The Worst Case

THE WORST CASE….As Matt Yglesias points out, for the past few months I’ve been periodically pointing out that the worst possible outcome of staying in Iraq is not simply that success continues to elude us. The worst possible outcome is that our presence continues to make things even worse. But worse in what way? Suzanne Nossel picks up the ball today and describes six separate ways in which events in Iraq and the greater Middle East could get far more violent and far less controllable than they are now. You can read them here.

My guess is that almost all of her worst-case scenarios are more likely if we stay than if we withdraw. In fact, there’s only one thing left that I think we might be able to do to improve the situation before we leave, and it’s something that appalled me when I first read it. In a Foreign Affairs roundtable piece last July (scroll down), Chaim Kaufmann recommended that we should accept a de facto partition of Iraq’s population at the neighborhood level and work actively to relocate Shiites and Sunnis who live in the “wrong” neighborhoods into safe ones. As he points out, “Some might say that this policy will legitimate ethnic cleansing,” and he’s right. That’s why I initially found it appalling. I still do. And yet, it might be the only option left to us that ameliorates the inevitable. I’m still not sure what I think of this proposal ? Is it reprehensible to even consider it? Is it cowardly not to? ? but at the very least it ought to be part of the conversation.

Kaufmann’s recommendation is based on his research into four famous cases of 20th century partition. His paper, “When All Else Fails: Population Separation as a Remedy for Ethnic Conflicts,” concludes that “In all four cases separation of the warring groups was successful in reducing violence.” And since I happen to be reading about this subject at the moment, I might add that at least some of Europe’s post-WWII stability can be attributed to the very substantial population movements that were forcibly carried out both during and immediately after the war.

It’s depressing stuff. But we might not have any choice but to face up to it.