Nir Rosen has a very short article in The Atlantic Monthly that has been overshadowed by James Fallows’ article Why Iraq Has No Army. (subscription only) Excerpts here.
Nir Rosen has written an article that answers every single potential catastrophic outcome in the parade of horribles that area trotted out as reasons America cannot possibly withdraw from Iraq. Nir Rosen’s article is titled HYPOTHETICALS: If America Left Iraq: The case for cutting and running.
With only a closing comment on my part, the bulk of the article is reproduced after the break.
[Update 12/06: Pulled up from the comments, Roger Blayne has a good analysis of the very real possibility that Iraq will become a failed state regardless of whether the U.S. stays or withdraws at RPayneblogspot. Check it out.]
If the people the U.S. military is ostensibly protecting want it to go, why do the soldiers stay? The most common answer is that it would be irresponsible for the United States to depart before some measure of peace has been assured. The American presence, this argument goes is the only thing keeping Iraq from an all-out civil war that could take millions of lives and would profoundly destabilize the region. But is that really the case? Let’s consider the key questions surrounding the prospect of an imminent American withdrawal.
Would the withdrawal of U.S troops ignite a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites?
No. That civil war is already under way—in large part because of the American presence. The longer the United States stays, the more it fuels Sunni hostility toward Shiite “collaborators.” Were America not in Iraq, Sunni leaders could negotiate and participate without fear that they themselves would be branded traitors and collaborators by their constituents. Sunni leaders have said this in official public statements; leaders of the resistance have told me the same thing in private. The Iraqi government, which is currently dominated by Shiites, would lose its quisling stigma. Iraq’s security forces, also primarily Shiite, would no longer be working on behalf of foreign infidels against fellow Iraqis, but would be able to function independtely and recruit Sunnis to a truly national force. The mere announcement of an intended U.S. withdrawal would allow Sunnis to come to the table and participate in defining the new Iraq.
But if American troops aren’t in Baghdad, what’s to stop the Sunnis from launching an assault and seizing control of the city?
Sunni forces could not mount such an assault. The preponderance of power now lies with the majority Shiites and the Kurds, and the Sunnis know this. Sunni fighters wield only small arms and explosives, not Saddam’s tanks and helicopters and are very weak compared with the cohesive, better armed and numerically superior Shiite and Kurdish militias. Most important, Iraqi nationalism—not intramural rivalry—is the chief motivator for both Shiites and Sunnis. Most insurgency groups view themselves as waging a muqawama–a resistance—rather than a jihad. This is evident in their names and in their propaganda. For instance, the units commanded by the Association of Muslim Scholars are named after the 1920 revolt against the British. Others have names such as Iraqi Islamic Army and Flame of Iraq. They display the Iraqi flag rather than a flag of jihad. Insurgent attacks are meant primarily to punish those who have collaborated with the Americans and to deter future collaboration.
No. If the occupation were to end, so, too, would the insurgency. After all, what the resistance movement has been resisting is the occupation. Who would the insurgents fight if the enemy left? When I asked Sunni Arab fighters and theclerics who support them why they were fighting, they all gave me the same one-word answer: intiqaam revenge. Revenge for the destruction of their homes, for the shame they felt when Americans forced them to the ground and stepped on them, for the killing of their friends and relatives by U.S. soldiers either in combat or during raids.
But what about the foreign jihadi element of the resistance? Wouldn’t it be empowered by a U.S. withdrawal?
The foreign jihadi element—commanded by the likes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi—is numerically insignificant; the bulk of the resistance has no connection to al-Qaeda or its offshoots. (Zarqawi and his followers have benefited greatly from U.S. propaganda blaming him for all attacks in Iraq, because he is now seen by Arabs around the world as more powerful than he is; we have been his best recruiting tool.) It is true that the Sunni resistance welcomed the foreign fighters (and to some extent still do), because they were far more willing to die than indigenous Iraqis were. But what Zarqawi wants fundamentally conflicts with what Iraqi Sunnis want: Zarqawi seeks re-establishment of the Muslim caliphate and a Manichean confrontation with infidels around the world, to last until Judgment Day; the mainstream Iraqi resistance just wants the Americans out. If U.S. forces were to leave, the foreigners in Zarqawi’s movement would find little support—and perhaps significant animosity—among Iraqi Sunnis, who want wealth and power, not jihad until death. They have already lost much of their support: many Iraqis have begun turning on them. In the heavily Shia Sadr City foreign jihadis had burning tires placed around their necks. The foreigners have not managed to establish themselves decisively in any large cities. Even at the height of their power in Fallujah they could control only one neighborhood, the Julan, and they were hated by the city’s resistance council. Today foreign fighters hide in small villages and are used opportunistically by the nationalist resistance.
When the Americans depart and Sunnis join the Iraqi government, some of the foreign jihadis in Iraq may try to continue the struggle—but they will have committed enemies in both Baghdad and the Shiite south, and the entire Sunni triangle will be against them. They will have nowhere to hide. Nor can they merely take their battle to the West. The jihadis need a failed state like Iraq in which to operate. When they leave Iraq, they will be hounded by Arab and Western security agencies.
What about the Kurds? Won’t they secede if the United States leaves?
Yes, but that’s going to happen anyway. All Iraqi Kurds want an independent Kurdistan. They do not feel Iraqi. They’ve effectively had more than a decade of autonomy, thanks to the UN-imposed no-fly zone; they want nothing to do with the chaos that is Iraq. Kurdish independence is inevitable—and positive. (Few peoples on earth deserve a state more than the Kurds.) For the moment the Kurdish government in the north is officially participating in the federalist plan—but the Kurds are preparing for secession. They have their own troops, the peshmerga, thought to contain 50,000 to 100,000 fighters. They essentially control the oil city of Kirkuk. They also happen to be the most America-loving people I have ever met; their leaders openly seek to become, like Israel, a proxy for American interests. If what the United States wants is long-term bases in the region, the Kurds are its partners.