August 22, 2005

Thinking About Doomsday

A few more points about the "withdrawing from Iraq" debate. The post down below went through my various reasons for getting skittish about timetables and the like, but no, none of those points sounded 100 percent convincing, even to me. (Although I do think the idea that pulling out would "embolden terrorists" is profoundly stupid, beyond all measure of space and time.) To be honest, I still go back and forth, and my gut feeling on all of this pretty much echoes hilzoy's apt comment here. Nonetheless, Andrew Bacevich makes a point worth thinking about. How bad, in the cosmic scheme of things, would it be if we left and Iraq ripped itself apart? Bacevich shrugs and says we could survive:
Will a U.S. withdrawal guarantee a happy outcome for the people of Iraq? Of course not. In sowing the seeds of chaos through his ill-advised invasion, Bush made any such guarantee impossible. If one or more of the Iraqi factions chooses civil war, they will have it. Should the Kurds opt for independence, then modern Iraq will cease to exist. No outside power can prevent such an outcome from occurring anymore than an outside power could have denied Americans their own civil war in 1861.

Dismemberment is by no means to be desired and would surely visit even more suffering on the much-abused people of Iraq. But in the long run, the world would likely find ways to adjust to this seemingly unthinkable prospect just as it learned to accommodate the collapse of the Soviet Union, the division of Czechoslovakia and the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

What will pulling out of Iraq mean for the United States? It will certainly not mean losing access to Iraqi oil, which will inevitably find its way to the market. To be sure, bringing the troops home will preclude the Pentagon from establishing permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq -- but the Bush administration has said all along that we don't covet such bases anyway. In addition, withdrawal will put an end to extravagant expectations of using Iraq as a springboard for democratizing the Islamic world -- but that notion never qualified as more than a pipe dream anyway.
So Iraq would see a lot of spilled blood that might get spilled no matter what we do, but other than that, no big deal. Is he right? To me, the doomsday scenario looks something like this: Lebanon-style civil war in Iraq, street-fighting and ethnic cleansing in Kirkuk, pipelines and refineries blown up left and right, Iran and maybe Turkey leaping into the mix, chaos spreading to Saudi Arabia, oil prices up to astronomical levels, global recession, and the groundwork for future regional wars to come. Oh, plus a safe haven and Afghanistan-style bases for a new generation of jihadists planning to strike at America who may or may not have Saddam's old nuclear scientists in their clutches.

Even if it's true that Iraqis are going to butcher Iraqis no matter what we do, the rest of this sounds very bad. Maybe "staying the course" would only accelerate these trends, and that's something to consider. But how do withdrawal folks plan to deal with all of this? Do we beat the straightest, quickest path out of Iraq and just hope that somehow the worst-case scenario never materializes? Another variant on Tom Friedman's "shake the chessboard and see where the pieces fall"? Or is it simply that things are about to get truly awful and there's absolutely nothing the United States can do about it?

UPDATE: Ah, I see Juan Cole's plan for withdrawal thinks about some of these things. Good post on his part.
-- Brad Plumer 1:00 PM || ||