Additional thoughts on Iraq

Shivaji Sondhi and Michael Cook, who direct the Project on Oil, Energy and the Middle East at the Princeton Institute of International and Regional Studies, offer these additional thoughts for the cross-blog discussion on Iraq as a follow-up to their original contribution.

Additional thoughts on Iraq

Shivaji Sondhi and Michael Cook

  1. War, as we have been famously told, is the continuation of politics by other means. Thus it helps to first identify a stable political settlement in Iraq. Application of power in the pursuit of such a settlement has some chance of doing long term good. It is abundantly clear now that when U.S. troops reached Baghdad they were not there in pursuit of any clear political goal beyond the overthrow of the Saddam regime. Unsurprisingly, none was reached. The U.S. today still has considerable reserves of power remaining to influence events in Iraq– troops on the ground, financial resources, and if recent headlines are accurate, perhaps even additional troops.

    But they must be applied in pursuit of a clear and realistic political goal.

  2. Democracy is, in principle, a realistic settlement for Iraq. This is so because it is a multi-ethnic state. A successful Iraqi democracy though would have to be built on existing loyalties– much as democracy in India was built from the 1950s by bargaining between existing social groups in a largely rural society. As the largest scale social groups are the Shia, Kurds and the Sunnis (although John Burgess correctly notes the finer, cross-cutting and important other attachments) this brings us to the Sunni problem we discuss in our main piece.

  3. Were it not for the proximity of other Sunni states: Saudi Arabia and Jordan primarily, the “Cheney option“: letting the Shia and the Kurds bash the Sunnis, could also be called realistic, at least in the short term. Perhaps this would work out the way the American Civil War did, where the defeated South rejoined the political system. As it is though, the geopolitics of this seems all wrong– it has the flavor of joining the Iranians against the Saudis. Nor would it look good on television.

  4. Better then for the U.S. to preside over a Sunni pacification and to link the pacification to a stable political settlement. We argue that above all this needs for enough Sunnis to be convinced that they will share in the new Iraq. A dramatic U.S. gesture of the sort we describe would help in this effort. That then brings us to the actual pacification which we argue should be left to suitable provincial governments– implicitly, run by people with a social base in the regions. It is hard to believe that the old army, police and bureaucracy did not have in them enough non-criminal Sunni members to render such governments effective.

    The model we have in mind is the defeat of the Sikh (Punjab) insurgency in India by a provincial Sikh led government in 1991-93. The hard work was done by the local police force, whose leader’s account of the process is available here. This success came after the Indian federal army had failed at the task following its assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984. The reasons for the success of the police, where the Army failed are pretty much what the late Captain Patriquin described in his effective presentation.

  5. This would still leave mixed areas, such as Baghdad whose control would benefit from more direct U.S. supervision of its policing. If a troop surge is possible to the point that Baghdad can be made visibly safer, that is well worth doing. But Baghdad cannot remain safe if the Sunni heartland remains chaotic.

  6. We have focused on oil revenue sharing. But there are other ways in which the nascent Iraqi political order could be fine tuned to encourage stability. There is room for some Madisonian tinkering, some of which one of us described in the first few weeks following the fall of Baghdad. Were the U.S. to make a major push to stabilize Iraq, it would not be too much to ask the Shia and the Kurds to sign on to such changes.

  7. James Hamilton has made the important point that even under conditions of considerable chaos, clever economic incentives can be a powerful force for good. We cannot agree more.

  8. Finally, it would be useful to avoid sheer stupidity. Both Captain Patriquin’s presentation and this New York Times report comment on how it isn’t possible for money to be spent usefully in Iraq. This is no way to fight an insurgency that apparently generates $200 million per year.

  9. With all of this said, there are no guarantees in such matters given the multiplicity of actors– and perhaps even the best efforts of the United States will fail over the necessarily finite period– perhaps till the end of the Bush presidency– over which one might expect a serious rescue effort. All we can suggest is a path that seems to us to optimize the prospects for putting this period to good use. Given the stakes for the United States and for the long suffering Iraqis, this seems well worth a try.

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9 thoughts on “Additional thoughts on Iraq

  1. The Glittering Eye

    Directions on Iraq: Day 3

    Shivaji Sondhi and Michael Cook, Co-Directors of the Project on Oil, Energy and the Middle East at Princeton University, have posted some additional thoughts on Iraq fueled by the discussion in the colloquium thus far.
    John Burgess has com…

  2. Emmanuel

    Last-ditch solutions won’t help much if at all. William Lind might not provide left-of-center-friendly commentary all the time, but on Iraq he is spot on:
    The fact that Washington is seriously considering sending more American troops to Iraq illustrates a common phenomenon in war. As the certainty of defeat looms ever more clearly, the scrabbling about for a miracle cure, a deus ex machina, becomes ever more desperate – and more silly. Cavalry charges, Zeppelins, V-2 missiles, kamikazes, the list is endless. In the end, someone finally has to face facts and admit defeat. The sooner someone in Washington is willing to do that, the sooner the troops we already have in Iraq will come home – alive.

  3. DickF

    Interesting post. The recommendation is not clear from the main post, but from the external links it seems that the general recommendation is to develop Iraqi forces from locals and to inflitrate the lawbreakers gangs and use people who know them to begin the fight from the inside out. I do like this idea.
    From what I understand this was done in Afghanistan in a grander scale through a small group of Special Forces organizing the opposition groups. I also understand that there was a similar approach to Iraq and that the war was actually fought by Special Forces through covert action prior to the US troops entering the country.

  4. Joseph

    Thank you for your interesting suggestions. Unfortunately, President Bush could not care less what you think. He doesn’t care what the Iraqi Study Group thinks and has said that he will not read the whole thing, just the executive summary. He doesn’t care what the American public thinks, 60% of whom disapprove of Bush’s handling of Iraq. He doesn’t care what congress thinks. Bush, Cheney and the rest of the neocons will just continue as they have in the past with a violent and pointless military occupation of Iraq. Bush has publicly stated his grand delusion that what he is doing will be recognized 50 years hence as a great crusade. It is impossible to reason with a demented megalomaniac.
    A recent Zogby poll indicates that the favorability rating of the U.S. among Moroccans has decreased from 38% in 2002 to 7% today. Among Jordanians it decreased from 34% to 5%. For Egyptians and Saudis it is 14% and 12%. I think Bush has done enough in the Middle East, thank you very much.
    It is really a pointless intellectual exercise to debate these issues because nothing is going to change until the Bush administration is removed from office in 2009. But thanks for trying.

  5. DickF

    You seem to have a lot of insight into what President Bush thinks. Do you know him personally, or are you clairvoyant, or do you just have a vivid imagination?

  6. Joseph

    Dick: Actually, I just listen to what he himself says and what he does. He said recently “I will not withdraw even if Laura And Barney (his dog) are the only ones supporting me.” — it doesn’t matter what the facts are or what advice he gets.
    When the CIA couldn’t confirm the presence of WMDs, he bullied them until he got the answer he wanted. When the generals told him he needed 500,000 troops to do the job right, he fired the generals. He has said that he doesn’t read much, that he listens only to his God and his gut. Perhaps he confuses the two.
    He ignores facts and he ignores reality. For the last three years he has been telling us that the U.S. is winning the war in Iraq when everyone knows that is not true. Suddenly after the election he tells us he will make adjustments, not because facts have changed in Iraq but because the ground has shifted domestically. Then he announces that he needs more time to study the situation. More time? What has he been doing for the last three years besides taking lots of vacations? The new “adjustments” are to handle domestic public relations, not to change his course in Iraq. He has said many times that U.S. troops will never leave Iraq as long as he is in office. So there is no need to read his mind — just listen to what he says. As to whether he is delusional, all you have to do is compare the reality and the facts to his statements about Iraq.

  7. Shivaji Sondhi

    Attempting to influence public policy is always a low yield enterprise, which is why most of us in academia stick to our own professional fields! I do believe that the general climate of discussion matters and in that spirit it is useful for all of us to pitch in with our best ideas – especially on such an important question.
    Finally, to Emmanuel’s comment I would say that the United States is not staring defeat in the same sense as e.g. Japan was in 1945. Neither is US engagement in the Gulf about to end with Iraq. So I don’t believe we are recommending a cavalry charge where a simple retreat would do!

  8. adam

    From item 1- “It is abundantly clear now that when U.S. troops reached Baghdad they were not there in pursuit of any clear political goal beyond the overthrow of the Saddam regime.”
    it should be abundantly clear that item 1 is false since after overthrowing saddam the troops could have been withdrawn at that point. we stuck around and initiated a poor plan for rebuilding.
    item #7- agree
    item #8- maybe we need a chinese regional governor that knows how to grow an economy without a legal safety net. a hundred years ago we knew how to do this but we’ve apparently done the equivalent of imposing sarbanes-oxley on a local convenience store and people are afraid to act.
    from item #2- “Democracy is, in principle, a realistic settlement for Iraq.”
    yup except that those unhappy with the outcome of the elections kill people. see hezbolla (lebanon), and taliban(afghanistan). both minorities more willing to kill than your average citizen.
    item #3- “Were it not for the proximity of other Sunni states:” why bring it up. if not for gravity i could jump like michael jordan.
    item #4- wishing this were india doesn’t make it so. iraqi police lived mostly off of graft and the now disbanded army kept political uprising out. no police ability to do this is why our troops had to stay in country (and also didn’t have the needed troop levels to do the job)
    item #5- “If a troop surge is possible to the point that Baghdad can be made visibly safer, that is well worth doing.” yeah too bad none of the generals thought of that one. not like they all have attended the army war college or anything.
    item #6- your oil revenue sharing assumes no negotiations because of a hostile environment when they have likely been going on for some time and their breakdown may have even lead to the current insurgency.

  9. Barkley Rosser

    I have been out of the country for over a week, so just now seeing all this. First, I think that Jim’s suggestions are reasonable. The problem may be that they are going to be hard to do much with. So, yes, security on pipelines is clearly crucial. But Juan Cole reports that guerrillas are now putting Baghdad under an elecriticity siege by blowing up transmission lines, and that sections of the city have been without power for days. That basic situation is deteriorating. Calling for protecting pipelines, or even instituting metering (or privatizing as some suggest) in such an environment is sort of whistling in the wind.
    Also, all the discussions by commentators about how the Iraqi oil industry should be structured are beyond US control now. The Iraqis run that, for better or worse, or are trying to. The Iraqi parliament right now is trying to pass a bill about allowing foreign oil companies in to bid, something the ISG wants. The holdup is the old problem, the one Shivaji and Cook have focused on, how to distribute the oil revenues. As I noted in the earlier discussion, a guarantee for the Sunni Arabs by the Saudis would probably be more credible than one by the US.
    Regarding Shivaji and Cook’s support for a surge, there seems to be no support for this from the US military. The announced retirement of General Abizaid is rumored to be due at least
    partly to his insistence that any surge be tied to doing something clearly identifiable. It should be remembered that the US military made a “surge-like” effort last summer to secure Baghdad and embarrassingly failed. I think this is what is on Abizaid’s mind.
    I have put a comment on Burgess’s blog noting that his discussion of groups in Saudi Arabia is somewhat incoherent, or at least unclear. He refers to “Salafists” but does not mention “Wahhabis.” Does he mean to conflate these two? The problem arises in that Wahhabism is essentially the state theology of Saudi Arabia dating from 1740, but the Saudis hate that term. Salafism is a movement coming out of Egypt starting about a century ago. It was originally a sort of progressive revisionism but has turned into a super radical fundamentalism. Nasser suppressed them in Egypt, leading many to flee to Saudi Arabia where they became entrenched in the educational system. Many have pushed the idea that Wahhabism is or should be Salafism, but there remain important distinctions. Within al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden is more Wahhabist while his Number Two is definitely Salafist.

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