:23 AM | PERMALINK

Why not rewind the tape back to the end of the Ottoman Empire and the redefinition of the ME by the British, French, etc. We could make a Suniland, a Shialand, a Kurdistan, and find a new safer, more logical place for the Jewish State. There are plenty of nice empty spaces left in the World.

Posted by: Rula Lenska on September 12, 2007 at 7:46 AM | PERMALINK

It's all about power and money in the Middle East. If there's an advantage for any of those countries to meddle in Iraq's affairs, without them having to risk too much to get it, they'll go for it.

However, going in with guns blazing probably won't help them much in the long run, so it's unlikely they'll do it.

Posted by: lone1c on September 12, 2007 at 8:09 AM | PERMALINK

unless Kurdistan formally declares independence -- which I think we have the influence to prevent them from doing

What's our carrot and what's our stick? Being on speaking terms doesn't neccessarily translate into influence and control. The way I figure they could easily decide to declare independance knowing we have a vested interest in not seeing them massacred.

How much control do we have over provacative Israeli policies?

Posted by: B on September 12, 2007 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

The most dangerous scenario, which seems to escape everyone's attention, is that Saudi Arabia and Iran are pulled into the vacuum left by us, and create an alliance of radical Islamic states, bent on re-establishing the caliphate.

Posted by: Al on September 12, 2007 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

Well, just one thought on Iran and Kevin's point that Iran hasn't had any territorial ambitions over the last 30 years.

One of the principal reasons Iran has not had or acted on any western territorial ambitions is because Saddam and his Iraqi army posed a major impediment to any possible ambitions that Iran may have had. Iran's understanding of the problems Saddam posed was clearly reinforced by the brutal eight year war it fought with Iraq.

Times have changed. Saddam is now gone, Iraq has no army and, as we all know, Iran can act with significant impunity in Iraq, albeit through proxies and intelligence agents at the moment.

I'm not saying this guarantees that Iran will invade Iraq, but the destruction of the Iraqi state and Iraqi army make it a more feasible and perhaps palatable proposition to some in the Iranian leadership. What's worse is that the Saudis, Jordanians and Syrians all understand this to be the case.

The Saudis, Jordanians and Syrians cannot confidently and accurately predict the intentions of the Iranian regime (a regime which, by the way, to a large degree still supports the export of a revolutionary Shiite ideology) which in turn gives them all the more reason to augment their military capabilities and grow far more suspicious of Iranian intentions and capabilities. One of the principal reasons they never felt compelled to have any major military capabilities was the strong Iraqi buffer with Iran. That buffer is now gone.

So, you get more weapons and even more regional suspicion. These are two things that, as history has shown time and again, frequently lead to war.

None of this guarantees a regional war. But then again, wars are rarely a "guarantee" before they begin.

Posted by: Charlie Brown on September 12, 2007 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

Most likely this is an academic exercise isn't it? I ask that because it appears that, unless enough senators have the guts to make a filibuster stick, Bush will get the funding to keep enough troops there to stop a really full scale civil war from erupting while he is President. And after another year and half the dynamics could very well shift in unforeseen ways - though almost surely not in a way that leads to a strong enough nonsectarian central government. Given that Bush will probably get the money to keep a large number of troops in Iraq, I think the best of the awful alternatives is to push for a model along the lines that Biden is advocating (although I'm not overly impressed with much of the rest of what he has to say); that is, some sort of decentralized government in Iraq with three largely autonomous regions. Of course, that is fraught with a lot of difficulties - especially how to distribute the oil wealth and suppressing the extreme Sunni and Shia elements. But such an approach may have the best chance of avoiding even greater wholesale bloodshed than the terrible carnage that has happened so far in Iraq; and to the topic at hand, may be the best approach to lessen the probability of the conflict overtly spreading beyond Iraq - as low or as high as that probability may already be.

Posted by: TK on September 12, 2007 at 8:38 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin Drum, one of the loudest cheerleaders IN FAVOR of invading Iraq, directs his laser-like policy analysis toward another Mideastern country. Kevin. Seriously. Shut up. Take a deep breath. Back away from the keyboard. Come back when you are ready to cat blog. That's your level.

Posted by: Pat on September 12, 2007 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

George Bush is Our Pet Goat.

Posted by: lampwick on September 12, 2007 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin: the local Wahhabi imams

This would be considered a slur in Saudi Arabia. "Wahabi" there has connotations of backwoods hicks. They prefer to be called Salafists.

The religious content is more or less the same. From Wikipedia: "The principal tenet of Salafism is that Islam was perfect and complete during the days of Muhammad and his companions, but that undesirable innovations have been added over the later centuries due to materialist and cultural influences."

Posted by: anandine on September 12, 2007 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

Al's post is a work of art. Utterly ridiculous (at the time of a vicious shia-sunni civil war, he worries the two will unite and form a new caliphate), it's so stupid one thinks it has to be a parody, yet it represents a political political point of view actually held by numerous people, so you can't really be sure if he means it or not. Masterful.

Posted by: jimBOB on September 12, 2007 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

In the war of 1812, the British invaded parts of the U.S., burned down the White House, etc.

The war was actually started by the Americans, it that Congress declared war over the cause of impressment of U.S. sailors. But many believe the war was caused by a desire of the U.S. to expand their holdings, take over Canada, etc.

In other words, the British attacked claiming the Americans as aggressors.

What if the British had stayed? What if the British claimed they would stay and occupy America as long as the Americans continued to misbehave, continued aggressive action, etc. Would the Americans have been justify to oppose the British, to conduct a guerilla war?

Or should nations simply allow other nations to invade and occupy them -- for their own good? Should Iraqis simply accept the presence of American forces -- because it is good for them?

Would you?

Posted by: Dicksknee on September 12, 2007 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin Drum, one of the loudest cheerleaders IN FAVOR of invading Iraq,

I was reading Kevin at the time, and no, he wasn't the loudest, or even all that loud. Like a lot of us, he was willing to give a hearing to the Pollack notion that we needed to deal aggressively with a WMD problem (a mistake in retrospect), but by the time the troops went in he no longer supported invasion. For mindless war cheerleading at the time you needed to read InstaPundit.

Posted by: jimBOB on September 12, 2007 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

Al is wrong (there's a shock), if only cuz a caliphate UNITING Sunni and Shi'ia is sorta unlikely, the way most folks figure a new Pope isn't going to unite Catholics and Protestants. It's not that a guy like John Paul II won't do spectacularly symbolic gestures, like going to a Lutheran church (after 500 years: surrender!), it's just that a Pope couldn't reconcile Rome with Protestantism -- BECAUSE he is a pope.

But I wanna speak up for the role of a caliph, anyway: it's common for folks to point out that Islam has never had a Reformation. But few go on to realize the reason is that it never had a Pope. It's hard to rebel against a central authority when there isn't one. For all of the sins of the Roman church, it has this great virtue: it IS a central authority, and you can measure everything against its yardstick.

Protestants, by contrast, are like Muslims: born schismatics. If you reject the Pope's authority, like Luther or Henry VIII, leave. Then when the next congregation decides they don't like a bishop, or a priest, or the concept of a priesthood, or maybe just the 'smells and bells' of Popery, well: you get Presbyterians and Congregationalists and whatnot.

It's that constant splitting apart which, as much as anything, led the quintessentially civilizing concept that civics has a moral value in itself. It didn't happen without the traction of something to rebel AGAINST.

That's why Islam never had it.

Muslims tell me that Islam cannot have the separation of Church and State, because in the western sense, Islam is not a church: it's a way of life. It never developed the church and state dichotomy the way Europe and America did, because it was not developed in reaction to (nor in support of) a central religious authority with military and political clout: no Pope, no Luther; Muslim versions of Henry VIII (and there were lots) never had to renounce Rome's rule, cuz there was no Rome.

There was a lively debate within Islam a thousand years ago about itjihad, the interpretation of the Recitation and the Sayings, in the waning years of the Abbasid Caliphs, with their Fatimid rivals. This is when the 'us vs. them' worldview of Islam was cemented, cuz it WAS, after all, a pretty reasonable view of the struggle of Christendom against Muslims during the Crusades. That was when the institutions of Islam formally determined that the gates of interpretation were closed -- and it was also when Arab domination of Islam ended.

Somebody should reopen Interpretation: why wouldn't a caliphate be the catalyst?

See, that's the key to it all: when the Turks took over, they made the caliphate into a religious support for a political empire, and kept it that way until 1924. Milton Viorst had a great line, that when Mustafa Kemal established modern Turkey and abolished the Caliphate, it was as if Garibaldi had unified Italy by abolishing the Papacy.

The Muslim Brotherhood reconnected Islam and Arab nationalism without reopening Interpretation -- and that's what leads directly to the mess we have now. (There was a Brotherhood guy in Saudi Arabia in the 20s who refused to eat with a fork, cuz there is no evidence the Prophet ever ate with a fork: gotta stay on the safe side.)

So I dunno that if some Muslim state or sect credibly tried to claim to restore the Caliphate would necessarily be a disaster. The Organization of the Islamic Conference is waaaaay too bureaucratic and downright collegial to be much of a bulwark against the uncivilizing tendencies of religion; Saudi money runs al-Aksar and most maddrassahs; (besides being evil criminals)al Qaeda has no true religious credibility; I dunno enough about Tanzeem in Pakistan -- but having SOME definitive and MODERN orthodoxy to rebel against might be precisely the catalyst for a Muslim Reformation, and about bloody time, too.

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 12, 2007 at 9:10 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you really need to go back and study the Iran-Iraq War. You should also loon into Iran's territorial disputes with Afghanistan and Azerbaijan. Not to mention finance projects in Somalia, Sudan and other part of Northern Africa. To make a blanket statement such as "over the past 30 years they've never displayed any territorial ambitions" proves you have very little interest in actual history.

The Saudi military has one of the most well financed and well trained militaries in the world. They have Mecca to guard, not to mention all of those oil fields. We dump billions in arms on them, as well as training. They have the money to rent out mercs, and are without question better armed than the militias in Iraq. They always feared Saddam's imperial ambitions, and have a tenuous relationship with the Persians. It's not as likely that the Saudis would need the ground forces we had, because their concern will be the Sunni minority in the country. They could establish no fly zones, bombing campaigns, or even worse, arm Anbar to the teeth. Again, not a terribly accurate statement on your part.

And, you left out Turkey. Turkey has twice bluffed at entering Kurdistan, and most certainly would do it if we left. Now, perhaps the Kurds, in our absence, would smarten up and move to mediate with the Turks immediately, but it's unlikely that they'll crack down on the PKK.

Posted by: Kevin Sullivan on September 12, 2007 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, oh! Iran might wander in their with their tank brigades! That'd be horrible!

And then Saudi would have to send in... Wait, they didn't even participate in Operation Desert Shield, for crying out loud, they've got too much trouble at home.

Syria? They're both smaller and pinned down by Israel. If they as much twitched, you know the Golan would be more than Semetic homes.

Turkey is the only one with troops massed on the border. And what are they going to do? If they move in from the border the Kurds will stop being pests and actually start fighting across the border. Since we've never bothered this fight before, why would it matter now?

I really don't see how it could get 'worse' insofar as someone else's troops are the ones bogged down in Iraq, assuming someone tries for the oil.

...On the other hand, why aren't we taking refugees?

Posted by: Crissa on September 12, 2007 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

Dicksknee has pointed to the correct moral compass. Think of India at independence. Should the British have stayed- forever- to prevent bloodshed and suffering in that country? I have asked my Indian friends this question and through looks of indignation they replied in the negative.

Certainly this latest reason to stay in Iraq is just a child's excuse to keep doing what the imperialists want to do. It should not be mistaken for adult conversation.

Having said that why is chaos and bloodshed caused by George Bush's invasion morally acceptable while chaos and bloodshed caused by regional powers is not?

Posted by: bellumregio on September 12, 2007 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

Somebody should reopen Interpretation: why wouldn't a caliphate be the catalyst?

It took a LOT of years for Christianity to evolve away from central authority to the separation, with some pain tossed in. It'd be nice if there were a better way.

I think there will be/is a civil war in Iraq, and it will end when the geography has been partitioned ad hoc or formally, and each side has "cleansed" the others. Our presence in Iraq is a dampener on that process, and because of that we control it. Too much dampening/presence and we delay the war's onset and eventual conclusion. Too little and the fire gets out of hand and outside players succumb to the pressure to intervene. Somewhere in between is the right amount, that lets the partition occur as rapidly as possible with as little violence as possible.

And as the partition occurs, it will slow as Shia run out of Sunnis to remove and vice versa. As it slows, we should be able to decrease the numbers of troops.

This suggests metrics that would measure how partitioned the country as, and when it is fully partitioned and the Arab world has its first Shia state, we're done.

Posted by: Swaggering Jingoistic RSM on September 12, 2007 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

Apropos of this and that:

Saudi Arabia, in military terms, is a paper tiger joke, albeit a well armed and supplied one. Come on, hardware by itself does not make an efffective military and Saudi Arabia is not militarily effective. Their best and most effective defences are their position as an oil supplier, money, guardianship of the holy places and effective diplomacy.

Nothing is going to change in the ME and the mess is going to remain a mess until you do something about Israel (currently enjoying immunity and impunity as an international bandit) and give the Palestinians something that matches the spirit and the obligations of the releevant UN resolutions.

Posted by: Deodand on September 12, 2007 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

As Fareed Zakariah noted on This Week with George Stephanopoulus... ethnic cleansing pretty much has already happened... while we were there.

So it may not be as bad as some predict.

Posted by: Clem on September 12, 2007 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

Oh please.... that old saw... "the POOR Palestinians..."

The Palestinians are despised by all the other arab nations, who are fully capable of fighting among themselves without Israel as an excuse.

Posted by: Clem on September 12, 2007 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

Charlie Brown, Iran won't invade Iraq because that would give the U.S. carte blanche to attack Iran, and you can be sure the Iranians know that.

Posted by: David W. on September 12, 2007 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin -- you miss the weakness of the Middle East in Flames theory. To the extent it adds anything to the civil war scenario, it does not posit that surrounding countries will meddle in the collapsing Iraq. Rather, it suggests that somehow war will spread to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, etc. There is no evidence for this. As you point out, for example, Iran isn't even going into Iraq -- it's certainly not going to attack Saudi Arabia, much less Turkey. And so on.

This is just the "mushroom cloud" of the latest of the Iraq War argument, an in terrorem claim with no evidentiary basis. Is suspect that this version is getting attention mainly because it is aimed at supporters of your unmentioned Middle East country, Israel.

Posted by: David in NY on September 12, 2007 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

I have to second these two comments about Iran's past territorial ambitions.

I also wanted to add a comment that the Turks are not the only countries worried about Kurdish autonomy: Iran and Syria both have Kurdish minorities, and probably do not want to see an autonomous Kurdish Iraq, for fear of internal destabilization.

Posted by: mitch on September 12, 2007 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Its remarkable that any discussion goes on that does not mention ISRAEL. Come on, its not hard to say or think about. Its interests\intentions are central to the future of the region and our future in the region.

Posted by: steve on September 12, 2007 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

The fear-mongerers above posit, at worst, I guess, a Turkish incursion into Kurdistan or a Saudi-Iranian War. Would this all be any worse to us than the Iranian-Iraqi War? I think not; we handled that one all right. And in this case both Saudis and Turks depend on us for aid.

Al, oddly enough, seems to fear that our leaving would lead to peace and an alliance between the Saudis and the Iranians. That's weird.

The sheer speculativeness of all this, and the speculations pointing in different directions, and the failure to point to any real damage to our interests, makes the MEIF seem insubstantial to me.

Posted by: David in NY on September 12, 2007 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

It's all a bunch of neo-Domino theory bullshit.

Anything we're going to do to prevent a regional conflagration and/or a mass genocide we can do without keeping troops on the ground. We have and will continue to have forces nearby. The small-scale ethnic cleansing will continue whether we are there or not. If they round up 5000 Sunnis in a field like the Serbs did, we can intervene from the air and land special forces if necessary.

Iraq is already fucked. Its a question of cutting our losses.

Posted by: Junius Brutus on September 12, 2007 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

It's an interesting albeit useless exercise which is a specialty here. The US isn't leaving anytime soon in large part because in order for Iraq to be a sovereign state, able to defend itself from the neighbors, they'd have to have better armament than AK-47s, mortars, a few heavy machine guns, T-72s donated by Hungary, traffic helicopters and PBRs. They'd need an air force, a navy, armor and artillery divisions of which they have basically none.

While there are perfectly good reasons for this, namely the weapons would be used on us, it doesn't change the fact that Iraq's territory can be overrun, as say, well, we did, but what then?

Perhaps what would take the place of such armament would be either a UN protectorate or a Middle East Treaty Organization with Iran/Iraq balanced by Saudi/Syria with Jordan, the Emirates etc.

That sort of regional involvement seems like the only way to try and balance the competing interests. Would a local treaty organization make sense? Could Shia and Sunni states coexist after what's been unleashed in Iraq?

Posted by: TJM on September 12, 2007 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

However, going in with guns blazing probably won't help them much in the long run, so it's unlikely they'll do it.

Yeah, who'd be crazy enough to do that?

Posted by: just sayin on September 12, 2007 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

"Could Shia and Sunni states coexist after what's been unleashed in Iraq?"

Sure, they long have. I think the acrimony between the two in Iraq is because the Shi'ite minority were long suppressed, not to say brutalized, by Saddam, and the Sunnis are afraid they're about to be repaid in kind. I think we're not able to mediate the tensions because nobody trusts us, we haven't been willing to deal with those with real power, we're armning all sides (see Anbar), and our government is full of idiots. But a regional organzition might be interesting, if the parties were willing (and the US would ignore Israel for a change). Unless you are, like Al, terrified of the new, terrorist-controlled Caliphate.

Posted by: David in NY on September 12, 2007 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

Of course I meant Shi'ite majority above.

Posted by: David in NY on September 12, 2007 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

My skepticism of the MEIF theory

I like how you always get us to using the new acronym right away

Posted by: Swan on September 12, 2007 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

"...On the other hand, why aren't we taking refugees?"

Crissa, you should ask Syria, who refuse to give DHS visas in order to PROCESS Iraqi refugees.

And nice comment about the "semmetic homes." Stay classy, Monthly readers.

Posted by: Kevin Sullivan on September 12, 2007 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

Euphemism alert: Red State Mike using the term "partition." What's the matter, Mike, "ethnic cleansing" set off your well-known cognitive dissonance again?

Jackass.

Posted by: Gregory on September 12, 2007 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Euphemism alert: Red State Mike using the term "partition." What's the matter, Mike, "ethnic cleansing" set off your well-known cognitive dissonance again?

Moron alert. I used the word "cleansed" in my post.

Jackass.
Posted by: Gregory

Moron

Posted by: Swaggering Jingoistic RSM on September 12, 2007 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

As others have noted, the question of whether Iran might directly involve itself in Iraq is a serious one. The Iran-Iraq war was about something, for Christ's sake, and it's pretty doubtful that it can all be chalked up to self defense on the part of the Iranians.

It's going to be especially hard for Iran to keep its nose out of Iraq if the Sunnis start to push the Shiites out of power in Iraq when the American forces leave.

Certainly one thing that will serve as a deterrent for Iran to involve itself directly in Iraq is the prospect of the US striking Iran if they choose to do so. However, the possibility of this happening would certainly go down if (when, really) a Democratic President takes over, because the decision to strike Iran would be deliberate, instead of kneejerk and automatic, and might in principle go either way. It's hard to say how the political and policy calculations will fall on this question both in Iran and the US.

It is, though, something that Democrats should anticipate and have an answer to -- we can certainly expect that Republicans would criticize Democrats severely if they did not punish Iran for any incursions into Iraq, or even for certain kinds of support of the Shiites in Iraq.

Posted by: frankly0 on September 12, 2007 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, indeedee do, we certainly handled the Iraq-Iran War well.

Loved the photo-op of RumDumb in Baghdad, shaking hands with Mr Democracy - Allowing arms to flow from the US and Europe to Iraq - Lots of winking and looking the other way - Plenty of cluster bombs for kidees to play with.

But, we did forge a very special relationship to Saddam - Kind of nice that he has allowed our Military Advisory Group personnel to help with the Iraqi military. Such wonderful comraderie. Even allows us to run our own PX system. Just love Iraqi-American fellowhip events.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 12, 2007 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

It's going to be especially hard for Iran to keep its nose out of Iraq if the Sunnis start to push the Shiites out of power in Iraq when the American forces leave.

I don't see that happening since the Shia are the majority, although they'll try.

And when that problem is resolved, then the fact that Iranians are Persians and Iraqis are Arabs will reintroduce itself. That source of tension will forever keep the two countries from being totally joined at the hip. The Shia in Southern Iraq can't even get along with themselves.

Posted by: Swaggering Jingoistic RSM Goon on September 12, 2007 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

I used the word "cleansed" in my post.

You didn't use ethnically cleansed, though, did you?

That's some outcome Bush has wasted all those American -- not to mention Iraqi -- lives on, there, Mike. Someone who still supports that feckless, incompetent team shouldn't be so quick to throw around the term "moron," even if your silly little tit-for-tat game is all you have to play.

You really should be ashamed of yourself, Mike. What's the matter with you?

Posted by: Gregory on September 12, 2007 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

I don't see that happening since the Shia are the majority, although they'll try.

They are a majority who were quite effectively dominated then suppressed under Saddam. Numbers per se don't mean a lot when it comes to military capabilities.

Posted by: frankly0 on September 12, 2007 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

I think the worry about oil fields being located within an area that's de facto not a functioning sovereign state isn't really substantial. We've been accepting oil from factions within nations at civil war and regimes we're unfriendly to for years. So long as the oil can find a way out (I'm sure we'd be happy to patrol a path by air) I don't think it matters to us who gains control of it, and someone will gain control. The oil isn't really useful to whoever gets it unless they can sell it at a reasonable price. Iraq doesn't have the last oil fields in the world yet.

I think the whole rationale for the middle-east base for the Iraq hawks was just a general regional strategy thing (a just-in-case measure for if a single power begins out-distancing the others in the region by far, or if little powers unite toward this end, whatever-- really not too realistic scenarios) and for the psychological/glory aspect of it. Not so much a direct nexus to protecting crucial oil fields being in peril.

Posted by: Swan on September 12, 2007 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

the "Middle East In Flames" theory).

Also known as the "Domino" theory - a theory proven completely wrong about 30 years ago. Can't our serious foreign policy "experts" learn from history?

Shouldn't someone have thought about this BEFORE invasion?

Posted by: ckelly on September 12, 2007 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

The oil isn't really useful to whoever gets it unless they can sell it at a reasonable price.

Therefore we don't have to worry about getting stuck-up by some upstart who's got no other card to play and who gets control of the oil.

Posted by: Swan on September 12, 2007 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

"we certainly handled the Iraq-Iran War well"

In the context of it not spreading to other countries, yes, though that may have been pure accident, not the result of the diplomatic "skill" of the Reagan folk. That war certainly suggests that even if the fearful ones are right, and there's another ME war of some kind, it needn't affect our interests. I did not mean to suggest, thethirdPaul, that our various ploys -- helping Saddam, arms to Iran, and all -- were well handled, just that we didn't turn it into a region-wide debacle of the kind that's being posited by the right. As far as US interests went that war was basically neutral, and would have been completely neutral if we'd had even less to do with it.

Posted by: David in NY on September 12, 2007 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

psychological/glory aspect of it.

For their own psychological gratification ("Whoo! I'm playing war! In real life! Neato!"), and not for the propaganda quality to it, that is.

Posted by: Swan on September 12, 2007 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Col. Pat Lang:

    In my opinion a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, abandoning the protean mess that is the Iraqi government would result in such a disastrous situation that we can not afford to do that.

    Some of the consequences?

    - A rump state of Iraq in the south in which whichever Shia faction wins will become a satellite of the Iranian government. That government, if not dealt with through a prolonged and aggressive combination of diplomacy and potential military force will continue to act as a major sponsor of Islamic zealot movements and their terrorist manifestations. Iran will also take up a major role as arbiter of alignments and activity in the region.

    - Kurdistan will become one of the saddest of experiments in national popular sovereignty that I know of. Would Turkey and Iran continue to tolerate the Kurdish aspiration to achieving something as close to independence as they can manage? I doubt it.

    - Would the wide variety of Sunni Arab groups that are revolting against the takfiri jihadis coalesce into a integrated part of a renewed Iraq? Probably not, and among all the little de facto city states, sheikhdoms, etc, the surreptitious support and participation of the Sunni "neighbors" would continue. This means continued war indefinitely in Sunnistan.

    - Would the jihadis find a way to re-establish themselves somewhere in Sunnistan? Probably.

Posted by: wwz on September 12, 2007 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

You really should be ashamed of yourself, Mike. What's the matter with you?

Not enough time getting spanked here and at Greenwald's yesterday? Wants more? Hell, who can tell?

Posted by: shortstop on September 12, 2007 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

GREGORY WROTE
You didn't use ethnically cleansed, though, did you?

AHAHAHAHA! Did you think I meant they bathed? God what a moron. You are mind-bogglingly stupid with absolutely nothing useful to say on any topic. The good news is you know it, and so spend your days following me around like a pet donkey.

They are a majority who were quite effectively dominated then suppressed under Saddam. Numbers per se don't mean a lot when it comes to military capabilities.
Posted by: frankly0

If you look at history of Iraq, the Sunnis were basically installed by the British when the Brits had conquered Iraq and decided it was time to go. That's what allowed them to ride herd on the Shia. I doubt extremely they could have done it themselves or can do it now.

Posted by: Swaggering Jingoistic RSM on September 12, 2007 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

...and at Greenwald's yesterday?

Eh?

Posted by: SJRSM on September 12, 2007 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

I think we're not able to mediate the tensions because nobody trusts us, we haven't been willing to deal with those with real power, we're armning all sides (see Anbar), and our government is full of idiots.
Posted by: David in NY on September 12, 2007 at 10:54 AM
---
Best argument I've seen yet why we *shouldn't* be the self-appointed world policeman. We are basically just fuck ups with too much money to burn to know better.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on September 12, 2007 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, pay some attention -- any attention -- to what Israel just did in Syria (amazing how the so-called liberal blogosphere is always so utterly silent when it comes to Israel), and you may gather an inkling of which way the wind is blowing.

Posted by: Disputo on September 12, 2007 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

For the life of me, I can't see anything about the U.S. staying in Iraq that changes one thing about Col. Lang's analysis of the situation. Even the part about the jihadis coming back to "Sunnistan" could well come true if the Sunnis in Anbar decide they'd like to have them do hits on Americans there.

Posted by: David W. on September 12, 2007 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

If you look at history of Iraq, the Sunnis were basically installed by the British when the Brits had conquered Iraq and decided it was time to go. That's what allowed them to ride herd on the Shia. I doubt extremely they could have done it themselves or can do it now.

The Shiites did have a significant window of opportunity to claim some territory for themselves after the first Gulf War. Their rebellion was quickly put down and ended in fiasco. While they are no doubt better armed and organized now than they were then, I very much doubt that they have any effectively trained military leaders. The Sunnis, however, have such leaders in spades. Military power is more based on leadership and mastery than it is on bare numbers, especially when the difference in numbers is well less than an order of magnitude.

Personally, I predict that when the US leaves, the Sunnis will regain power, and likely with very surprising speed.

Posted by: frankly0 on September 12, 2007 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

Those who advocate continuing the occupation of a sovereign nation should stand trial shortly after those who advocated the occupation in the first place.

Recommending occupying another nation for an indeterminate amount of time is no less a crime than the original crime itself.

It is not our responsibility to end the Sunni/Shia schism. And although America is guilty of a horrendous war crime in the initial invasion and occupation of Iraq, it can not seriously believe that it can negate this crime by the continuing occupation of the country, can it?

The idea that America, being resposible for massive deaths of Iraqis, will somehow reverse the situation through the continuation of the same policy is crazy.

Yes, I've been against this war from the beginning. But my biggest disappointment is that those who claim to also be against the war continue to advocate criminal activity on the part of the U.S. government. It tells me that large segment of the American population has learned nothing from this experience and is doomed to repeat it.

Posted by: Dicksknee on September 12, 2007 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

frankly0, what enabled the Sunnis to dominate the Shia was having an army & air force capable of quelling the majority at their leader's disposal. That they no longer have and the Shia are certainly doing all they can in to arm themselves and put themselves in a better position to defend their part of Iraq.

Posted by: David W. on September 12, 2007 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

throw this into the discussion:

Kurdistan Regional Government Signs Oil and Gas Contract with US Based Hunt Oil Company
http://sev.prnewswire.com/oil-energy/20070908/CLSA00608092007-1.html

Posted by: peg on September 12, 2007 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

Swan,

Having listened for hours to talk radio, when it was still civilized, can still recall the many conversations between Michael Jackson of KABC in LA and an erudite conservative gentleman. Long discussion about the potential domino effect in Southeast Asia - This thread is based on the neo-cons "domino" effect of spreading war throughout the region.

And, the neo-cons have sat for hours on Uncle Kissinger's lap drooling over hardened bases in the Middle East - Kissinger was furious following the oil embargo in the 70s that we did not control the flow of oil and that we were subject to the will of others. He wanted us to invade in the 70s and establish forward bases.

This meddling, ala the Geo-Politik views ot Kissinger, is what can lead to well intentioned, supposedly well reasoned, aid to one side in a conflict to grow into a nightmare. Eisenhower chose the side of the French in Viet Nam. Kennedy, not wanting to back down against the Communists and look weak, escalated the operation. Johnson, not wishing to look weak against Bobby Kennedy, upped the ante.

We chose sides in Beirut in the early 80s - We chose sides in the Iraqi-Iranian war, and tried to also play a little footsy with Iran, to boot. Now, we reap the whirlwind of our actions. Let us not be isolationists, but, be very aware of the dangers of meddling in Geo-Politics.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 12, 2007 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

I wrote: For their own psychological gratification ("Whoo! I'm playing war! In real life! Neato!"), and not for the propaganda quality to it, that is.

No offense to anybody who takes pleasure in war video games, which I think are fun, interesting, and probably good for teaching history. I'm just saying, if I'm playing a video game, I would take pleasure in it in a Calvin-from-Calvin and Hobbes type way that wouldn't come into play if I was actually someone planning military policy, or a military commander. If I was actually a military commander, I would take what I was doing seriously, and see it as a professional enterprise, and even consciously try to limit the effect of my psychological needs/idiosyncracies on the decisions I made (and that's despite what my professional peers may act like).

Posted by: Swan on September 12, 2007 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

David W,

I'm sure having an army and air force at their disposal made the job far, far easier for the Sunnis under Saddam.

But my basic point remains: bare numbers mean very little in a military battle. Discipline, mastery, and leadership are far more decisive. The Shia represent 60 to 65 percent of the Muslim population in Iraq, and the Sunnis between 35 and 40 percent. That is NOT an impressively large difference -- from a military point of view, I'd think it is by itself quite trivial in the face of other factors.

People seem to imagine that military dominance is like a democracy in which the bigger number wins. It isn't.

Posted by: frankly0 on September 12, 2007 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

frankly0, your basic point is bogus unless you can point to something the Sunnis actually have that would be as decisive as you claim. Tanks? Nope. Helicopter gunships? Nope. Artillery? Nope.

The Confederacy thought that their generals and fighting spirit would enable them to beat the superior numbers of the Union, but they were wrong. You can't beat something with nothing and I don't see how the Sunnis are going to dislodge the Shia anytime soon without something in their hands other than AK-47s and IEDs.

Posted by: David W. on September 12, 2007 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK
I do believe that the Iraq civil war itself would likely get worse if we leave

I believe the Iraq civil war will get worse as times moves forward, irrespective of whether we leave or stay. I don't see a lot of reason to believe that our presence is reducing conflict between the factions in Iraq such that the increase in violence over time is particularly likely to be worse if we withdraw than if we stay.

but I don't believe this would necessarily lead to a broadening of the war to the entire region (the "Middle East In Flames" theory).

Interesting concept. I think I'm on the other side, believing the worsening Iraq civil war is pretty likely to lead to a broader war in the Middle East, but that there isn't a whole lot of rational basis to believe that that's going to be accelerated more by us leaving than by us staying on in Iraq.

The four neighbors that are most likely to get involved in a wider war are Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan, and Syria.

I'd take Jordan off the list and add Turkey; Jordan only gets involved in the unlikely event that someone else makes them a target (that's true of Turkey, but Kurdish groups have already made them a target.)

Heck, Turkey's gotten directly involved intermittently while we've been in Iraq, from very early on, the idea that they wouldn't without the constraints imposed by a large active US presence is optimistic fantasy.

Basically, I consider Saudi Arabia a paper tiger. They're militarily incompetent and will never get directly involved in Iraq, no matter how much the local Wahhabi imams rant about the persecution of Iraq's Sunni minority.

The Saudi regime doesn't care, true, about the persecution of Iraq's Sunni minority on humanitarian grounds, and isn't going to jump in on that basis. OTOH, Saudi Arabia has historically been rather vitally concerned about Iranian regional influence, and willing to pay virtually any price to curb it; hence their funding of Saddam's war against Iran. They also are rather concerned with domestic Sunni extremists which might otherwise become religiously-motivated critics of the decadent domestic monarchy other outlets: in the event of a spiralling civil war in Iraq, funding the Sunni side and/or direct intervention serves both interests.

Iran is more competent, but over the past 30 years they've never displayed any territorial ambitions.

If territorial ambitions were the only reasons states went to war, that observation might even be relevant; as it is, not so much...

They prefer working through proxies. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran may provide some modest funding for their "side," but probably not much more.

Even if it starts out that way, once two powers start funding and supplying sides in the same conflict, it becomes tempting for each to attempt to interdict the funding and supply from the other. That can easily result in direct confrontation that neither side particularly sought.

Syria is harder to predict, but they've got plenty of problems on their plate already. Besides, they've been making fairly consistently conciliatory noises lately, and as Eric Umansky reminds us, they actively tried to cooperate with us in the early days of the Iraq war until Donald Rumsfeld put the kibosh on them.

And they have a much longer history, both before and after that, and active discussion oriented toward collaboration with both Iran and Turkey where containment of the Kurds is concerned. That would seem to be more relevant than any abortive overtures toward cooperation with the US.

Posted by: cmdicely on September 12, 2007 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

How true, franklyO

Posted by: Moctezuma on September 12, 2007 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

A very interesting analysis, Mr. Drum. You have given me reasons to hope that the destablization caused by the US invasion might not be as great as I have imagined

Very interesting that you would do an analysis from a full blown military war, that is very American thinking, and not reality based. (Same mistake that the Neocons are accused of when they went into Iraq) Do you not think it possible that the meltdown would be more along the line of Lebanon, or Palestine? Iran and Saudi would fight a proxy war in Iraq with no end. (If Palestine is not a full blown Civil War I don't know what to call it) As usual after Arab/Persian killing Arabs and Persians in Iraq for year, the mullahs would surely deteremine who is to blame -Israel! This would turn into attacks against Israel, which would either have to perish, or fight back. Oh yea, and the brillant analysis that the US influence/ or promises will mean anything in Kurdistan after leaving them hanging. Kurds won't worry about independence, they will be pulled into the region wide Sunni/Shia Civil war. Kurds will fall to radicals which would then start attacking secular Turkey.
Of course the alternative is that Syria, Jordan, Iran and Saudi take away all liberties gained in the last years and go back to total crack down on the people, you get to keep the oil flow you had for the previous 50 years, and ignore the suffering of the Arabs/Persian people. We can march in the streets condeming Isreal (Should make you feel good about ignoring the Syria/Saudi/Iranian torture cells. like we did in th 70s, 80s and 90s) Then we can get back to the good old days, of the US/West getting blamed for abandoning the Arabs, and we just have to put up with an embassy bombing, ships attacked in harbors, train bombings and little things like that.
This analysis is picking a scenario that meets the result that you want to achieve. Pull out and only good (or at least nothing bad) will happen.
If you acknowledge that my scenario could possibly happen, is this acceptable to you? Do you believe Gaza better under Hammas denying all civil rights and executing dissidents, homosexuals, etc. ?

Posted by: Sinop85 on September 12, 2007 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Do you not think it possible that the meltdown would be more along the line of Lebanon, or Palestine?

Which didn't result in either case in a regional conflagration, so your point actually supports Kevin Drum's skepticism about the claims of dire consequences following after a U.S. pull-out from Iraq.

Posted by: David W. on September 12, 2007 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

MFB wrote: "Isn't 'The Middle East Will Dissolve Into Chaos' code for 'We Won't Control Their Oil Any More'?"

Of course it is. Control of the vast oil reserves of the Middle East has been the entire focus of US policy towards the region for at least fifty years and is indeed the only reason that any of the world's "great powers" have the slightest interest in the region.

PTate wrote: "It is always hard to ignore the oil wars angle of this ..."

It can't be that hard. Kevin consistently ignores it.


Posted by: SecularAnimist on September 12, 2007 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

the thirdPaul, thanks for the subtle reminder about the '70s oil crisis. This one shouldn't take anyone more than five minutes to figure out- whoever takes control of Iraq's oil is going to have the clout, the willingness, or the influence on the global oil market to put us through the wringer like we were put in the '70s. It could be as simple as us threatening to turn off the supply of AK-47s or dropping one or two bombs that solves things.

This is similar to a broader point I'd like to add to Kevin's whole analysis, which is that Armageddon is not going to materialize in the ME overnight, and we'll have a lot of ability along the way to influence things. Even if big problems turn up, they're going to be relatively small big problems at first, that can be killed in the cradle. There's just not enough momentum for anything big to happen in the ME right now such that huge problem, insoluble except for our having kept a military presence in the ME, is going to show up. Anything that happens, we can stop along the way.

Posted by: Swan on September 12, 2007 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

The Iran-Iraq war was about something, for Christ's sake, and it's pretty doubtful that it can all be chalked up to self defense on the part of the Iranians.

Of course not. That nice Saddam was just minding his business, and the scary moolahs made him invade. But then he was our guy, so it was OK.

typical ignorant iran-bashing. the house of saud must love you.

Posted by: benjoya on September 12, 2007 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

Jordan and Syria? Those two countries are pounded by refugees - they have no economic wherewithal to engage in any aggressive military action.

Saudi Arabia has the best army that money can buy: The US Army. In most scenarios it can only be used for defense.

Part of Iran's unity stems from them facing an implacable external enemy, the U.S. If we started sensible diplomatic moves, they would start to move out of their defensive shell. The Europeans recognize this.

Posted by: McDruid on September 12, 2007 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

The Sunni Iraqis have no love for the Saudi salafists. They make up half of the AQ wannabes in Iraq and we've already seen how that plays out when they try to run things. My guess is the same would go for the Shia and Iranians.

Correct me if I'm wrong but Turkey is the major customer for the Kurd's oil. Neither side wants to jeopardize that relationship. I think Turkish saber rattling at Kurdistan has more to do with internal Turkish politics than any real desire to go to war. The Iraqi Kurds would be nuts to jeopardize their sweet deal by antagonizing the Turks.

But say Kevin's wrong and they all jump in? I wrote about this in January:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/1/19/133610/922

and again in March:

http://www.tpmcafe.com/blog/markg8/2007/mar/08/the_george_costanza_theory

Posted by: markg8 on September 12, 2007 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist is correct - Offspring of Arabian horses comes in a very distant second. There must be a third somewhere.

Posted by: stupid git on September 12, 2007 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin -- Could you let a couple of strawmen off at the next blogstop?

You characterize "MEIF" adherents as claiming that regional chaos will "inevitably" and "necessarily" follow rapid US withdrawal.

As far as I know, nobody claims this degree of certainty, and it's not germane to the argument. Why pretend?

Uncontained chaos is a valid strategic consideration whether the subjective likelihood is 100%, or 50%, or 10%, whether the geographic range is 3 nations or 30 nations, and whether the death toll is order-of-magnitude 10^6 or order-of-magnitude 10^9.

Tangentially, I suspect your treatment here reprises some of your errors in pre-war analysis.

Posted by: RonK, Seattle on September 12, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

As far as I know, nobody claims this degree of certainty, and it's not germane to the argument. Why pretend?

Uncontained chaos is a valid strategic consideration whether the subjective likelihood is 100%, or 50%, or 10%

When the jokes just write themselves, it's time to give it a rest RonK. I find it hilarious for you to say that no one claims chaos is a certainty and then immediately go on to make a 1% Cheney-esque chaos hawk point about even a 10% chance being a valid consideration.

Posted by: David W. on September 12, 2007 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin -- Could you let a couple of strawmen off at the next blogstop?

You characterize "MEIF" adherents as claiming that regional chaos will "inevitably" and "necessarily" follow rapid US withdrawal.

As far as I know, nobody claims this degree of certainty, and it's not germane to the argument. Why pretend?

Uncontained chaos is a valid strategic consideration whether the subjective likelihood is 100%, or 50%, or 10%, whether the geographic range is 3 nations or 30 nations, and whether the death toll is order-of-magnitude 10^6 or order-of-magnitude 10^9.

Tangentially, I suspect your treatment here reprises some of your errors in pre-war analysis.

Posted by: RonK, Seattle on September 12, 2007 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

Since I spent 5 weeks this summer in Turkey, reading Turkish newspapers and talking to Turks and Kurds, I actually think I might have some clue here (unlike any of my ramblings about Jordan, Syria, SA, and Iran).

Turkey, who already has a few thousand troops over the border, mostly talks about targeted strikes against known PKK bases in the mountains. There is no talk of any kind of occupation.

This, of course, should be no surprise. Any objective look at the last couple of decades in the area will quickly lead to the realization that occupation is a fool's game. Russia, despite their manpower, brutality and short logistics, couldn't keep Afghanistan, and the US, with its technical superiority and prime military, can't hold Iraq (or Afghanistan). There is little reason to suppose that Turkey would be successful at invading a U.S. armed and Israeli advised Kurdistan.

There also does not seem to be the political will or popular support in Turkey for such an action.

Removing the US from the area will stop the flow of weapons to the PKK and pressure the government of land-locked Kurdistan to get on friendly terms with its neighbors. (Which country would they want their pipeline to go through?)

As I mentioned in some other thread, there is no political upside for the government of Kurdistan to attempt to annex Eastern Anatolia.

The Kurds of Turkey, by the way, regard the Kurdistan Kurds as wankers. There does not really seem to be much popular support for joining Kurdistan. The Kurdish civil war in Turkey's Southeast in the 1980's was underwritten by an expansionist Soviet government, that factor is no longer there.

Bonus rumor: It is much-believed in Turkey that the only reason they haven't gone in and bombed PKK camps in Kurdistan is because the U.S. paid them a Billion dollars not to.

Posted by: mcdruid on September 12, 2007 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

I'll have to penalize myself 2 points for misuse of commas.

Posted by: mcdruid on September 12, 2007 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

a few genuine regional experts

All American genuine regional experts will agree that the only thing the people, in whatever region any American military/foreign policy is invlolved with, understand is overwhelming force. The use of overwhelming force is the only thing they, the American genuine regional experts and Bernard Lewis, understand.

Asking American genuine regional experts their opinion is an invitation for more war against the weak.

Posted by: Brojo on September 12, 2007 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

Following up on my 12:07 post, if I was a high-up American military commander, I'd prefer to have some kind of at least quasi-permanent base somewhere in the region. But there is no reason why it has to be in Iraq. Also, I don't think it's necessary to have base, just preferable, and I wouldn't stand on having one or having one in a particular place if some better economic/political advantage could be gained by not having it. It's convenient if something breaks out, because the region is unstable and has allies/enemies in it, but no more than that.

Posted by: Swan on September 12, 2007 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Removing the US from the area will stop the flow of weapons to the PKK and pressure the government of land-locked Kurdistan to get on friendly terms with its neighbors. (Which country would they want their pipeline to go through?)
Posted by: mcdruid on September 12, 2007 at 12:32 PM
---
Someone posted a link here months ago to a Kurdish webpage (I think it was Blue Girl), where they went on in detail about what their aims were in Iraq. One of the things they were mentioning was the "demand" that the Shia allow them a "corridor" to the Persian Gulf. Whether they were needing it for oil or not I'm not sure, but I am a bit skeptical they would want their only oil transit to go through Turkey. This would give the Turks a powerful lever they could use to cut-off the Kurds source of cash should the Kurdish government fail to curtail the PKK or some other issue comes up.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on September 12, 2007 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

"Bush says "it'll be the new killing fields" only it already IS the new killing fields."

No it isn't. It is awful, but nowhere near that awful. The new killing fields are in Africa. Iraq is still years of chaos from the whole peasant army thing being plausible.

I think bush would have to work pretty hard to get another Cambodia out of Iraq (or Iran). I believe that widespread starvation on top of civil war is a necessary precondition. Luckily Bush isn't big on hard work.

Posted by: jefff on September 12, 2007 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia have illegitimate governments that their people will not fight foreign wars for. If chaos should engulf the region, revolutions toppling the ruling regimes in all three of these countries would be good for their people, if they can throw off the yoke of royalty and dictatorship like Iran did. If American genuine regional experts fear regional chaos in the Middle East, it is the loss of client states to popular rule that they really fear. If the US cannot count on Saudi princes and a boy king in Jordan to support US regional hegemony, that is considered chaos. Of course, American GRE's were not too concerned with the chaos of removing Saddam Hussein, so any cries of chaos coming from them now must be considered a cover up for something else, which is more military intervention.

Posted by: Brojo on September 12, 2007 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

re: the middle-east in flames

some things to keep in mind:

1) leaving iraq militarily is not the same as leaving iraq (or the middle east) diplomatically or economically.

2) unlike our right-wing and its american president, most national leaders, including those in iran, syria, turkey, jordan, and saudi arabia) consider war an event to be strenuously avoided (ironically, like george bush and some recent israeli PM's, saddam hussein was an exception to this rule),

3) much of what happens with oil in the world has depended on and will continue to depend on diplomatic and business agreements, not military force. we can only completely control iraqi oil flow over the long run by occupying the country indefinitely and acting against the will of the iraqi nation (or nations).

4) the most destabilizing nation in the middle east right now is israel. and that has been the case for decades. the american invasion of iraq was driven by, supported by, and even managed by passionate american zionists.

4) there has been and will be a lot of america-bashing, tiger-tail pulling throughout the region for decades, and why not? but, as with the iranian nuclear thumbing-the-nose, that's just for public display. the smaller our public presence in the middle-east the less attention we draw and the better for us and our plans

5) because of the mutual need for oil and the severely tightening world supply, i would be astonished if any nation (other than the u.s., of course) would expect to or try to exercise sole control over iraqi oil.

6) the opportunities for international collaboration regarding both iraq the nation and iraqi oil are a wonderful upside of the present dismal circumstance. it is easy to imagine a well-intentioned american president working quietly and cooperatively with both regional "caucuses" and with larger european-asian "caucuses" to stabilize politics and oil supply,

7)it is embarrassing to me to see american leaders acting as if we were the "great-white-hope" for this benighted part of the world, with a god-sanctioned obligation to bring peace and democracy to our little brown brothers of the sand.

how is it we rate so highly our "ability" to control events in the middle-east when

a) we have been meddling there since the 1940's without success, and

b) there just happen to be highly competent political leaders, diplomats, and businessmen in nations not named the united states of america.

Posted by: orionATL on September 12, 2007 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

It's interesting that you mention Iran working through proxies. That's very true. It is also apparent that Saudi Arabia also works through proxies, though more like the "Wizard" behind the curtain. Their proxy is the Bush family and they do not have to work on such a pedestrian level as Iran.

Posted by: Doctor D on September 12, 2007 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK
The Shiites did have a significant window of opportunity to claim some territory for themselves after the first Gulf War. Their rebellion was quickly put down and ended in fiasco. While they are no doubt better armed and organized now than they were then, I very much doubt that they have any effectively trained military leaders. The Sunnis, however, have such leaders in spades.

So do the Kurds, and (unlike the Arab Sunnis) those leaders have well-armed, well-equipped forces at their disposal. While they may have no particular affection for the Arab Shi'a, the Kurds certainly have strong reasons not to see a resurgences of of the dominance of the Arab Sunnis over Iraq. And the Kurds have a strong incentive (despite their desire for autonomy) for Iraq to survive, since it increase their ability to trade other than through Turkey, Syria, and Iran, none of whom are particularly friendly to the idea of a Kurdish entity.

Posted by: cmdicely on September 12, 2007 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia have illegitimate governments that their people will not fight foreign wars for. If chaos should engulf the region, revolutions toppling the ruling regimes in all three of these countries would be good for their people, if they can throw off the yoke of royalty and dictatorship like Iran did.

I'm surprised no one mentioned this before, the idea that chaos comes to the Saudis rather than the Saudis bringing it to Iraq. Ditto for the other countries. Shia minorities in other countries may well become emboldened. Assuming Iraq gets partitioned, if they can sustain any sort of democracy at least within the partitions, however so sloppy and corrupt they are, that puts them light years ahead of their surrounding countries. Including Iran, which is a Mullacracy right now.

Posted by: SJRSM on September 12, 2007 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Did you think I meant they bathed?

No, Mike, I think that you didn't have the courage to confront the mess that Bush has made in Iraq with your full support, and so you cowardly ducked using the full term.

It's nice to see you're still too much of a coward to look at the blood -- American and Iraqi -- on your hands, tool.

Come on, Mike, prove me wrong. Admit here, publicly, that Iraq is in the throes of a full-scale, bloody ethnic cleansing thanks to the incompetent and feckless policies of the Administration you still support. Tell us that yes, Bush has inflcited a humanitarian disaster on Iraq at an untold cost of American lives and treasure, while you cheered them on.

Face it; you can't exactly lose any more credibility than you already have. It's just a pity that your honor is so far beyond redemption.

Posted by: Gregory on September 12, 2007 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK
Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia have illegitimate governments that their people will not fight foreign wars for.

Saddam's Iraq had an equally illegitimate government but was able to get enough of his people to fight to manage a nearly decade-long war with Iran plus the invasion and occupation of Kuwait. People will often fight for an illegitimate government if its perceived to be less immediately dangerous than defying it and those are the practical options.

If chaos should engulf the region, revolutions toppling the ruling regimes in all three of these countries would be good for their people, if they can throw off the yoke of royalty and dictatorship like Iran did.

Granting that position, arguendo, such revolutions could still be bad for the people if instead they ended up with more brutally authoritarian regimes, as many revolutionary movements with popular, democratic rhetoric turn out to when they take power.

Posted by: cmdicely on September 12, 2007 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

David W,

Look, both the Union and the Confederacy had any number of military leaders who were fully trained and disciplined for war. In fact, the Confederacy put up a remarkably good fight considering their inferior numbers and, most especially, their far less effective industrial machine.

The Confederacy had a force of 1,064,000, the Union a force of 2,200,000. The overall population of the Confederacy, excluding slaves, was 5.5M, and of the Union 22M -- four times as many. The Confederacy fought the Union to a standstill for a good number of years. It's hard to see in this any corroboration for your notion that the numerical advantage of the Shiites over the Sunni -- a bit less than 2 to 1 -- is likely to determine the outcome.

But, as I said, the Union clearly had highly trained military men who ran their war effort. Who are the Shia military leaders with true experience at war, and who have been trained over decades? They basically don't exist. All of the people trained for such things in Iraq are Sunnis, so far as I know.

And it's not just a matter of who owns which equipment -- though I suspect that the Sunnis have stashed away a lot of effective ordnance (whence the IEDs). It's a question of who knows how to use that equipment most effectively.

Again, I simply predict that the Sunnis will in fact prevail. I of course can be wrong about this, not least because their may be other factors that intrude, including the Shiites being given superior weaponry or other kinds of support to compensate for their deficiencies.

But my prediction is very likely to be tested, since we will in fact leave Iraq within a couple of years. We will see which side dominates.

Posted by: frankly0 on September 12, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

While they may have no particular affection for the Arab Shi'a, the Kurds certainly have strong reasons not to see a resurgences of of the dominance of the Arab Sunnis over Iraq.

My strong impression of the Kurds is that they simply want their own region of Iraq, and have little direct interest in the rest of Iraq.

My guess is that they will not much engage in any civil war between the Shiites and the Sunnis. The Sunnis, for their part, will probably simply avoid any confrontation with the Kurds until they have once again dominated the rest of the Iraq. When that happens, though, it's anybody's guess what will ensue.

Posted by: frankly0 on September 12, 2007 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

frankly0, I think the Sunnis are in the position of having to conduct a revolution and overthrow the Shia now. And I can't think of too many revolutions that didn't have an outside benefactor (France for us, USSR for the NVA, etc.) Who would it be? And would some outside benefactor (Iran) immediately act to offset?

But my prediction is very likely to be tested, since we will in fact leave Iraq within a couple of years. We will see which side dominates.

That we shall.

Posted by: SJRSM on September 12, 2007 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

frankly0, I think the Sunnis are in the position of having to conduct a revolution and overthrow the Shia now.

I really don't think that's accurate. There does not exist a stable government and military in Iraq currently dominated by the Shiites. In fact, that government is little more than a puppet government held up only by the presence of US forces. Remove the forces, and it will likely fall as readily as did the South Vietnamese government when the US left. When we leave, it will simply be pure instability, with one side, the Sunnis, pitted against the other, the Shiites. It will be chaos, and the more effective fighting force will win.

Posted by: frankly0 on September 12, 2007 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Saddam's Iraq had an equally illegitimate government but was able to get enough of his people to fight

Saddam was a Baathist. The Baathists had already removed Iraqi's illegitimate rulers and established themselves as popular representatives. It is true Saddam delegitmized the Baathists, as did that guy in Syria, but I would ask you to reconsider Saddam convincing his people to fight effectively. Iraqis went to the borders, filled the trenches and died, but I do not recall that they won any war(s) for Saddam. I think the Jordanians, Syrians and Saudis would lose any war their rulers pushed them into, just like the Iraqis did for Saddam.

Authoritarian regimes do tend to arise after revolutions, it is true. But to say they are worse than what preceded them is not necessarily correct. Revolutionary authortitarian regimes certainly make life bad for political discourse, but they tend to increase healthcare, literacy and national determination. Iraq's pre-US invasion society was made one of the most educated and secular in the region by the authoritarian Baathists. The ruling authoritarian mullahs of Iran, are the most democratic rulers in the ME.

Posted by: Brojo on September 12, 2007 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

There is no way to predict the outcome of sectarian violence in Iraq. It is wrong to think of the conflicts in Iraq as struggles for outright domination. The Sunnis are fighting for relevance in a Shiite-dominated country and the Kurds have their autonomy. There are armed political struggles within the factions for relevance and/or domination (eg some secular Sunnis are trying to knock out the fundamentalist Sunni militias).

There is nothing that says this will end in outright defeat. More than likely it will be a war of attrition that will go on for many years. It will be more like Lebanon than Vietnam. If they are lucky it will be like the partitioning of India.

There is no evidence whatsoever that Iran, or any other neighbors of Iraq-with the exception of Turkey, want to invade the country. This is just part of the evil-Iran-menace narrative that has been spun out of thin air by the neocons.

Posted by: bellumregio on September 12, 2007 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,
A careful and realistic analysis states that the Iraq civil war will remain fairly consistent as it is right now till one of two things occur which the latter result is dependent on the outcome of the former result:
1) Outside supply lines increase manpower and armaments to achieve desired end state.

2) The desired result is not being achieved (i.e. locals are incapble of bringing about desired end state) which draws in outside players with primary forces to conclude/achieve end state ambitions.

Thus, it's reasonable to conclude that the Iraq civil war is tangential to the main concern which is this: Which of the outside players end state ambitions will be achieved?

That is why I think the US/Bush/Cheney/Oil companies refuse to leave Iraq because there is no garauntee of who is going to come out on top, and that scares Western Oil moguls.

Posted by: sheerahkahn on September 12, 2007 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

It is wrong to think of the conflicts in Iraq as struggles for outright domination.

Personally, I think that a major mistake people make in thinking about the civil war to come is to imagine that outright domination is NOT on the minds of the Sunnis.

They fully dominated Iraq for many decades until Saddam was deposed. They controlled the military, industry, oil, finances, and government in Iraq. You're suggesting that they will simply turn their backs on that history. I can't think of any good reason to believe that they will.

Posted by: frankly0 on September 12, 2007 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

One of the things they were mentioning was the "demand" that the Shia allow them a "corridor" to the Persian Gulf. Whether they were needing it for oil or not I'm not sure, but I am a bit skeptical they would want their only oil transit to go through Turkey.

Actually, no, it's for beach access. This same issue comes up all the time in the Hamptons and the Vineyard.

Posted by: Stefan on September 12, 2007 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Here's a report from TPM on a recent poll of Iraqis:

First, overall 57% of Iraqis think attacks on US troops are acceptable. 92% of Sunnis believe that. Second, 62% of Iraqis support a unitary, as opposed to a decentralized state. But 97% of Sunnis believe that. Third, 33% of Iraqis support the Maliki government. (Not great, but about Bush levels.) But only 2% of Sunnis support the Maliki government. 98% oppose it.

Now, I ask, how likely do you think it is that the Sunnis, with such remarkable unanimity, are only seeking to play their proper role in a unified Iraq government? Isn't it a thousand times more plausible psychologically that what they really are yearning for is the Iraq of yesteryear in which they enjoyed the full perks of power?

Of course, it would be nice if the pollsters might ask questions that would get at that very sentiment. You might think it would be real useful for us to know that -- you know, for adjusting our expectations.

Posted by: frankly0 on September 12, 2007 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

This argument has been the "missing piece". It seems that no countering argument has been forthcoming and the warhawks have been successful in detering any positive steps to be taken in the Middle East. Who are these "experts" who know so much more than the rest of us? Are they the same guys who got us into this mess? I'm pretty sure they are. Let's keep this topic going and ask that question and more about the future of the US in the Middle East.

Posted by: fillphil on September 12, 2007 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

This argument has been the "missing piece". It seems that no countering argument has been forthcoming and the warhawks have been successful in detering any positive steps to be taken in the Middle East.

Actually I've seen it bandied about quite a bit these days within the strategy circles. Thomas Barnett is a good starting point, as he links to others who think similarly.

http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/weblog/

Posted by: Swaggering JRSM on September 12, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

***

Posted by: mhr on September 12, 2007 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, no, it's for beach access. This same issue comes up all the time in the Hamptons and the Vineyard.
Posted by: Stefan

Fair trade. The Kurds have the ski areas.

Posted by: SJRSM on September 12, 2007 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

Ambitions will be calibrated to reality. Some Sunnis may dream of a return to the golden age of Stalinist order and some may dream of an Islamic utopia but that is not enough to overcome the fact that another larger, armed and well-funded faction has different ideas. Now the Shiites control the government, the legitimate armed forces, and a vast territory a Sunni return is not even in the cards.

Posted by: bellumregio on September 12, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Some Sunnis may dream of a return to the golden age of Stalinist order

Is it surprising? Look at Red State Mike, "ex-liberal," concern troll brian and the other unabashed advocates of authoritarianism who post here.

Posted by: Gregory on September 12, 2007 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

kevin:

instead of asking us to solve all the
probs. of the ME why don't you ask us some
easy quests.like:

1) why do the wicked prosper while the
just suffer?

2) solve the generalized riemann zeta-hypothesis?

wschneid25@hotmail.com

joke:

genie: i can grant you one wish mr. clinton---
what woulld you like it to be?

bill clinton: i would like to be able to solve all the probs. of the ME.

genie: no,no,no those probs. have been around for 6,000 yrs. give me another easier prob.

bill clinton: get me out of this mess i'm in with monica lewinsky.

genie: o.k. let's go back to the first prob.---
maybe. on a relative basis, it
wasn't as hard as i thought it was.

Posted by: wschneid25 on September 12, 2007 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

Iran is no threat to Iraq? Not hardly. Iran and Iraq fought a long and bloody war in the 1980's, with Iran seeking to gain control over Basra and the rich oil fields in the Tigris-Euphrates delta region.

Sute, Iran would like to accomplish its stgrategic objectives by proxy, if poissible, but if it sees am opportunity next door, or if the Sunnis or Kurds gain the upper hand, my guess is that Iran will go in.

Posted by: daniel sachs on September 12, 2007 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

Crissa, you should ask Syria, who refuse to give DHS visas in order to PROCESS Iraqi refugees.

Ahh, Syria, the keystone...

...I doubt Syria is the reason we can't process refugees in Saud, Jordan, Kuwait, or IRAQ. Sheesh.

Not that I can find anything to support the assertion that we can't send people into Syria.

Posted by: Crissa on September 12, 2007 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

"Iran is no threat to Iraq? Not hardly. Iran and Iraq fought a long and bloody war in the 1980's, with Iran seeking to gain control over Basra and the rich oil fields in the Tigris-Euphrates delta region."

Iraq invaded Iran in that war, so it is hardly a good example of Iranian territorial aggression.

In fact up until Iraq invaded Iran it was a good example of Iran acting through proxies against Saddam Hussein.

Posted by: jefff on September 12, 2007 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

"I am a bit skeptical they would want their only oil transit to go through Turkey. This would give the Turks a powerful lever they could use to cut-off the Kurds source of cash should the Kurdish government fail to curtail the PKK or some other issue comes up."

Yep, that is kind of the point. Mutual interdependence will lead to better relations. Turkey can't close the oil spigots without closing down revenues for themselves. Since money is so addictive, the trigger point for closing it will be rather high. Both sides will have reason to work with one another.

Besides, where else can Kurdistan build a pipeline? Turkey is the only stable state and progressive economy in the area.

Posted by: mcdruid on September 12, 2007 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

Clem at 9:52 AM
...So it may not be as bad as some predict...
4 million refugees from a population of 26 million is pretty bad, especially since the country that caused the mess is doing nothing to fix it, pay for it or ameliorate it.

Clem at 9:54 AM
..."the POOR Palestinians..." The Palestinians are despised by all the other arab nations...
Strange, then, that their cause motivates all the Israel hatred and not a few wars.

Kevin Sullivan at 10:56 AM
...you should ask Syria, who refuse to give DHS visas in order to PROCESS Iraqi refugees
How about asking the US which is accepting 7000 applications from Iraqis from the millions of refugees as a start?

....I don't see that happening since the Shia are the majority, although they'll try....SJ RSM Goon at 11:08 AM

Since Petraeus is arming and training Sunni militias to counter Shia militias, we're helping.

....But my prediction is very likely to be tested,....frankly0 at 1:15 PM
Iraq has 112 billion barrels of proven reserves, and 110 trillion cf of natural gas. That's worth a lot of other people's blood. There's oil under Kurdish sand and Shia sand, but damn little for the Sunnis, who do not like the idea of being cut out. Posted by: Mike on September 12, 2007 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

I think I'll just start copying and pasting my posts from two and three years ago. Here's one:

I surprised that so many people think they know Iraq well enough to know that things would be worse if we left. That's knowing a lot. Like I said above, as long as we are there, we are responsible.

Posted by: little ole jim from red country on October 1, 2005 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

Posted by: little ole jim from red country on September 12, 2007 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

Frankly0

Half of the Iraqi Sunnis are Kurds. Of all possible scenarios for Iraqs future, a Sunni Arab/Kudish alliance to subdue the Shites is the most farfetched that I have ever heard of. And, as have been pointed out by others, the Kurds have largerst, best armed and allover the most effective forces of any Iraqi ethic group. So a Sunni takeover of Iraq is not going to happen.

Posted by: eiric on September 12, 2007 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

Just a point here: Poll upon poll of Iraqis show that at least 70% want the U.S. out, period, and most of them think Americans are making their problems worse, not better. Can someone explain to me why their opinion of how their own homeland's future peace, prosperity and security can be best achieved does not trump anything we geopolitical experts here have to say on the matter? Or are most Iraqis stupid little children who don't know what's best for them?

Posted by: beejeez on September 12, 2007 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

Just a point here: Poll upon poll of Iraqis show that at least 70% want the U.S. out, period, and most of them think Americans are making their problems worse, not better.
Posted by: beejeez

It's not a poll but it is interesting none the less.

For Iraqis, General’s Report Offers Bitter Truth

BAGHDAD, Sept. 11 — Iraqis found themselves in a difficult position on Tuesday as they reflected on the report to Congress by Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. Although they say there is nothing they want more than to have American soldiers leave Iraq, they also say there is nothing they can afford less.
Posted by: Swaggering Jingoistic RSM Goon on September 12, 2007 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

If stupid were oil, Brojo would be Saudi Arabia.

Posted by: Pat on September 12, 2007 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

I find it interesting that nobody has commented on this question in relation to an attack by the US on Iran. The regional consequences would seem to be enormous, given what Iran could unleash within Iraq via undoubtedly enraged Shia masses. In the midst of that instability, would the Iranians cross the border to deal with Iraqi Kurds? Would the Turks, figuring it was now or never, take advantage of the opportunity to pound their Kurdish nemeses across that northern border? Would the Iraqi Shia seek to cut or seriously impede American supply lines leading to Kuwait? And all this is in addition to whatever ramifications there are in the Persian Gulf itself.

Posted by: bluestatedon on September 12, 2007 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

Once again we see bloodthirsty goons grasping at straws to maintain the war on Iraq.

If the choice is the idiotic one posited by Red Stained Mary, either we continue our brutal occupation or we leave the Iraqi people with no support whatsoever, of course there will be Iraqis saying we want you to go but can't afford to have you leave.

But that's not the only choice unless you are a moron whose love of slaughter greatly exceeds your non-existent common decency.

We must leave. We cannot afford to stay where the people hate our presence and know that the only reason we must stay is that we completely fucked up their country in the first place. The people we have there do not understand the language, culture, or people. The best of them want what's best for the Iraqi people but few of them have the context to know what that is. The worst of them cackle like jackals when an extra-judicial murder takes the lives of innocents. One hopes that the former outnumber the latter, but the belligerence of the latter makes them (like their jihadist counterparts) far more dangerous than their numbers would otherwise indicate.

I've said it before, I'll probably say it again. Only a multi-national force composed of people who understand the language, culture, and history of the Iraqi people will be able to make an omelet out of the eggs broken by those so stupid they mistake aggression for national security policy - that is to say Republicans and their enablers.

That this will mean "defeat" for America can be attributed only to those whose blind bungling have brought us to this state. Thank you George W. Bush, thank you Republican Congress, and thank you microcephalic cheerleading goons.

Posted by: heavy on September 12, 2007 at 7:21 PM | PERMALINK

Removing comments that accuse someone of being a violent criminal isn't being the "thought police." It is just a matter of common decency.

I'm sure you can post anything you want that explains why a multi-national force composed of people who actually give a shit about the Iraqi people is a bad idea.

Posted by: heavy on September 12, 2007 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

Removing comments that accuse someone of being a violent criminal isn't being the "thought police." It is just a matter of common decency.

Really? My post pointed out that you *weren't* a violent criminal. You should have been pleased. I guess the mod thinks you're sensitive and need protection.

I'm sure you can post anything you want that explains why a multi-national force composed of people who actually give a shit about the Iraqi people is a bad idea.

Who the hell is saying it is a bad idea? Sounds like a great idea. Where do you find them? They'd have to play together nicely, which makes it tough for the middle east. Going to need Shia and Sunni both.

Posted by: Swaggering Jingoistic RSM Goon on September 12, 2007 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

...and this was pretty damn funny. Get a sense of humor, mod.

Posted by: Swaggering Jingoistic RSM Goon on September 12, 2007 at 9:33 PM | PERMALINK

Typically dishonest Mary. But it does explain your inability to talk honestly about Iraq - you can't even honestly characterize your own vile posts.

Nonetheless, Iraq's neighbors have a stake in Iraq not being a seething cauldron of violence. As an added bonus they share the basic religions of the Iraqi people. Finding individuals who speak the language and are not responsible for the disaster that is George W. Bush's Iraq will be much easier there than among the Christians who are currently occupying that nation.

Now for the simple minded and the racist, there will be an objection that we can't trust those people. While it is true that Iraq's neighbors do not have America's best interest at heart, they are fundamentally rational actors. None of those states wants a failed state in their midst. We should be begging them to take over - and paying them to do it. Sure, there's some loss of face in doing that, but that's a price you need to pay when your ignorant swaggering jingoism gets hundreds of thousands of innocents killed.

Why won't anything like a multi-national force take over from the Americans? Largely because our foreign policy is run by idiots who would rather slaughter foreigners than talk with those who aren't already 100% pro-American (there are exceptions, and they aren't consistent, but the fundamental premise is there).

All of the arguments for staying basically come down to the Domino Theory. It was wrong when it got a million Vietnamese killed and led to the slaughter of millions of Cambodians - only stopped when the very Vietnamese we had been slaughtering stepped in to fix our mess - and it is wrong now.

Sure, all of this could have been avoided if we didn't have scared little children running about shrieking that the Islamofascists are coming to murder us all in our sleep. But since those were the people running the country, with the full support of the kind of cowards who make a distinction between murdering people with bombs and murdering people with bombs, we are now in a nearly intractable position where the only solution is to leave and pay.

Posted by: heavy on September 12, 2007 at 10:21 PM | PERMALINK

you can't even honestly characterize your own vile posts.

Good one. I almost spewed beer out my nose earlier when I saw you wrote, "Removing comments that accuse someone of being a violent criminal...is just a matter of common decency." This after serially accusing me of targeting women and children for death.

But anyway, you wrote...

Now for the simple minded and the racist, there will be an objection that we can't trust those people.

Think we don't trust them? They don't trust each other. Iranians and Saudis teaming up for Iraq's common good? Sunni and Shia teaming up? Idunno, heavy. Whoever could pull that off would get the Nobel Prize. Why don't you head on over there and start a dialog.

Posted by: Swaggering Jingoistic RSM Goon on September 12, 2007 at 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

and this was pretty damn funny.

We could have done without knowing what you look like.

Posted by: Disputo on September 12, 2007 at 10:41 PM | PERMALINK

I almost spewed beer out my nose

Yep.

Posted by: Disputo on September 12, 2007 at 10:45 PM | PERMALINK

I find it interesting that nobody has commented on this question in relation to an attack by the US on Iran.

Check out my comment at 11:24am.

Posted by: Disputo on September 12, 2007 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

We could have done without knowing what you look like.
Posted by: Disputo

Oh, so it's OK to make fun of me, but can I suggest heavy is an axe murderer? Nooo

Posted by: Swaggering Jingoistic RSM Goon on September 12, 2007 at 10:53 PM | PERMALINK

Is it that you can't read, or is it simply that you want to remind everyone of how dishonest you are in every post? I have accused you of nothing (certainly not in this thread, and certainly not under any moderated thread - which is not to say I've never been intemperate).

As to the actual point, it will not take a Nobel Peace Prize winner, only someone willing to take the brutal American occupation off the table. Someone willing to say that George W. Bush can no longer be the de facto Iraqi dictator. This idiotic condescension that those primitives can't do anything right is appalling given the disaster created by people who've been saying garbage like that all this time. Will it be hard? Sure. Will it require diplomacy? Sure. Will it be done by the Republicans? Of course not. Their seriousness about war begins and ends with starting them.

Obviously such a plan will be unsupportable by those whose ignorance allows them to claim that Iraq was a threat to our national security in 2002. It will be unsupportable by cowards who think that murdering people with bombs gives them credibility on national security. It will be unsupportable by the kind of moral midgets who imagine that their years of brutal aggression against the Iraqi people makes them heroic. In short, it will be unsupportable by those who place the joy of murder above honor and those who love death more than they love the United States. It will, of course, also be unsupportable by nearly all of the Republican Party - certainly their elected officials.

Why are we murdering Iraqis both through our actions and our inaction? No one who supported the assault on the Iraqi people has a decent answer for this question.

Posted by: heavy on September 12, 2007 at 11:21 PM | PERMALINK

While you laugh it up Mary, here is the situation on the ground.

It is a disaster of epic scale. You are right to suggest that I am angry. I am angry because this is the result of letting incompetents and those who confuse aggression with seriousness rule our dialog.

I am angry because our military confuses action with honor. Killing people must be the last resort. It must be done only when not doing so is too horrible to contemplate. This was not the case in Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, or Iraq.

It is possible, though not certain, that there was some honor in Desert Storm. The restoration of monarchy in Kuwait seems a rather unappealing goal. Saddam Hussein was never Hitler. He was always a petty tyrant; the decade of sanctions and aggression made the lives of the Iraqi people miserable and did little to make the world safer. Sure, he never got nukes, but in the meantime India, Pakistan, and North Korea did.

There is a fundamental flaw in the Republican "national security" apparatus that imagines that the Soviets were rational actors but the Arabs and Persians are not.

In any case, it is certain that there is no honor in George W. Bush's assault on the Iraqi people. It was done based on nonsensical fearmongering and in defiance of both international law and common decency. It was bad enough that the misinformed populace supported it, that the military acquiesced to this unprovoked assault on an innocent people is a national disgrace. It is a reason to question the professionalism of our military. Following orders isn't good enough. Those orders must comport with the real issues of national security. If you want to be the world's policemen, fight under the auspices of the UN.

To cheer on a war that has destroyed what little the Iraqi people had is beyond despicable.

Posted by: heavy on September 12, 2007 at 11:56 PM | PERMALINK

I lose sleep at night over Turkey actually. If the Kurds in their ever-more autonomous region send (more) help to the violent separatists in Turkey, who knows what the Turkish response would be?

Something likely destabilizing, and in some cases justified.

Posted by: MNPundit on September 13, 2007 at 2:43 AM | PERMALINK

Half of the Iraqi Sunnis are Kurds. Of all possible scenarios for Iraqs future, a Sunni Arab/Kudish alliance to subdue the Shites is the most farfetched that I have ever heard of. And, as have been pointed out by others, the Kurds have largerst, best armed and allover the most effective forces of any Iraqi ethic group. So a Sunni takeover of Iraq is not going to happen.

And yet somehow the Sunnis in fact absolutely controlled Iraq for decades. Given that the Kurds were always mostly interested only in their own fate, I'd expect that it was in fact the proper subset of the Sunnis who were not Kurds who mostly exercised this control.

I'm not imagining that the Sunni Kurds will ally with other Sunni groups in Iraq to take back control. I'm imagining simply that the non-Kurdish Sunnis who once exercised control will do so again.

A still further reason to think they might succeed is this. The powerful US military is being effectively countered by an insurgency in Iraq. Who are these people who can present such a potent counterforce?

Why, they are almost all precisely the same Sunni forces that I expect might take over when we leave Iraq. I simply ask, if they can do such a good job against the American military, how well do you think they'd do against the ragtag band of Shiite militias when there's no one else around to deflect or dampen the fighting?

Posted by: frankly0 on September 13, 2007 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

Quote: Oh please.... that old saw... "the POOR Palestinians..."

The Palestinians are despised by all the other arab nations, who are fully capable of fighting among themselves without Israel as an excuse. Clem Unquote

Really the above quote has to be one of the most fatuous and egregiously silly contributions to this thread. On a par with the brain dead, dumb ass American lunacies in the Middle East over the past seven years (and yes you (you all) voted to repeat the prescription after the first four years of stupidity).

Lets get a couple of things straight:

Israel is not in mortal danger and has not been for decades. Israel will remain safe as long as an administration exists in Washington. US national interests are not Israeli national interests and Israeli national interests may not necessarily be good for the US or the rest of the world. Arabs and muslims generally have many problems and some of these can on occasion be deadly threats to neighbours and to other nations, and to the international order. Some of these various problems can only be solved by those communities themselves (or, for that matter, the Americans getting the hell out of where they do not belong). There is one nest of problems, however, revolving around the issue of Palestine and Israel that is the fault of the international order. Of all these players the US is perhaps the only one that can do something concrete and lasting to bring an end to a lot of these particular problems.

Kevin Drum, a writer I like and respect, has managed to write about the Middle East In Flames without mentioning Israel or Palestine. Very American and a blindness that is perhaps one of the reasons we are all in this sorry mess.

It is perhaps unfair to belabor Kevin for not mentioning Israel or Palestine in the context of his fairly narrow discussion of Iraq and a Middle East in Flames but the general point holds. Americans can discuss at length the causes of Islamic terrorism or Middle Eastern problems, etc, and manage never once to mention the I and P words. That is simply bone-headed, blind, wrong but very American.

Posted by: Deodand on September 14, 2007 at 1:04 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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