This Instapundit Post with links to Strategy Page and The Belmont Club posts makes an interesting point, Brad Bettin emailed Glenn this:
SP says disbanding the Sunni-dominated Iraqi army resulted in the new army being heavily Kurdish & Shia ... making it less likely to support a Sunni effort to regain control of Iraq.
Perhaps disbanding the army - widely criticized as a mistake by anti-Bush forces - wasn't such a bad idea after all.
One thing about war that I think we often forget is that the enemy is called the enemy for a reason. They are trying to disrupt our plans.
This means that whatever course we take, the enemy will try to exploit any weakness in that course and make it work, as best they can, to their advantage. We of course are doing the same thing, and hopefully even more effective.
What we sometimes forget, when looking at decisions we have made with hindsight, is that the enemy doesn't exploit the weaknesses of the plans we didn't follow. Disbanding the Iraqi army fits into this.
It is pretty obvious that disbanding the Iraqi Army almost certainly increased Sunni dissatisfaction and created more chaos in Iraq. It is also, likely that it has had many positive effects as well, and it is virtually certain that their would have been negative effects (and probably positive ones too) if we had not disbanded the army.
We will never know what weaknesses in the 'not disbanding the army plan' the enemy would have exploited and magnified. The military aphorism, no plan survives contact with the enemy, remains as accurate today as ever. What we often forget though, when looking through hindsight is that we are comparing a plan that has contacted the enemy with one that has not.
Another area that has been the subject of much debate, from before the war started clear to today, is whether Iraq should be split into separate countries, a northern Kurdistan, a Shiite nation, and a Sunni nation.
In the comments to this post
, which was pretty much just a link to President Talabani's reason's America should stay in Iraq, Ghost Dansing, apparently a new commenter (which I always appreciate), started with a litany of the reasons why Iraq was a mistake to begin with and doomed to failure.
For the most part, these were reason's I had seen multiple times in greater detail, and which I either disagree with or weigh differently than he obviously does, and I have my own reasons, which long time readers are pretty well aware of, and anyone who has followed the debate at all could probably recite as well as I could. I declined to go into a long debate in the comments of that post, mostly because I doubted it would change any minds and I have basically said all of that before.
Ghost Dansing then went on to write a pretty good history of modern Iraq, arguing that Iraq was an unstable coalition of Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis and only a strongman could hold it together. It was an fairly strong case for either living with a strongman (and if you are going to have a strongman, perhaps Saddam is acceptable) or splitting up Iraq.
I don't wish to engage the debate on 'living with a strongman' right now, it has probably some merit in some time and in some places (Pakistan?) but it is, at best, a lesser of evils approach. And those lesser evils can be pretty great.
Splitting up Iraq is a much more interesting question however. I certainly have no argument with Ghost Dansing’s point that Iraq was an artificial construct imposed by the British and that the tribal hatreds in the region run long and deep. Ghost Dansing perhaps oversimplifies things somewhat, in that even below the level of Sunni, Shiite and Kurd are tribal alignments and fractures that might result in the necessity of a dozen, rather than three countries in the region, but it is perfectly plausible that three countries in Iraq would be relatively stable.
There is certainly precedent for that approach. It is what was done in Yugoslavia after all, and other than the odd genocide or two that has worked out pretty well. There are well known practical problems with the approach as well though, a Kurdistan could provoke problems in Turkey, Syria and Iran (although that may well be a feature, not a bug) and the Sunni nation would likely be a pretty poor and destitute place, without much oil revenue and even more filled with anger at America. The Shiite nation would quite possibly be even more inclined to become Islamist, and being smaller and hence weaker more susceptible to falling under Iran's sphere of influence.
It is certainly likely though that constitutional problems would be easier to work out, and short term success. We would likely be able to withdraw our troops from the region on a faster timetable and be able to call it a 'win.' Most of the negatives would manifest long term, if they did so.
I certainly cannot say with certainly that that plan would be worse than our hopes of a democratic unified Iraq.
I think though, that it would be a horrible mistake.
From a larger viewpoint, and perhaps one that is forgotten, there is a very important reason why Iraq is the perfect choice for an attempt (and I still believe it will succeed) at establishing a multi-ethnic liberal democracy in the Middle East.
A big component of our enemy's logistics, both in the war in Iraq and the broader 'War on Terror' is based upon tribalism. Bin Laden appeals heavily on that impulse in his recruiting campaigns, as do the Palestinian terrorists in their conflict with Israel. Tribalism seems to me to be much more at the root of our problems in the Middle East than Islam is.
Defeating Tribalism would then seem to be a priority, and the only way I can conceive of doing that is creating government structures in the region that protect individual rights, even (perhaps especially) of minority groups. The only form of government that seems to have any long term success at this, is a liberal democracy based upon rule of law.
This solution is not, of course, a perfect silver bullet. The United States has certainly had it's problems with tribalism in the past, and still does to an unfortunate degree, seen most clearly in our political debates surrounding African Americans. However, a clear view of history will show a remarkable degree of diminishment of tribalism in America, and most other stable democracies as well. Further, it can easily be discerned that where the problems are most severe, it is because of a failure to follow the most central premises of this form of government, most particularly equality before the law and abiding by the rule of law, regardless of one's tribe.
So a liberal democracy as a tool to combat tribalism isn't a perfect tool, but it is the best tool we have. In Iraq, the prospects of this are probably especially favorable, despite the long-standing disputes between the major tribes. Because Iraq has three main tribal groups, it is less likely to result in any one of these groups being able to achieve absolute majoritarian dominance. This means that everyone has a stake in equality before the law and it is much more likely to succeed there than in other places. The fact that Iraq has been historically more equal in it's treatment of women than other middle eastern nations will add another point of balance.
This isn't to say it will be easy. Tribalism doesn't go down quietly or quickly and prejudice will remain a major problem. Certainly the very need to ensure the balance of different interests, none of whom can ignore the others will make for a long and tense negotiating process, and certainly the appeal of violence to get one's way, as the Sunni insurgents are using, will remain until that is proved futile.
The potential benefits are enormous however. Full participation in civil life for all Iraqis is almost certain to yield economic performance in excess of those nations that keep substantial portions of their populace in second class status (over half when one included women in many cases.) This effect has probably been more instrumental than any other in promoting the spread of liberal democracies throughout the world, and there is every reason to believe that once the myth that Arabs cannot be democratic has been destroyed the trend will manifest in the middle east as well, indeed we are already seeing small but encouraging trends in that direction, even without a stable Iraq.
Historically western nations have made huge mistakes in the Middle East. In a short sighted attempt to promote stability we have encouraged, rather than discouraged tribalist impulses even as we were struggling to abandon those impulses in our own cultures. Splitting up Iraq would seem to me to be another mistake of exactly that type.