Daily Archives: November 2, 2006

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Posted by Cutler on November 02, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / No Comments

In a previous post, I suggested that the primary function of high-profile proposals to facilitate the breakup of Iraq was to leverage attractive terms for international oil companies in ongoing negotiations over a new Iraqi hydrocarbons law.
Be that as it may, it may be helpful to recall where various foreign policy factions stand on the “partition” question.

Right Arabists

Right Arabists have never supported the breakup of Iraq.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft had to choose between the “breakup” of Iraq and the restoration of Saddam Hussein.

They chose Saddam Hussein over “breakup.”

As Bush and Scowcroft noted in their 1998 memoir, A World Transformed (p.489):

[N]either the United States nor the countries of the region wished to see the breakup of the Iraqi state. We were concerned about the long-term balance of power at the head of the Gulf. Breaking up the Iraqi state would pose its own destabilizing problems.

Today, Right Arabists like Anthony Cordesman remain unalterably opposed to the breakup of Iraq.

Right Zionists

In making the case for toppling Saddam, Right Zionists were inevitably drawn into a debate with Right Arabists over the probability and desirability of the breakup of Iraq.

William Kristol and Lawrence Kaplan, writing in their 2003 book The War Over Iraq (p.97), hedge on the issue of Iraqi unity:

[Secretary of State Colin] Powell and others have argued that if the United States alienates central Iraq’s Sunnis… Iraq could be plunged into chaos… But predictions of ethnic turmoil in Iraq are… questionable…

If anything, one could argue that the aim of Iraqi unity may run counter to the aim of Iraqi stability… [M]ake Iraq a federation… A central government in Baghdad would still control most of the levers of Iraqi power, but each ethnic community would be granted limited powers of self-government…

AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht also hedges in a June 2004 essay, “Democratic Revolution in Iraq?“:

Given the regular pummeling of the Kurds by Sunni Arabs in modern Iraq, the Kurdish desire for considerable autonomy is sensible and morally compelling. There has been no bad blood between Arab Shiites and the Kurds, but the latter are well aware that a centralized Iraqi state will empower Arabs. And the Shiites have probably been the staunchest defenders of Iraqi nationalism. Sistani will not allow the Kurds to retain the authority that the Transitional Administrative Law, the interim constitution, would give them.

There is no easy answer to this. Ultimately, the Kurds have to weigh the risks and gains of independence. Washington ought not to abandon them. But it should encourage them to seek political compromises and constitutional protections that circumscribe but do not nullify the principle of one-man, one-vote. The Kurds are unlikely to find a more thoughtful Shiite Arab counterpart than Ayatollah Sistani, who in the history of Shiism can only be called a democratic revolutionary.

Others at AEI, however, are more sympathetic to the breakup of Iraq. John Yoo, for example, penned a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed in August 2005 entitled, “A United Iraq–What’s the Point?

[C]an Iraq really exist as one nation?

The Kurds and Shiites negotiated the draft charter, the Sunnis are left to take it or leave it, and the whole affair has literally papered over deep divisions about regional autonomy, oil revenues, Islamic law and more.

By demanding one new Iraqi state, the U.S. and its allies are… spending blood and treasure to preserve a country that no longer makes sense as a state, and to keep together people who only want to be separate. Iraqis might get closer to democracy, and the U.S. might get closer to its goals in the Middle East, if everyone would jettison the fiction of a unified, single Iraq.

Dem Zionists

Traditionally, liberal Democrats are the most prominent defenders of the breakup of Iraq.

I noted as much in a May 2006 post.

Senator Joseph Biden and Leslie Gelb have published a NYT Op-Ed arguing for ethnic federalism in Iraq:

America must get beyond the present false choice between “staying the course” and “bringing the troops home now” and choose a third way… The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group — Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab — room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.

There is nothing new about leading Democrats supporting plans for ethnic federalism. Back in 1991, when the first Bush administration indicated it was backing a military coup, rather than ethnic federalism and democracy, Democrats were quite critical:

“We should do what we can to encourage a democratic alternative to Saddam Hussein,” said Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “And above all, we should not accept the replacement of Saddam Hussein with another general … who will run yet one more authoritarian Iraqi regime.” (”U.S. Sees Successor to Saddam Coming From Military,” Associated Press, March 2, 1991)

Peter Galbraith, an aide to Senator Pell, went on to become a leading proponent of ethnic federalism. At the height of the 2004 Presidential campaign, he championed such a plan in the New York Review of Books.

The fundamental problem of Iraq is an absence of Iraqis… In my view, Iraq is not salvageable as a unitary state… The best hope for holding Iraq together—and thereby avoiding civil war—is to let each of its major constituent communities have, to the extent possible, the system each wants.

His proposal drew the support of Kerry’s chief foreign policy advisor, Richard Holbrooke, who indicated to the New York Times that Kerry himself was very enthusiastic about the Galbraith article.

Right Zionists vs. Dem Zionists

Notwithstanding some obvious affinities between Right Zionist and Dem Zionist proposals for US policy in Iraq, there appears to be an escalating war of words between Right Zionists and Dem Zionists on the issue of partition.

At one recent United States Institute of Peace panel discussion on Iraq (available online in a C-Span video recording of the event, at 1:07:21), AEI’s Michael Rubin questioned the motivations of partition advocates like Galbraith, suggesting that it is “easy to argue for the breakup of Iraq, especially if you are paid by the Kurdistan Regional Government” or “if you have significant interests in some Norwegian oil companies” that have signed oil development agreements with the Kurds. Rubin sugggest that it was important to “look a little bit more into motivations of some of these breakup theories.”

So, too, Reuel Marc Gerecht is poised take on the Dem Zionists. The New Republic Online is hosting an online debate between Peter Galbraith and Gerecht. The Galbraith contribution to the debate was posted November 1, 2006 and the Gerecht reply is set to be posted November 2, 2006. Should be interesting!

The White House

In the factional battles over the breakup of Iraq, George W. Bush has weighed in on the question. In an October 20, 2006 Fox News interview, Bush made the case against partition, although he hedged on the more general question of federalism.

O’REILLY: How about dividing it into three? Kurds autonomous region, Sunni autonomous, Shia autonomous and pay them oil revenues to stop killing each other?

BUSH: I strongly — I don’t think that’s the right way to go. I think that will increase sectarian violence. I think that will make it more dangerous — and so does Prime Minister Maliki with whom I spoke today… on the point you brought up about dividing the country in three, he rejected that strongly. He thought that was a bad idea, and I agree with him. I think — federalism is one thing, in other words, giving a balance between regional government and central government, but dividing is basically saying there will be three autonomous regions will create, Bill, a situation where Sunnis and Sunni nations and Sunni radicals will be competing against Shia radicals and the Kurds will then create problems for Turkey and Syria and you have got a bigger mess than we have at this point in time which I believe is going to be solved.

If the Bush administration is actually seeking to preserve Iraqi unity, then the recent parliamentary vote on a measure elaborating procedures for the establishment of autonomous regions–supported by the Kurds and some Shiites–was a major slap in the face of a Right Arabist White House.

The notion of a Bush administration defeat was articulated by Fareed Zakaria in an October 23, 2006 Washington Post essay entitled “Iraq Can’t Wait” (a third-party copy of the text is here):

The most disturbing recent event in Iraq — and there are many candidates for that designation — was the decision by Iraq’s single largest political party, SCIRI, to push forward with creating a Shiite “super-region” in the South. This was in flagrant defiance of the deal, brokered by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad before the January elections, that brought major Sunni groups into the political process and ensured Sunni participation in the voting. It is a frontal rebuke to President Bush, who made a rare personal appeal to SCIRI’s leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, on this issue.

The SCIRI push for a Shiite “super-region” in the South may be a frontal rebuke to President Bush, insofar as he has assumed the mantle of the Right Arabist faction.

It cannot, for all that, be scored a “loss” for those Right Zionists and/or Dem Zionists who find reason to celebrate the termination of Sunni Arab hegemony in Iraq, if not yet the whole of the Middle East.