What Not To Do In Iraq

WHAT NOT TO DO IN IRAQ….One of the reasons I favor a prudent withdrawal from Iraq is that no one has proposed a credible plan that would allow American troops to regain control of the low-level civil war currently being waged there. But there’s another reason as well, one that I’ve been reluctant to mention in the past: namely that a full-blown civil war isn’t actually the worst thing that could happen as things continue to spiral downward in Iraq. In my Foreign Affairs piece, I finally decided to bring this up:

The worst that could happen is a full-blown Iraqi civil war with the U.S. military caught in the middle. At that point, our options would be to either take sides and become a tacit party to a near genocide, or stand by helplessly while Iraqis slaughter each other in our presence. That would be devastating not just for Iraq and the Middle East but for America’s prestige and its future freedom of action as well.

But which would be more likely if civil war breaks out, taking sides or just standing by? Riverbend gives us a clue in her description of the sectarian massacre that unfolded last Sunday in a Baghdad neighborhood:

The horrific thing about the killings is that the area had been cut off for nearly two weeks by Ministry of Interior security forces and Americans. Last week, a car bomb was set off in front of a ‘Sunni’ mosque people in the area visit. The night before the massacre, a car bomb exploded in front of a Shia husseiniya in the same area. The next day was full of screaming and shooting and death for the people in the area. No one is quite sure why the Americans and the Ministry of Interior didn’t respond immediately. They just sat by, on the outskirts of the area, and let the massacre happen.

Actually, the reason for the nonresponse is probably pretty obvious: the Shia-controlled Interior Ministry had no interest in stopping the massacre and the U.S. military wasn’t capable of stopping it. They “sat by” because there was nothing they could do to prevent the fighting and no one wanted to be caught in the middle of a full-blown (though neighborhood-sized) civil war when it finally broke out.

Despite everything, I’d be in favor of staying in Iraq if anyone could provide a plan for success that seemed even minimally credible. But no one has. That leaves only one sensible option.