The Cepia Club Blog

The Cepia Club Blog: The Cepia Club believes individual awareness and activism can lead to a peaceful and prosperous world. This blog contains the pertinent literature, both creative and non-fiction, produced by the Cepiaclub Director and its associates.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Thomas Friedman’s Iraq Proposal

In the December 11, 2006, issue of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, syndicated columnist Thomas L. Friedman had a very interesting argument in favor of a rapid U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq. Friedman is perhaps the best known foreign affairs journalist in the U.S. His idea is unique and his logic is definitely not boxed by partisan slogans like “cut and run” or “stay the course.”

Many foreign policy experts, like Henry Kissinger, and amateur commentators, such as myself, have long offered the argument that a quick and complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq would result in a wider, more bloody regional conflict, which would include WMD. The term that is cropping up lately in the literature is the fear of “Balkanizing” Iraq. “Balkanization” happens when a nation’s central authority and its control of its territory disintegrate and becomes the prize in power struggles between neighboring countries. The term refers to what happen to the Muslim Ottoman Turk empire after World War I. Known as the “caliphate,” the Ottoman Empire fell apart, leading to the breakup of its territory in Southeast (Balkan) Europe and in Southwest Asia into smaller states. These states were the focused of struggle between the major colonial powers of Soviet Russia, France, and Great Britain. The colonial powers schemed for either direct or indirect control of these lands newly freed from Ottoman control. In the process, the modern secular state of Turkey was born withing the confines of its present borders.

The belief of a “Balkanization” of Iraq is that a U.S. retreat would allow the insurgency to explode and the civil war to broaden. The government would fall and the nation would break up into territorial and ethnic divisions along Shi’a, Sunni, and Kurdish enclaves. The fear that the experts and even amateurs warn against is the involvement of Iraq’s neighbors in a major war over direct control or indirect influence over the fragmented Iraq. This is an entirely realistic fear that has happened in history when such “power vacuums,” or lack of a stable system of government, form. The U.S. leaving Iraq before Iraq is capable of surviving on its own very well may create such a vacuum.

Friedman’s proposal is theoretical based on Iraq’s neighbors--Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Syria–being far too smart, rational and self-interested in national survival to let any such power competition entrap them in policies that lead to major war in the Middle East. Friedman believes that instead of Iran helping Shi’tes, Turkey manipulating the Kurds, Syria supporting Sunni’s, and Saudi Arabia assisting non-Iraqi Al-Qaeda fighters by willful blindness, that all of these countries would fear to lose their prosperity and their future in a war: In short, they would cooperate to solve the problems, instead of having the U.S. presence enable their quiet aggression in Iraq against America.

In Friedman’s view, political necessity and the need for a stable and strong peace in Iraq would force the regional powers now causing problems to instead be part of the solution. The author further makes the point that with the U.S. out of Iraq and deployed further back into the Persian Gulf or the Indian Ocean, Iran would no longer feel invulnerable to U.S. policy. Currently with such a massive forward presence at the head of the Persian Gulf, Iran can seriously disrupt supply lines through the Gulf. Iran has naval and air power enough to mine the Gulf and engage in guerilla warfare against the U.S. sea lines of communication. As a result of having the U.S. head in its own noose, Iran has ignored pressure on Iraq and on its nuclear development program. Freeing itself from the war, the U.S. would gain what makes for great diplomacy and military policy: more strategic political options than its enemies.

Friedman’s proposal and the theory behind it are not a conclusion on what would happen if the U.S. withdrew from Iraq. His suggestion depends on the self-interest, the self-survival instinct of Iraq’s neighbors. This theory depends almost completely on faith that Iran and Syria’s leaders, especially, are rational actors making their countries strategic policy based on reason and trust. They could be very rational people, but it would be risky to base U.S. policy of far-reaching consequences on such faith in fallible people as Bashar Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadejinad. Tthe weight of evidence thus far is against such a conclusion. Yet, some such move by the U.S. may be unavoidable. It should be only a last resort because of the risk. Yet, policy makers in a war always base decisions and following actions on “calculated risk.” There are ways that the U.S. can secure the advantages of its dominant position in the region while achieving its political goals. But before that can happen, the U.S. Government must define the objectives and settle a real political grand strategy on how to attain them before any military changes are made. Stay tuned to for development updates and more ideas.


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