Saturday, December 23, 2006

Why and How Peace is in Iraq's Hands

This article will address two very important US national security concepts:
1) Why our assessment of the Iraqi ground situation is wrong.
2) How the Iraqis are trying to fix it (and why it might just work).

Part I: Misconceptions

First, our assessment of the ground situation. The fundamental judgments we have made (either as a government or a population) about the military and political situation in Iraq are largely wrong. Although the civilian population does not make policy, they will elect executive and legislative politicians that share their ideas, and pressure other politicians to follow their will. This is usually a good thing-- except in foreign policy, where civilians do not have access to some information, and do not pay attention to the rest.

The first fundamental assumption that many have is that we made a mistake in invading because Democracy cannot work in Islamic states. There are many examples to the contrary: Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Indonesia (the world's largest Muslim country) all have elected Republics of some sort. It can be done.

The second is that anti-Americanism is the primary problem in Iraq. It's true that two significant anti-American militia groups exist in Iraq (Cleric Al-Sadr leads one, the other is Al-Qaeda in Iraq). But the judgment that these are our biggest problem, or that our departure will cause them to stop being problems, is dangerous. The reason these militias exist is not simply due to an overwhelming hate of Americans. Because the Iraqi government is weak and unable to provide military security to its people, citizens depend on militias. The primary reason the Iraqi government is so weak is the nature of citizen's loyalties to their Sunni and Shiite sects, instead of the Iraqi state (this is covered in my previous article). Al-Sadr's militia, as well as the Al-Qaeda terrorists in the country, are likely to lose support if its citizens have a strong government that will provide them the security they need. The Iraqi people in general do not want Al-Qaeda in Iraq-- the organization attacks citizens, and is the focus of the American military. No working government, however anti-American, gives Al-Qaeda harbor or support, because the organization will bring them far too much grief from the west. The best way to get rid of these anti-American groups is to help the Iraqi government establish itself and strengthen security for the Iraqi people. The dangerous thinking that anti-Americanism is the source of Iraq's problems is that those that think it will drive the American military to leave Iraq prematurely, before helping the government establish security, and these anti-American organizations will remain.

If we do leave, and that does cause a decrease in security for the Iraqi people, the country's fighting may get worse. The Saudis have hinted that they will fund the Sunni minority militias in Iraq, and Iran is likely to support the militias of the only other major Shiite-majority country in the world. Pulling out early is likely a mistake.

Part II: Hope.

Yes, hope.

No matter how many political ideas the Untied States government or think tanks can produce, the Iraqi people and government must find a solution themselves-- Iraq is not an American puppet state. We can help, but we cannot fix this ourselves.

But it seems Iraq is about to take a subtle, but extremely important first step towards peace, independent of the Americans. One of the greatest disruptors in Iraq has been cleric Al-Sadr, his militia, and his political bloc. He is not only vehemently anti-American, but has also waged war against the Sunni militias for years. He has control of a powerful political bloc in the ruling Iraqi coalition. In fact, Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq, has depended on Al-Sadr's political support for his office. Maliki has refused to pressure al-Sadr's militia to halt its civilian attacks, and in doing so has shown that al-Sadr is free to do what he pleases, and free to manipulate the government.

But many Shiites, as well as Sunnis and Kurds, have grown tired of Maliki and al-Sadr, and are forming a new coalition. This coalition, unlike the current Shiite coalition, will have to cater to the needs of all three sectarian groups to stay in power, and will choose a Prime Minister that will have to enact cross-sectarian policies that may help reduced the need for a cross-sectarian power struggle. This new coalition would oust Maliki and wrest power from al-Sadr. In response, al-Sadr may lay down arms for a full month, according to anonymous close aides. If these two events happen near the same time, the government may have a brief opportunity to get itself upon its feet. It may be the beginning of a realization between many Sunnis and Shiites that cooperation in Iraq is necessary for survival.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Federalism in Iraq

Iraq's in civil war, and the US is bogged down in a mess. "Stay the course" has gone out the window, but few ideas have entered the political landscape to replace it. Most of these ideas are military, and include restructuring the police force, adding more US troops, removing US troops, training the Iraqi military, directly striking militia groups, etc.

The only political idea that's popularized by policy-makers is that of asking Iran and Syria for help. Let's be clear that the guys in charge of these countries are not nice guys, and are not our friends. Embracing their help will, at best, give them huge influence in Iraq, or, at worst, backfire completely. But if the situation in Iraq becomes desperate enough, an unholy alliance may look more tempting.

But for now, we explore other political options. To preface my thesis, I am going to make a few assumptions:

1) The fighting between Sunnis and Shiites is a power struggle. That is, they're not just killing each other simply because they're racists, but because each ethnic group has specific needs and political agendas, and they do not want the other ethnic group to impose conflicting political agendas upon them.

2) The key to power in Iraq is currently Baghdad, due to the central nature of the government.

The Shiites and Sunnis may very well be trapped in a cycle in which neither is secure while the other still fights, and neither will stop fighting until it is secure. It will take a drastic military or political intervention to change this. But can we do it without shedding the blood of thousands?

If the fighting really is a power struggle, then we should take away the reason for fighting: take away power from Baghdad. The American Federalist system works by giving the Federal government in Washington limited power over the states, mostly to ensure interstate commerce is smooth, that national defense is strong, and that fundamental freedoms are not infringed. If Iraqi "States," like American states, are set up, each with a large deal of autonomy, it's very possible the desperate power struggle between the Sunnis and the Shiites will decrease. It will be important to be clear that Baghdad is a city not affiliated with any state, like Washington DC.
Above is an image of a three-state Federalist system as proposed by They ask for a very high degree of decentralization, almost to the extent of separate countries. but I believe that maintaining a strong army run by Baghdad will decrease the incentive for the three regions to go to war.

The states would be divided up largely along ethnic lines, as it's Sunni and Shiite ethnic loyalty that seems to drive the actions of political and militia groups. By giving ethnic states a level of autonomy, they will have secure power, and will be less likely to fight to make sure that their own interests are protected.

We've seen this work in the Kurdish state already. The Kurds have had semi-autonomy for 15 years (since the first Gulf War), and have dealt with it very well. It is the Kurdish semi-autonomous state that is the most peaceful, despite being the least represented in the central government parliament, because its regional power means it does not need command of the central government to feel secure.

There are criticisms of the Federalism idea. The first criticisms are that it addresses the wrong problem; that the ethnic clashes are not politically motivated. This is just untrue. The militia sympathizers boycott elections, walk out of parliament, and make careful political assassinations to try and either protest or gain political advantage. This is not simply racial genocide and carnage.

The second criticism is that Turkey, our allies, would be very upset at the move, as it would invigorate the Kurds in eastern Turkey, and open up the possibility of the formation of a Kurdish state. I find this problem to be largely overplayed. The Kurds simply don't need more autonomy (as their region is so peaceful), and they would be unlikely to get more. In fact, the Kurdish semi-autonomous state should be used as a model for the other two.

Finally, there are fears that an Iraqi three-state program would turn into a mass migration and refugee nightmare like India and Pakistan/Bangladesh when they formed. While many people would likely move between states, this problem is also overplayed. First, American and Iraqi forces would clearly oversee state migrations in the first few months to make sure that the situation remained as peaceful as possible, and so fewer fights are likely to break out. Also, many fewer people would be moving across a border with better infrastructure, so the migration would be faster and easier. It's entirely possible that blood could be shed during this process, but we are clearly not saving lives by doing nothing at all, and the long-term benefits could be the saving grace of Iraq.

Clearly, Turkey's worries and the problems of migration and refugees should not be ignored, but they are relatively small problems compared to the civil war that rages in Iraq today, and could be managed to some degree by coalition and Iraqi forces. Once the migration has occured, the two new states could set up their own constitutions and parliaments, like American states, and begin a sense of self-rule that would bring great political security to all three regions.

Ultimately, the average Iraqi person wants peace. And if the average Iraqi person feels political and military security, he is not going to support dangerous militias that will propogate a civil war that is primarily targeting civilians. But until the Iraqi people have this security, they will fight desperately and bitterly to make sure they get it, and this civil war will rage on, no matter how many troops we have (or don't have) in Iraq.

Monday, December 4, 2006

The Chinese Nuclear Weapons Program

A paper I wrote that touches on the Chinese nuclear arsenal, China's proliferation practices, and how these threaten United States national security.

A brief summary:

The Chinese nuclear arsenal is technologically sound and very capable. The Chinese have nuclear warheads mounted on ballistic missiles capable of hitting the entire area of the United States. Also, some Chinese military personnel have implied or said explicitly that deploying nuclear weapons against the United States remains an option if the United States intervenes in a cross-strait (Taiwanese) conflict. But because of its investment in United States consumers, as well as the Asian supply line and world economy in general, the Chinese government is very likely to see the costs of nuclear warfare far too high for it to be a serious option.

But Chinese proliferation policy in the 1980's and 1990's has given ballistic missile and/or nuclear weapons technology to very dangerous states, including Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan. These countries not only pose a significant nuclear threat to the United States and its allies, but may very well further spread nuclear or ballistic missile technology to other dangerous states or terrorist organizations. This would constitute a "Cascade of Proliferation," making nuclear technology nearly democratic, and making the world a significantly more dangerous place. Although China's nuclear proliferation policy has become much more responsible with time, it's past actions have armed many states dangerous to the United States. Any damage that the Chinese nuclear program might do to the United States may now be out of Chinese control.