Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Help Me Out Here

By Stephen Pizzo

Like the rest of you, I just have to sit and watch and listen to the news from the Middle East and wonder who's right and who's wrong. Clearly from the state of affairs over there, most everyone has been wrong – at least those of us in the West who keep thinking we can “fix” that ever-so broken region.

Anyway, as we now see Iraq falling apart (for the umpteenth time in recent memory) we are hearing the hawks on the right complaining that “Obama's strategies have lost the Middle East.” And, they suggest, it's time to put more US “boots on the ground.” That term is starting to ring familiar, like ones from earlier failed imperialistic conflicts. Remember “light at the end of the tunnel?”

I have tried to see both sides of this argument. But for the life of me I can't see what US strategic interests need protecting in those arguments. In fact, the more I learn, the less and less I believe there are any. And, as such, my solution of choice has become “benign neglect.”

Here's my thinking – and if you disagree, I'd love to hear why and what you would do instead. But for now, here's my take:

I keep hearing from the right that we need to force some kind of “political solution,” there. Trouble is this is not a political problem, it's a tribal/religious problem. It's not Democrats fighting with Republicans, it's Sunnis fighting Shia and visa versa, and the Kurds fighting both. The three groups don't want to get along, any more than the Bloods and the Crips want to sit in a circle and sing camp songs of love and acceptance. They want to kill one another, hopefully in wholesale lots.

How do we craft a “political solution” to that? You don't. You can't. We tried... several times now. It's simply not going to happen. Ever.

That leaves only two logical responses, and each lives at the extreme ends of the list of possible solutions. The first, leave them alone. Let them fight all they want. Stay out of it. Let them live with the full implications of their deepest desires for as long as it takes for them to either get it out of their systems -- or for them to finish off one of the sides. Since only the Kurds are worth an ounce of Western concern or support, make sure they have enough firepower to defend the areas they've carved out for themselves already, but otherwise, stay out of it.

The other way is the “all in” option. And when I say all in, I mean ALL in. NATO, the whole group... 500,000 to a million troops from all NATO countries plus Arab “allies” like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Flood Iraq with multi-national forces, partition the country into three areas (already really happened) and help the Sunnies and Shia and Kurds set up their own independent countries... no more Iraq. Gone. If they want to form some kind of regional coalition years later when everyone has calmed the hell down, fine. But for now, get into the region you prefer, mind your own business (now that you have your own businesses) and “deal” with those who don’t comply.

When it's a raging fire, you throw everything you have at it, you don't plink around the edges. Those who want to “fix” the mess in Iraq need to understand that... understand that it takes an all out, no-holds-barred response, not just some boots on the ground and some careful surgical airstrikes. It means lots and lots and lots of people, most of them civilians, will die.

Personally I vote for Option 1: Stay out of it... all of it.

Because, no matter which option we choose, Iraqi civilians will die in the tens of thousands. They are doing that right now. They've done that, to varying degrees, for 1500 years. And they are highly likely to continue doing just that for many decades to come. That's not pessimism, it's realism. It's history. Recent history too.

The difference, (and it's a damn big one,) is that with Option 1 we are not accomplices in mass murder.

Europeans went through this kind religion-fueled internal warfare hundreds of years ago. When Catholics and Protestants got tired of killing one another, it ended... if only recently in N.Ireland. That's how you end these kind of Hatfield/McCoy religious feuds – you let them burn themselves out. If others keep jumping in a putting just enough water on the flames to knock them down, then leave, it all just starts up again.

And that's where we are in Iraq. A forced partition would be a repeat of what created this mess in the beginning; the British and French drawing borders in that region that suited them, while ignoring the long smoldering fires of religious hatred and tribalism.

So I rest my case for benign neglect. Step away. Watchful waiting. Let the waring parties wear themselves out. Let the region reorder itself in ways that make sense to them, not us. If Iran wants to own the Shia area of Iraq, they are welcome to it. It would serve them right.

That's it. What do you think? I'm open to a better idea... tho I seriously doubt there is one.