Iraq is not about democracy. Despite democratic globalist’s emphasis on US moral obligations to spread democracy globally even by military means it is time to return to a realist perspective and start defending US and allied powers’ vital interests. Democracy does not work in current Iraq and democratizing this country should have never been of any concern to the US. Had realist motivations prevailed in 2003 the US would never have intervened in Iraq militarily in the first place.
However, it is idle to lament on the Bush-43 decision to wage this war of choice back in 2003. The only thing that counts now is how to entangle allied forced from the Iraqi quagmire resulting both from a terrorist insurgency and a sectarian civil war. In both these processes external powers like Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are deeply involved. The Shiite led Maliki government is both unable and unwilling to reign in the Shiite militias (particularly those of Muqtada Sadr, on which his government currently depends). Maliki’s commitment to reconciliation is weak; it is even questionable if he really supports the idea of a multisectarian Iraq. Shiite dominance may be more to his liking; US military control is therefore considered hampering these efforts. Sunni engagement in Iraqi politics therefore is highly limited and even if Maliki’s efforts were more serious it is highly unlikely that most of the Sunni tribes could be engaged in a viable coalition government.
Reconstruction of the Iraqi economy and infrastructure is slow. This is due to incompetence, corruption, poor planning and the fact that many countries do not live up to the financial committments for rebuilding war-torn Iraq they had previously made.
On the face of it, it seems prudent to withdraw allied forces from Iraq. The inevitable consequence however would be an escalating sectarian struggle, an all-out civil war forcing or inviting neighbouring countries to back the warring parties; central government would collapse, the country most likely disintegrate and Iraq’s neighbours occupy parts of the collapsing Iraq. This would however not end in an equilibrium with the invaders saturated with parts of Iraqi territory but would lead to military clashes between the invading armies.
Furthermore a dismembering Iraq would boost islamist terrorist activity of the al-Khaida type. Both an escalating war in the region and the formation of terrorist cells gaining sufficient strength to wage terrorist attacks against allied countries directly threaten vital security interests of the US and its allies. Withdrawing from Iraq is not like leaving Saigon; it would be like abandoning the decision to invade the Normandie in 1944.
The allies therefore must not leave. A surge of armed forces is a highly reasonable decision albeit coming excessively late. However, the reinforcement numbers suggested by President Bush are far too low. With the US army already overstretched realist thinking should urge reluctant European governments to assist the allied powers with additional military reinforcements. Clearing and holding section by section in Baghdad making use of overwhelming numbers of troops is of utmost importance.
This surge however needs to be combined with massive investment to boost economic rebuilding; economic recovery is aimed to provide the ordinary Iraqis with jobs in order to decrease their hostility toward the allied forces.
Widely discussed benchmarks for the Maliki government will most likely not work as it becomes increasingly clear that the Shiite groups stand to profit from a US withdrawal. Allied powers need to dump Maliki and press for a different government – a moderate coalition of Shiites, Sunni and Kurds. This needs to be pursued even if it meant violating the existing constitution or dissolving parliament.
Allied forces should stop democratising Iraq but stabilise and control all the levers of power. The Iraqi quagmire does not call for democracy but for occupation, leadership and military control combined with concerted rebuilding efforts. If the people of Iraq are not able to govern, sustain and defend their country as ‘Iraqis’, external interference is more than necessary. Granting power to one sect tempts it to wield unlimited power. Keeping Sunnis and Shiite off power might cause them reconsider their situation. If prolonged occupation by foreign forces and UN civil administration within the framework of an UN protectorate might foster an Iraqi identity and desire to regain freedom for all Iraqi ethnic and religious groups this might be worth a try. If they stand to regain a rebuilt country political resentments may dwindle.
This is a task for many years and requires political and financial commitments by an allied coalition far larger than the current one. This war is not about winning; this war is about not to lose. Allied powers simply can’t afford to lose.