Friday, August 24, 2007

The rationality of stupidity

It goes without saying that politics sometimes makes smart people do and say stupid things. That’s because the intelligence or wisdom of policy recommendations, for the most part, take a back seat to constituent demands and concerns of legacy. This is a sad reality of politics but a reality nonetheless and one which must be accepted if one is interested in creating political change.

Enter stage right: Senator John Warner (R-VA)

Yesterday, the long-time Republican stated that the US should withdraw 5,000 troops as a signal to the Iraqi government that they need to step up and start taking care of their own matters. This statement was undoubtedly motivated by a general concern to a) separate himself from Prez Dimbledoo and b) to look like he was doing something. Because I can’t imagine that Warner actually thinks that his “plan” would accomplish anything or be a good idea.

What is very clear, as a very articulate and impassioned broken-nosed Australian said from Baghdad on CNN last night, is that the threat of removing troops will have absolutely no positive or motivating effect on the Iraqi government. Extensively referencing the latest National Intelligence Estimate, he cited two main factors.

First, the idea that there is an Iraqi government is farcical. There are extensive coalitions in the Iraqi parliament that regularly attend legislative sessions, but power is there is not like power here. As the Aussie explained, power is derived by the number of militiamen you have in your pocket. And the Prime Minister doesn’t have any. There is no doubt that the Prime Minister is completely powerless given this reality. He has no muscle to back up his moves.

Instead of thinking of the Iraqi government as “government” we need to think of it as a Sopranos episode because it’s much more akin to mafia than it is to the US Congress. Given that power is determined by militia strength, there is a very low likelihood that the “government” will ever function – empty threats or not.

The second factor, and perhaps worse, is that these factions are lining up troops and preparing for the day that the US leaves Iraq. That moment will be a great power grab that will probably be bloody and result in a virtual dictatorship, something akin to the Hussein regime. This is why Iran is heavily invested in Iraq. They have a long history of violent conflict with the country and they are fearful of a US-allied Iraq for the long term. It makes perfect sense for Iran to invest heavily in the future of Iraq as a means to prevent US aggression toward the fundamentalist nation – in other words, they’re realists and this is part of the realist agenda.

Ten years from now, historians will begin to answer the question: Was the world better off with Hussein as the dictator of Iraq or X as the dictator of Iraq? I believe that the answer will turn on the issue of Iraq’s relationship with Iran. If the inevitable US pullout results in a pro-Iran, fundamentalist leaning Iraq, then we would have been better off with Hussein. Therefore, every effort should be made to prevent the creation of a pro-Iran Iraq.

This implies three things. First, the US government and Prez Simpledimple must accept that US pullout is inevitable. Any 12th grade historian can tell you this.

Second, the US must accept that the Middle East isn’t ready for democracy. This is a tougher pill to swallow but looking beyond the colossal failure of the democratic experience in Iraq, other instances of democratic selection have led to anti-US, anti-Western governments. Need I really say Palestine?

And third, the US must reorient the surge away from its “clear and hold” strategy toward border security between Iraq and Iran and the strong prosecution of Iranian fighters. A concerted effort to minimize Iran’s role in the conflict is the only chance we have to prevent a pro-Iran future for Iraq.

These words may surprise regular readers who are fully aware of my (neo)liberal leanings but it shouldn’t. No matter what your political philosophy, the strength of belief in one ideology doesn’t invalidate others. Realism is a fundamental enduring reality of nation-state interaction and even if I want to see a more peaceful, prosperous world for all, it would be neo-con level idiocy to discount the founding principle of realism: see the world as it really is and make policy accordingly.



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