An Iraqi government has not been formed in the five months since the Dec. 15 parliamentary election. Since it is highly unlikely — if not unforeseeable — that the new ruling coalition will include the largest Sunni party, the Iraqi Accord Front, it follows that there is infighting within the Shia elite regarding who will control the state. In order for Iraq to become a strong state — democratic or otherwise — a constitutional compromise must be realized in which the elite agree on political rules of the game that dictate who gets what, when they get it and how.
Even if a consensus is reached and a government is formed with the current actors, it will be perceived as illegitimate by the Sunnis. The creation of such a government will not quell the insurgency; instead it will lead to an increased level of both Sunni insurgent violence and retributive killings by Shi’ite militias. In fact, a constitutional compromise will not be achievable until the true Sunni elites (that is, the ex-Ba’athists) cease funding and leading the insurgency from exile and begin to take part in the political process. Even if the Ba’athist elites are co-opted into the negotiation process regarding a new government — which is highly unlikely — this does not guarantee that a constitutional breakthrough will be achieved. Indeed, I cannot foresee Ba’athist elites accepting anything short of a neo-Ba’athist state.
It seems that Sunni and Shi’ite elites will not be able to negotiate a constitutional breakthrough. Moreover, the failed attempts by U.S. and British diplomats to forge an Iraqi government and break the current political gridlock have, according to Haider al-Abadi, a top adviser to Iraqi Prime Minster Ibrahim al-Jaafari, “harden[ed] the position of people who are supporting Jaafari” and stymied internal negotiations. Consequently, a new coalition strategy for dealing with Iraq is needed.
The United States’ most viable option is an immediate withdrawal coupled with U.S.-led negotiations to forge a broad international coalition aimed at keeping the current Iraqi civil war from internationalizing. This strategy is sound both in terms of internal Iraqi conditions and geopolitical U.S. strategic objectives. The United States will not be able to repair the fractured Atlantic Alliance until it announces a plan for withdrawal, which would be an implicit acknowledgement that the invasion was a mistake and that the United States can no longer go it alone. Moreover, international willingness to join a U.S.-led coalition with the objective of keeping the Iraqi civil war from internationalizing will be high because a destabilizing war in the Middle East is not in the interest of the Europeans, Indians, Turks, Chinese or Russians. Such a war would significantly reduce the amount of oil available on the global market, causing prices to skyrocket and possibly spurring a global depression that could bring the major world economies to their knees.
Of course, a U.S. withdrawal would most likely lead to all-out civil war in Iraq. There are two likely end results of such a conflict: a Shi’ite military dictatorship or a Sunni one. Victory in a civil war, and the subsequent establishment of a strong central government, can be thought of as the imposition of a constitutional order on the losing side by the winners. In the United States, civil war led to the abolition of slavery and a true constitutional breakthrough, after which the elites set the rules of the game.
While the creation of new military dictatorship in Iraq would be anathema to the stated U.S. goal of spreading democracy, it would not have terrible geopolitical implications for the United States. A strong military dictatorship in Iraq would not destabilize the region as much as an anarchic state would, nor would it serve as a terrorist haven, training ground or al Qaida recruitment tool.
The decision to invade Iraq may be recorded in the annals of history as the single biggest foreign policy mistake in U.S. history. Yet a failure to recognize the futility of “staying the course” will only serve to strain key U.S. alliances and exacerbate the level of violence in Iraq. Although the level of violence in Iraq will escalate if the United States withdraws from the nation immediately, our continued presence is only delaying the inevitable conflagration that will take place once the coalition leaves — be it in 6 months, a year or five years. Until the United States withdraws from Iraq and admits the invasion was a mistake, it will not be able to turn the page and begin a new chapter in its relationship with the rest of the world. This new chapter in U.S. international relations should, in my mind, begin with the cobbling together of a broader international coalition aimed at keeping the Iraqi civil war from spreading further.
J.R. Siegel is a senior in Trumbull College.