November 29, 2005

Rebutting Odom II

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

1) We would leave behind a civil war.
...

1) On civil war. Iraqis are already fighting Iraqis. Insurgents have killed far more Iraqis than Americans. Thatís civil war. We created the civil war when we invaded; we canít prevent a civil war by staying.

For those who really worry about destabilizing the region, the sensible policy is not to stay the course in Iraq. It is rapid withdrawal, re-establishing strong relations with our allies in Europe, showing confidence in the UN Security Council, and trying to knit together a large coalition including the major states of Europe, Japan, South Korea, China, and India to back a strategy for stabilizing the area from the eastern Mediterranean to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Until the United States withdraws from Iraq and admits its strategic error, no such coalition can be formed.

Thus those who fear leaving a mess are actually helping make things worse while preventing a new strategic approach with some promise of success.


Since the explicit purpose of the US enterprise in Iraq is to destabilize the region into a controlled reform movement that replaces autocracies with indigenous free societies in the broad democratic camp, what Odom is talking about here is not civil war per se but rather a paean to authoritarianism. But is authoritarianism stable?

I would say that authoritarianism is not stable in a modern world of super-empowered individuals like Osama bin Laden or even on a more minor scale, like Mohammad Atta. Authoritarian regimes are not very good at controlling small groups of individuals. They traditionally have let minor irritants go unaddressed, waiting for them to grow to convenient size before they are suppressed brutally. To get down to the fine grain control of the individual level, the repressive machinery really has to be totalitarian, not authoritarian in nature.

We have abandoned our support for authoritarian regimes, in part, because authoritarian regimes are breaking down in their effectiveness. To our credit, there is a moral component as well and we should be proud of raising the banner of freedom as a moral enterprise but even just looking at things in a utilitarian way, authoritarianism is dying as a practical control vehicle. Something new must come and that something new should be the least-worst alternative possible. Reasserting the status quo is just not acceptable, even in a purely realism based foreign policy perspective.

But I don't think that civil war is necessarily a bad thing. There are certainly a lot of bad actors in Iraq. If the decen citizenry (which you can find across ethnic and religious lines) unites to bring those bad actors to justice in a civil war, this is not a failure. If, on the other hand, the civil war occurs on ethno-religious grounds and results in a tripartite partition of Iraq and a regional war fighting over the scraps left of that country, this would be a bad sort of civil war. I submit that with our presence, the former type is much more likely than the latter. Without us, the probabilities worsen for a bad type of civil war.

Posted by TMLutas at November 29, 2005 02:19 PM