**Very interesting analysis.
The risks of staying vs. leaving Iraq
Barry R. Posen
/*[Barry R. Posen*// is director of the Security Studies Program at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.]
SUPPORTERS of the war in Iraq, including most recently Senator John
McCain, tell us that a series of awful consequences will certainly
result if US forces disengage. This argument is offered with great
confidence. Yet the costs of disengagement are less certain than is
often argued, and the United States can reduce the risks that these
costs will arise -- and limit their consequences if they do.
Supporters of the war predict six major disasters if US forces withdraw:
/ //*Al Qaeda will take over the country.*/
This risk is now non existent. Al Qaeda's support is strongest among
Sunnis, whom the Shia outnumber by three to one. The Shia control the
military, the police, and numerous militias. The United States has
ramped up its operations in Baghdad in part to stop the Shia from
cleansing the Sunnis from Baghdad. There will be no caliphate in
Baghdad, whether Americans stay or leave.
The most extreme among the Sunni insurgents may indeed be committed to
international jihad, and they may continue to work clandestinely out of
Iraq, as they do today. But these jihadis will not be comfortable. Iraqi
Shi'ites despise them, and even many Sunnis oppose them. US intelligence
will indeed have to keep an eye on them, and special operations forces
may occasionally need to sneak back into Iraq to strike at them. These
are capabilities the United States has spent billions building up since
/ //*The current civil war (or wars) will escalate.
*/ Fighting may indeed intensify after a US disengagement. To come to an
understanding of how wealth and power in Iraq will be shared, the
political forces there must measure their relative capacity and will.
The United States now stands in the way of such a measurement, and the
US presence delegitimizes any outcome. The promise of a certain US
withdrawal date may clear the heads of some Iraqi politicians ; a
negotiated settlement could start to look better to them than an
escalation of fighting.
The humanitarian consequences of this intensified fighting could be
grave. But genocide happens against unarmed populations; all groups in
Iraq are heavily armed. Still, the violent ejection of minorities from
particular areas is likely. Instead of convincing minorities to stay in
neighborhoods where they are vulnerable to murder by local majorities,
the United States can help people resettle in parts of Iraq that are safer.
/ //*If the civil war intensifies, regional powers will rush in.*/
This too is already under way, but escalation into a giant civil war is
not in anyone's interest. Syria, Iran, and Turkey have Kurdish
minorities which may become restive during such a war. The Saudis would
likely prefer that their Sunni Arab friends make a deal, rather than
wage a fight that they might lose. Even Iran, whose Shia co-religionists
stand to win such a war, faces risks. The Arab Shia are not one big
happy family; they kill each other in Iraq today. Most Iraqi Shia think
of themselves as Arabs; heavy-handed Iranian intervention may energize
their nationalist opposition.
The United States can engage diplomatically to remind the regional
players of their interest in stabilizing Iraq. If the United States
leaves Iraq deliberately, and under its own power, it still has cards to
/ //*The worst case.*/
The civil war escalates; outsiders back their friends; their friends
begin to lose, so the war escalates to become a regional conflagration.
Could happen, but one should not exaggerate the military capabilities of
any of the local players. They are all heavily armed, but conventional
warfare is not the strong suit of any of the regional actors, with
perhaps the exception of Turkey. The Saudi forces, though equipped with
modern weapons, are almost surely helpless without help from western
contractors. Iran's air forces are obsolete and highly vulnerable to
American air attack. Moreover, Saudi Arabia and Iran are one-crop
countries; each depends on oil facilities that are vulnerable to attack
by the other. A kind of Mutual Assured Destruction should deter both
from risking general war.
Four years of experience strongly suggests that the costs to the United
States of persisting in Iraq will be significant. Whatever success is
achieved there, the end result will not be the stable liberal democratic
vision of the war's supporters. Rather, after lots more killing,
exhaustion may set in, partial deals may be struck, and factions may
retreat to tend their own battered gardens.
Call this what you will, but it cannot justify the costs incurred. And
this outcome will not differ significantly from what will occur if the
United States begins to disengage now.