The “80% plan” for Iraq

Should we encourage the slaughter of the 5 million Sunni Arabs in Iraq?
No, I don’t think so either.

I suppose if Justice Department officials write memos in favor of torture, it’s only appropriate for their State Department counterparts to write memos in favor of genocide. Zelikow and Yoo can keep one another company in prison once the war-crimes trials are over.

“Ending outreach to insurgents”? That one belongs in the Euphemism Hall of Fame. Just what do proponents of the “80% plan” expect to happen to the other 20% of the population of Iraq: the Sunni Arabs? Especially the urban Sunni? With the Shi’a death squads fully unleashed, it looks to me as if their choices would quickly boil down to exile or death.

Even if this policy weren’t atrociously immoral, it would still be dumbfoundingly stupid. Since in the midst of a genocidal civil war all the political advantages rest with the most extreme factions of the majority, the ones with the most guns and the most willingness to kill, the Zelikow plan means more or less giving non-Kurdish Iraq to Moqtada al-Sadr, who really could make the world long for the good old days under Saddam. And of course the Sunni-ruled oil states, though probably too weak to do anything about it militarily, wouldn’t forget, or forgive, anytime soon.

I hate to agree with Krauthammer about anything, but he’s right that a lunatic “realist” can be just as dangerous as a lunatic “neocon.” Let’s not forget that “realism” once meant supporting the bani Saud and the Shah, the South African Nationalist Party, Jonas Savimbi and Mobutu Sese Seko, Batista, Trujillo, and Duvalier, Pinochet and Galtieri, and of course the brave Afghani mujaheddin and their jihadist friends who were giving the Russians such fits. How’s that working out, guys?

That brilliant geopolitical thinker Mark Twain (someone today’s anti-imperialists can legitimately claim as an intellectual and moral forebear) once said “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” I’m not sure what would count as “doing right” in the fine mess the Bushies have gotten us into, but I’m pretty sure that abandoning 5 million people &#8212 most of them completely innocent &#8212 to the fury of their sectarian enemies isn’t it.

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:

23 thoughts on “The “80% plan” for Iraq”

  1. I thought you were in favour of withdrawing from Iraq. Isn't anti-Sunni genocide the obvious outcome of this strategy? They have no oil, they're a small minority, and Iran is a much better ally than Syria in all sorts of ways. Other than plausible deniability, what's the moral argument for unleashing the Shia when we walk away?

  2. Minor Arabic grammatical note.
    It's either Banu Saud or Bayit il-Saudiyyeh, depending on how you want to render it.

  3. I'm with Jane, except I think we should prosecute Mark for war crimes. Now, I think. Incitement to genocide should be a war crime, and I'm sure some international law professor has made the argument that it is a jus cogens, so let's say that it is. Lock him up and throw away the key (well, for 10 or 15 years–these are offenses against international law, so we'll follow our European betters on the punishment).
    Just kidding. Unlike some people, I don't actually favor criminalizing political differences. That's the difference between a pluralist democrat like me and a radical like Mark.

  4. First, I've always assumed that Negroponte's first action was to arm and guide the Shia death squads. Is there some reason to doubt this?
    Second, the behavior has seemed to be a spiraling tit for tat. That is quite different from genocide. We've seen genocide planned and carried out in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, Germany. It isn't a death squad activity – bad as death squads are.

  5. Jane, I'm not "in favor of walking away," precisely because I'm worried about mass slaughter once we're gone. (On this point Kevin Drum and I disagree; he's convinced that disaster is inevitable and that stalling just makes it worse, which is a plausible thing to think.) I'm not sure what I AM in favor of, since we seem to be fresh out of decent options. But I'm sure we can do better than supporting a genocidal government.
    Thomas, whether to allow private accounts as part of the Social Security system is a policy difference. Torture and genocide are capital crimes under both international law (according to treaties to which the United States is signatory) and U.S. domestic law. As Kevin points out, the Zelikow plan amounts to a U.S. decision to support mass murder by the Shi'a against the Sunni. And of course I wouldn't for a moment suggest prosecuting (as opposed to ostracizing) someone who merely advocated such a policy as a citizen, scholar, or journalist.
    But equally of course culpability for war crimes and crimes against humanity isn't limited to the people who actually pull the trigger. We sent a bunch of German officials to prison after World War II on charges of:
    * Crimes against peace by planning and waging aggressive war against other nations and violating international treaties;
    * Participating and organizing the formulations and execution of a common plan and conspiracy to commit aforementioned crimes against peace;
    * War crimes by being responsible for murder, ill-treatment and other crimes against prisoners of war and enemy belligerents.
    [See Wikipedia, "Ministries Trial."]
    None of those people had personally killed anyone. Was it wrong to "criminalize" the "policy dispute" between those who favored invading Czechoslovakia and Poland and those who opposed it? (And no, before you start spluttering, I'm not comparing Yoo and Zelikow to the Nazis, merely pointing out that the legal principle under which I would propose to hold them liable is the same legal principle used in the Ministries Trial.)
    If your definition of democratic pluralism embraces crimes against humanity, then you're free to call me a republican. However, while I have no particular aversion to radicalism, I don't see that a willingness to let the law be applied to the men in suits as well as the men with guns, to high as well as low, deserves to be called radical. The rule of law is, after all, a deeply conservative principle as well as a deeply liberal one.

  6. This comment thread is one more bit of evidence (as if more were needed!) that you should never take seriously anyone who would model him or herself after an Ayn Rand novel. (Or Thomas, for that matter, though he's really in his own category.)

  7. Well, Ms. McArdle — fortunately — is not, by any remote stretch of the imagination, an Ayn Randian (my God, she supports the progressive income tax and a large single-payer national health insurance program). And in this case Mark did not make properly clear the difference between standing by during a massacre because there's nothing that can be done about it in practical terms, and actually officially SUPPORTING such a massacre.
    Let us also keep in mind that (A) the landslide majority of Moslems worldwide are Sunni, (B) al-Qaeda is trying mightily to get political mileage out of its furious opposition to the Shiites, and (C) we are going to look awfully peculiar when we try to put intense pressure against Iran for its nuclear program at the same time that we're siding officially with a pro-Iranian regime in Iraq. As Drum says, this proposal is totally insane. But then. as Sen. Biden pointed out the other night, trying to predict the actions of this administration at this point is rather like an FBI profiler trying to guess the future actions of a serial killer.

  8. The big problem of course is that we are now just training Iraqis to kill other Iraqis. So Jane, Thomas et al are damned for saying we stay to prep one side for a civil war, and Mark is damned for proposing we leave so they can get to it with the training they already have.
    Which leads us back to the devil himself in all of this: George W Bush.

  9. Mark, I'm not sure what to make of that as a response. First, you do habitually suggest that your political opponents should be jailed. I have a hard time believing that it's all principled–there's something else going on, as I see it. In this particular case, I think there's good reason for my suspicion. The proposal as described isn't for the US to engage in a genocide, or to materially support a genocide. And even Kevin doesn't suggest that the US would participate in any such thing. The worst, he says, is that the US "might be viewed as actively cooperating… no matter how hard we protested otherwise"–which is a bit short of your description of what Kevin says. You say, wildly, that Kevin sees such a plan as a decision to support mass murder; he said no such thing. (I suppose I should feel better that you're so unfair in reading your friends.) But your misreading allows you to twist this memo into a brief for genocide and to call again for jailing members of the administration. What you don't explain is how to distinguish the actual position in the memo, even as characterized by Kevin, from the position of, say, soon-to-be Senator Webb. If the policy foreseeably results in genocide, if I understand you correctly, then there is criminal culpability for those who enacted the policy. Would you call for Webb to be jailed if a genocide resulted from legislation he sponsored? If Webb is successful is cutting off funding for the US troops in Iraq, forcing their withdrawal, and a genocide results in Iraq, can we jail Webb? (That's Megan's question, and you never address it.)
    Of course you wouldn't jail Webb, and neither would I. But our reasons would certainly be different.
    Matt doesn't have anything constructive to say, which is fine. What's damning is that he never has anything interesting to say.

  10. Thomas, since you regularly show yourself to be unable to read simple sentences I don't bother trying to write anything more for you. There's a pretty obvious difference between saying that someone has committed a crime and calling for one's enemies to be jailed. You and 'Jane' seem unable to see this. I suppose it would be better to just let that speak for itself.

  11. It's really ugly, isn't it?
    ALL our policy options–including the status quo–will result in a lot of bloodshed and one of them, specifically the status quo, has the added disadvantage of the continuing enervation of America. Our continuing presence in Iraq makes it difficult or impossible for us to "do right" anywhere in the world.
    Bush is right that there can be no graceful exit but wrong to conclude that, since we can't exit gracefully, we should not.
    And, yes, there is a difference between recognizing that it's beyond our capacity to stop sectarian violence and actively supporting genocide.

  12. Mark —
    A good post — unlike you, I think that our staying there makes things worse, but what I think is irrelevant, since Our Leader seems determined to replicate Stalingrad.
    Mind you, we've trained & armed death squads in Latin America for ages — when other nations do it we call it "state sponsored terrorism" (& it is).

  13. Matt, I wasn't complaining about your being an ass, but remarking that you're a bore. Thankfully you've confirmed for everyone that you are both.
    I'm happy that you've ceased writing for me. What will it take for you to stop writing for everyone else? I'll happily chip in, if it would help.

  14. (My god I should know better than to do this…) You see, Thomas, this is just the sort of thing I had in mind. One of your big problems is that you can't read. My remark above was that you can't tell the difference between fundamentally different claims. That implies that you're either stupid or can't read. I'd hoped by saying it in easy to read ways you'd see the difference. But no. That is boring to have to do, I agree. Going over basic differences is tedious in the extreme, but bad students often need it. Did I say you'd called me an ass? No. I'd not care, either. But you do nicely again show your inability to read and understand even simple ideas.

  15. "doing right".
    It is obvious to the entire world what the right thing for America to do is, now that they have created this mess. The only honorable thing left is open immigration to the US + some starting help for any Iraqi who wants it.
    Expensive? Yes, but unlikely to be $1 trillion expensive.
    Will the new immigrants eventually vote Dem rather than Republican? Undoubtedly.
    Will Americans be pissed off at a flood of new immigrants? Probably.
    Bottom line: for all the talk about "doing the honorable thing", what that means is "doing the honorable thing that doesn't actually cost anything". There is no way Republicans will accept the honorable thing, and I don't expect that a majority of Americans would. Welcome to the land of "What Would Jesus Do?"

  16. Another constructive comment from Matt. Matt, despite your assurances, you don't seem to do much but write for me. I had such high hopes, but they've been dashed so quickly.
    You are the one who seems to, as always, miss the point. My comment criticizes Mark for not properly observing the distinction between calling for his political opponents to be jailed and calling someone a criminal. So, not only do I understand the distinction, it underlies my criticism. I don't doubt that you are a good reader, but it's clear that you're not a very good thinker and are a bit uncomfortable with rhetoric. It seems to me that must be a horrible handicap in your line of work.
    I'd urge you to consider the possibility that when those you think are "bad students" look at you uncomprehendingly you consider the possibility that it's you who has missed the point. You miss the point again and again in our interactions. And always with the same insufferable tone.

  17. What sort of domestic public controversy do the proponents of 80% foresee if it were to be adopted, as the killing proceeded. There's certainly precedent for the hope that any popular moral revulsion will be more or less manageable or restricted to the margins, but Iraq isn't El Salvador, & the Sunnis aren't Mayan Indians.
    There will be vocal defenders, & the discusssion will drag the country collectively further into the moral abyss, but is there any assurance it would even be politically sustainable? Maybe I'm being naive.

  18. Another problem I see with the plan to unleash the
    Shias is that they would probably not stop with the
    Sunni Arabs. The Kurds are Sunnis also. An aggressive theocracy in Baghdad might not stop after razing the Sunni triangle. Kurdish strategists are probably thinking about this right now, and assuming they'll be screwed over by Washington (yet again).

  19. It is going to get ugly fast, as Cheney was told by King Abdullah when he was summoned to Riyadh. The gist of the message was that if the US goes ahead with this "80% final solution" then the Saudis are going to throw their support towards keeping their fellow co-religionists alive. The Salafi especially consider the Shiite to be heretics, so expect even more weapons, money and "freedom fighters" to cross that huge unguarded border with the magic kingdom.
    Expect oil to hit very high prices when bush's war in Iraq drags in Iran vs Saudi Arabia.

  20. I hate to agree with Krauthammer about anything, but he's right that a lunatic "realist" can be just as dangerous as a lunatic "neocon."
    This is a classic excluded middle fallacy. The options are not limited to "democracy promotion" by killing foreigners on the one hand, and withdrawing and letting them kill each other on the other. There's an alternative, which is working through diplomacy and other means to identify incentives to improve other regimes' behavior to their citizens and the outside world. It shouldn't have to be said, but Krauthammer clearly misses it.
    In Iraq itself, unfortunately, the options currently seem to be limited to killing foreigners and THEN withdrawing and letting them kill each other, or withdrawing and letting then kill each other right now.

  21. I hate to agree with Krauthammer about anything, but he’s right that a lunatic “realist” can be just as dangerous as a lunatic “neocon.”
    This is a classic excluded middle fallacy. The options are not limited to “democracy promotion” by killing foreigners on the one hand, and withdrawing and letting them kill each other on the other. There’s an alternative, which is working through diplomacy and other means to identify incentives to improve other regimes’ behavior to their citizens and the outside world. It shouldn’t have to be said, but Krauthammer clearly misses it.
    In Iraq itself, unfortunately, the options currently seem to be limited to killing foreigners and THEN withdrawing and letting them kill each other, or withdrawing and letting then kill each other right now.

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