is Partition equal to Victory?

My NEBV colleague Pejman alludes to the idea that an acceptable outcome in Iraq is to partition the country into three ethnic enclaves. Were most supporters of the war here polled a year ago as to whether partition was an outcome that fell into the "victory" camp, I think that the answer would have been a resounding No. It is telling that our expectations for the Iraq project have dropped to the point where our primary definition of victory appears to be avoidance of civil war rather than a free and stable democratic Iraq.

So, then, were the grand designs truly empty? Disillusionment certainly has afflicted notable neo-con war proponents such as Francis Fukuyama:

More than any other group, it was the neoconservatives both inside and outside the Bush administration who pushed for democratizing Iraq and the broader Middle East. They are widely credited (or blamed) for being the decisive voices promoting regime change in Iraq, and yet it is their idealistic agenda that in the coming months and years will be the most directly threatened. Were the United States to retreat from the world stage, following a drawdown in Iraq, it would in my view be a huge tragedy, because American power and influence have been critical to the maintenance of an open and increasingly democratic order around the world. The problem with neoconservatism's agenda lies not in its ends, which are as American as apple pie, but rather in the overmilitarized means by which it has sought to accomplish them. What American foreign policy needs is not a return to a narrow and cynical realism, but rather the formulation of a "realistic Wilsonianism" that better matches means to ends.

Eric Martin of American Footprints points out that Fukuyama is essentially arguing for a return to liberal interventionism - in the mold of Bill Clinton and John Kerry. Martin follows up with a discussion of the strengths of a multi-polar approach to foreign policy - the advantages of which were well-discussed in detail by Gary Hart in his book, The Fourth Power: A Grand Strategy for the United States in the Twenty-First Century.

Fukuyama is not alone in his disillusionment with neoconservative ideology. Conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. arguably a founder of mainstream conservative ideology, has declared the Iraq war a failure:

Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call for civil life haven't proved strong enough. No doubt they are latently there, but they have not been able to contend against the ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades and pistols.
...the kernel here is the acknowledgment of defeat.

(note: in this, Buckley has essentially aligned with Howard Dean, who said in December of last year, "...the idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong.")

There clearly is a rank pessimism about the viability of our venture in Iraq. To my mind though, civil war would hardly be staved off by partition. For a sobering preview of what lies in store down that road, one need only look at the history of ethnic partitions in recent times - notably in the Subcontinent, where the Partition into Pakistan and India (and later, the separation of East Pakistan) led to horrific violence whose legacy still poisons the well in Indo-Pak relations to this day.

Partition would create a Kurdish state free to align economically with China and foment separatist tensions with Turkey; a Shi'a state that would enormously complicate our attempts to isolate Iran; and a pitiable Sunni state with no resources or potential industry other than terror manufacturing. But worse, it would be tantamount to an acknowledgement that the base motivation for the Iraq war was never about freedom and democracy, but rather The Great Game redux. The result would be a true setback for the cause of what President Bush called in his State of the Union speech the "calling of our time."

I am less concerned with the legacy of the present Administration and more concerned with the legacy of American leadership as a beacon for freedom and liberal constitutional government. I don't see how anyone can in good conscience argue that partition would lead to anything but a repudiation of these ideals.

cross posted to No End But Victory.


Asher Abrams said...

You argue that "Disillusionment certainly has afflicted notable neo-con war proponents such as Francis Fukuyama". But it's not clear who is included in the class of "neo-con war proponents such as Francis Fukuyama" other than Fukuyama himself. William F. Buckley is not a "neo-"conservative by any stretch of the imagination.

We're facing tough times in Iraq, but that does not mean that we are failing. Fukuyama speaks only for himself.

Thomas Nephew said...

I don't know as much about India/Pakistan as you do, but it's not clear to me that partition was a bad thing in that case; we'll never know how many lives would have been lost eventually leading to the same result.

Re Kurdistan: an account I've read (NY Rev. Books) suggests the Turkish Kurds are much more hopeful about Turkey joining the EU than about resuming a bloody insurgency against Turkey in hopes of joining Iraqi Kurdistan. It's a good question whether separatist Kurds would stand for that, but it's not open and shut that Kurdistan would be a destabilizing force, or that it would tilt to China -- the US might remain there as a tripwire guarantor of their independence.

A counterargument to your thesis would be that imposing unity by force delays a stable democracy for the (so the argument goes) inevitable Shiite and Sunni partitions. The counter-counterargument is that such a partition may well be accompanied by violent ethnic cleansing.

I'm crossing my fingers for a unified democratic Iraq, but I'm not sure that's what Americans ought to be dying for, or what Iraqis really want.

Eric said...

We're facing tough times in Iraq, but that does not mean that we are failing. Fukuyama speaks only for himself.

Well, William Kristol has had some pretty harsh things to say about the US army's approach and Don Rumsfeld in particular. And these critiques fall into the "why things are going badly" vein. Here is an excerpt from an interview on Fox that offers a sample of Kristol's frustrations with Rummy and apportioning of blame for what has been going wrong:

CHRIS WALLACE: They’re there. There are going to be more mosques to blow up. What do you do about the terrorists?

KRISTOL: Kill them. Defeat them.

CHRIS WALLACE: We’ve been trying.

KRISTOL: We’ve been trying, and our soldiers are doing terrifically, but we have not had a serious three-year effort to fight a war in Iraq as opposed to laying the preconditions for getting out.

CICI CONNELLY: I think that really begs the question then: what have we been doing over there for three-plus years? You say there hasn’t been a serious effort to rid that region of the terrorists. I just wonder what secretary Rumsfeld would say in response to that or all the U.S. soldiers who have been over there all this time.

KRISTOL: Secretary Rumsfeld’s plan was to draw town to 30,000 troops at the end of major activities.

This is a mantra Kristol has been hammering away at. Rumsfeld has hurt - perhaps fatally - the Iraq mission.

-Eric Martin