More bad news from Baghdad

The incipient civil war seems to be heating up.

No matter how bad a situation is, it can always get worse.

That principle has made me skeptical of the argument that rapid U.S. withdrawal from Iraq couldn’t possibly precipitate a civil war, because a civil war is already in progress. There’s a continuum between sporadic inter-ethnic violence and full-scale civil war, and the removal of the U.S. as buffer might easily move the conflict toward the full-scale war end of the spectrum. And Zalmay Khalilzad is no Paul Bremer: he appears to know what he’s doing.

However, the worse things get under current policy, the stronger the argument for trying something else. I’m sure the warbloggers will figure out some way to interpret this weekend’s tit-for-tat massacres in Baghdad (the bombing of a Shi’a mosque on Saturday, random killings in by Shi’a militiamen in a Sunni neighborhood on Sunday, then the bombing of a second Shi’a mosque) as good news, or alternatively to deny their reality, but to my eyes they look pretty disastrous.

That doesn’t mean that withdrawal is the right thing to do. It does, however, put the onus on the defenders of the “more of the same” strategy to explain why we should expect maintaining the same policies to lead to different results.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

9 thoughts on “More bad news from Baghdad”

  1. The failure of the policy is the only justification needed for the continuation of the policy.
    Eight Friedmans good, sixteen Friedmans better!

  2. Respectfully, I've got to disagree.
    The onus has been on the defenders since 2003 to convince me why we should be there–and it's never been solid, let alone the various non-policies offered.
    Does this sort of thing mean immediate withdrawal? Well, there's only been nine dead American kids this month, so let's wait until the civil war escalates to leave.
    Honestly, I figure part of the presidential oath of office, what with the common good being in there, would exclude getting kids who can't afford to go to college killed.
    Iraq's so far gone, there's no reason to stay, save handing over American lives on top of Iraqi lives, and hoping to buffer the inevitable worst-case scenario, which would lead intervention by Iraq's neighbors.

  3. Well,
    I like your approach here. I think that this is a nasty turn of events that warrants a good hard look at our situation. It seems to me that the warbloggers always blame the corporate media for telling us "all the bad stuff", thereby unfairly skewing our perception. But at some point you really do need to recognize that there are conditions on the ground that dictate that we should consider leaving.
    The world's perception of what we are doing there, and this is doubly (SP?) true of Iraq, is that we are not there to promote democracy. It really doesn't matter if we are or not. It's what THEY think we are there for that ends up making the difference.
    We havent convinced anyone that we are there to help, whether we are or not. Therefore, it will be that much harder to convince people there to assist us. This is a failure of the Bush Administration, not the troops. It is a failure of the politicians, the mid-level administrators, and the entire [lack of] the state department leadership.
    Events like Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, extra-judicial renditions, documented torture, and now a few stories of Marines cracking, raping and killing that have poisoned the waters so badly that PERCEPTION of American policy is wholly and utterly destroyed.
    At what point are we doing more harm than good? I'd say that point is rapidly approaching, or is in our rear view mirror.

  4. One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. Stay the course, or take a thorazine? We report, you decide.

  5. I was opposed to this insane adventurism from before the beginning for innumerable reasons — currently I reiterate my belief that it is analogous to the positioning of the Marines in Beirut — even Reagan in the midst of early onset Alzheimer's could see that the presence of U.S. forces served only to exacerbate the situation. Ditto now.

  6. By staying in Iraq we will continue to have a small conflict civil war that will not end until we leave. Once we leave the civil war will become broader until someone wins. My money is that the Sunni population better get out of Iraq quick.
    The country is beyond help. We did not go into Iraq the first time because the then Secretary of Defense agreed with us that the situation would quickly melt down to chaos.
    The whole situation is rotten and will never be fixed; the psychological mind set of the Muslims in the region will not support a democracy of any type.

  7. If we were responding to moral imperatives, the U.S. would make a gargantuan effort to "save Iraq". It would require putting ten times the boots on the ground, and many billions in a crash program to complete the Reconstruction in good order, as well as the training and equipping of an Iraqi Army and Police. It is almost inconceivable to me that the U.S. would do such a thing, and not because it is not possible — it certainly is possible, just difficult and costly.
    One consequence of such a gargantuan effort would be subsequent U.S. withdrawal, because such an effort would strengthen the Iraqi government, and any sufficiently strong Iraqi government will ask us to leave.
    The belief that the consequence of successfully strengthening Iraq would be a U.S. withdrawal/expulsion leads me to the natural conclusion that Bush is keeping Iraq weak, as a part of a policy of permanent occupation or presence.
    Unfortunately, Iraq has to be very weak, indeed, to want the U.S., and an Iraq, which is that weak, presents the danger of deteriorating into civil war and a failed State, as we see.
    Bush and the U.S. military present their current strategy as a gamble that persistence with inadequate resources will eventually win out. That's a narrative that sounds good to lots of people at home, who personally believe in the personal virtue of persistence even in the absence of luck, talent, opportunity or effective hard work. It is also a narrative, which sets up advocates of withdrawal as scapegoats for failure.
    In fact, Bush is gambling that he can achieve a permanent presence for the U.S. military, by keeping Iraq weak, without actually having Iraqi chaos consume the U.S. forces. It looks like a bad bet. I expect Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al want about 50,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq, permanently, but an Iraqi government weak enough to want that many U.S. troops, is so weak, that it requires many more. (An Iraqi government with a sufficiently stable situation, would expel the U.S. and invite in Iran.) And, a U.S. presence of 135,000, in a country experiencing a simmering civil war, is simply unsustainable.
    If the Bush Administration is forced to failure — and failure means failure in their own terms, failure to sustain a policy of permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq — they will see their primary task as one of controlling the political narrative in such a way as to blame the Democrats for all that follows. This expectation distorts the policy debate. Those, who do not want, and who never wanted, an American Empire in the Persian Gulf, have responsibility for the failures of the Imperial policy they oppose, thrust upon them.
    Politically, the right move for those opposed to Empire is to forget actual policy and grab hold of the narrative. This could be accomplished by advocating a garagantuan effort to finish the reconstruction and set Iraq right, but requiring that the gargantuan effort be made now, and completed by, this Administration. Criticize the Adminstration not just for its evident failure, but for not making a sufficient effort to succeed, and to succeed in the idealistic terms of creating a genuinely strong Iraq. Make Bush responsible for deliberately creating a weak and unstable Iraq.
    Bush will not create a strong Iraq, or change policy to do so. A strong Iraq serves none of his purposes. And, by the time Bush leaves power, it will be too late for a U.S. effort, however gargantuan, to really save Iraq from its tragic fate. But, at least, rational Americans of good will would be able to conduct the necessary withdrawal, if not with a clean conscience, at least, without blame for failure or accusations of stab-in-the-back.

  8. > In fact, Bush is gambling that he can
    > achieve a permanent presence for the U.S.
    > military, by keeping Iraq weak, without
    > actually having Iraqi chaos consume the
    > U.S. forces. It looks like a bad bet. I
    > expect Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al want about
    > 50,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq,
    > permanently,
    IMHO your analysis is good, and that WAS the plan up to about a year ago. Now Rove is in charge, and the plan is to run out the clock to 2008, let Hillary, Feingold, or Gore win, and then run Jeb or someone similar in 2012 on the platform of "the Democrats screwed up our great victory in Iraq".

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