Three years ago, in what passed for a “debate” about invading Iraq, I wrote a piece entitled, “Top 10 Reasons Not to ‘Do’ Iraq.” Now, after three years of war and many unnecessary deaths (both U.S. and Iraqi), I believe there are ten good reasons to partition Iraq, declare victory, and leave Iraq quickly:
- 1. The newly drafted Constitution has put the country on the road to eventual partition. The current draft allows the Kurds an oil-rich autonomous region in northern Iraq and makes it possible for the Shi’a to have the same in southern Iraq. The Constitution will likely inflame Sunni insurgents because the Sunnis fear that they will be left with a poor rump region in central Iraq that has no oil wealth. To reduce the chances of a civil war over this issue once the U.S. withdraws, the United States should stop denying the inevitable and broker a viable oil revenue sharing agreement among all groups that would satisfy the three future states in the former Iraq. Such an accord was reached between northern and southern Sudan to successfully end that country’s bloody civil war.
- 2. Internecine fighting among heavily armed Iraqi factional militias is increasing. U.S. forces have the potential to be in the middle of not only Sunni vs. Shiite and Sunni vs. Kurd, but also intra-Shiite clashes. In contrast to a controlled partition with an oil revenue sharing agreement, an all-out civil war could make U.S. and Iraqi casualties to date look mild.
- 3. A U.S. withdrawal would take much of the fire out of a Sunni insurgency. The Sunnis are motivated, at least in part, by a desire to expel the foreign invader.
- 4. The U.S. government cannot afford to continue fighting in Iraq. At a time of yawning U.S. government budget deficits, the Iraq quagmire has already cost the taxpayers $218 billion and has a staggering estimated long-term price tag of $700 billion to well over $1 trillion.
- 5. Even victory would be hollow. Caught unawares by the mayhem and ferocity of resistance in U.S.-occupied Iraq, the Bush administration’s “deer caught in the headlines” policy has never developed a realistic, well-defined notion of victory. As Lewis Simons, a former Washington Post and Knight Ridder reporter, best put it, “What would ‘winning’ in Iraq mean, anyway? A democratic society that’s free to elect an anti-American, pro-Iranian, fundamentalist Islamic government?” On the trajectory of the administration’s current policy, this unintended outcome is what American boys and girls are fighting for. The administration may be promoting “intelligent design,” but unfortunately not in its Iraq policy. A partition would at least limit Iranian influence to the southern part of the country.
- 6. A partitioned Iraq could develop pockets of genuine, lasting political and economic liberty. Once the U.S. abandons its attempt to impose a foreign brand of democracy at gunpoint, a partitioned Iraq may develop areas of sustainable liberty bubbling up from the grassroots. Such experiments could be used as a model for the rest of the Islamic world. At least initially, the Kurds would have the best chance of creating such a relatively free society in their area.
- 7. The longer the United States stays in Iraq, the more trained Islamic jihadists will be let loose on the world. In the Islamic faith, Muslims are required to repel any “infidel” invader from Muslim lands. Islamist fighters from all over the world came to help fuel the fierce resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Russian incursions into Chechnya. The Bush administration should have anticipated the same in Iraq, a nation that harbored no anti-American terrorists before the U.S. invasion. The U.S. invasion and occupation there have since been a recruiting poster for Islamic radicals worldwide. Also, by giving the jihadists valuable combat experience fighting U.S. forces in Iraq, the administration has unwittingly created a training ground for future anti-U.S. terrorist attacks-“much like the U.S.-sponsored anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan provided training for al Qaeda’s terrorist strikes.
- 8. Attention and resources can be redirected to where they should be focused: neutralizing the al Qaeda terror network. Although President Bush seemed to fancy himself as a swaggering “man of action,” during the invasion of Iraq, subsequent events have shown him to be a “man of distraction.” Releasing the United States from the Iraqi “tar baby” would redirect limited U.S. resources back to neutralizing the al Qaeda terror network that is still trying to attack the U.S. homeland.
- 9. The false tradeoff between security and unique U.S. liberties would be exposed. If anti-U.S. terrorism could be reduced-“either by eliminating the U.S. military intervention that inspires and motivates it or by increasing the attention and resources needed to neutralize it-“draconian reductions of U.S. civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism would not be necessary. The USA PATRIOT Act could be repealed instead of renewed.
- 10. Getting out of Iraq now while the United States still has some credibility and honor is better than doing so later with its tail between its legs. In Vietnam, the United States stayed the course in an attempt to maintain its “credibility,” but ended up losing much of that credibility over time. Like an investor who invests in a poorly performing stock, the best course is to admit a mistake, cut probable losses, and reinvest the resources in more productive endeavors-“not to ride the stock to the bottom hoping it will turn around. Besides, at this late date, only a controlled partition of Iraq that allows the Sunnis to both rule themselves and share the oil wealth has any chance of preventing the descent into civil war.
The U.S. military has admitted that the Iraqi rebellion cannot be defeated by force of arms. And the new Constitution probably will not allow the United States to suck the energy out of the insurgency politically by co-opting the Sunnis into the new Iraq. In fact, the Constitution will likely intensify Sunni resistance. It is time for the U.S. to cut its losses and get out before the civil war starts, the violence becomes too great, and the window to withdraw with dignity closes and is replaced by “fleeing under fire.”