September 24, 2004

Was Iraq always already a disaster?

I just spent the last hour interviewing John Judis about his new book, The Folly of Empire. It was a good interview, and I'm hoping to get it up on the Mother Jones website by next Monday, but it still left me with a few unresolved questions about Iraq, multilateralism, democracy, that sort of thing.

The growing consensus on Iraq, I take it, is that the Bush administration botched up the invasion by not committing enough troops, by ignoring the State Department's "Future of Iraq" findings, by pushing privatization too soon, by staffing the CPA with political appointees rather than actual experts, etc. etc. To be sure, doing all of those things would have alleviated some of the problems we're seeing now, and increased the chace for success, for some value of "success". Certainly the Sunni insurgency—the ex-Baathists, the Salafi fundamentalists, the foreign fighters—would have found themselves with a less fertile recruiting pool.

But even under optimal occupation conditions, we still would have had to figure out how to balance competing interests among Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. It's very unlikely that we could have resolved those disputes without a persistent U.S. presence, and Judis argued that that would have eventually led to a nationalist backlash, ala Iran—if not now, then 15-20 years down the line. That would work well for Bush's re-election campaign, but not for long-term stability.

The alternative, I guess, would have been to wait until Saddam Hussein died and his state dissolved (assuming that the sanctions regime could stay in place). But then we would have had a power vacuum into which one or more of a) the United States, b) Iran, c) Turkey, d) Saudi Arabia, e) Syria would have entered, and the same sort of inter-ethnic disputes would have cropped up, perhaps writ large. The U.S. could, of course, try to get the UN or some other international institution involved, and given the oil factor, maybe the UN, etc. would have been quicker to act than in Bosnia, or Rwanda, or the Sudan. But I don't know. Over a long enough time scale, it seems that almost any response to Iraq—unilateral or multilateral—will have to face the same crisis conditions we're facing now (or will face in the near future). What a world, what a world.
-- Brad Plumer 4:25 PM || ||