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June 25, 2008


Ashraf al-Halabi

How people like you ended up becoming Iraq experts is something I will never understand.


Among this committee's recommendations ...

--- The US to quickly carry out a full military withdrawal ...

to be replaced by :

--- UN "blue helmets"

--- "Vigorous DIPLOMATIC steps to "stem the flow of arms and foreign fighters"


"Cease pressure" on Iraq to open up its oil sector and other parts of its economy"

Ah yes, UN "blue helmets" will for sure provide heaps of security to the Iraqi population. It has such a distinguished record in the Balkans, East Timor and elsewhere. It's rules of engagement are simply ticketty boo.

And diplomatic "vigor" - just the thing to stop Alqaeda regrouping and re-entering the country. The Sunni Arabs have been begging for diplomatic vigor for years and have been ignored. Why didn't someone think of this in 2004?

As for not opening up the Iraqi economy, the committee is spot on: the last thing Iraq wants or needs is for its economy and oil sector to be opened up and developed. What possible benefit is it to Iraq to be a prosperous country? None at all. For a start, it would have to give up its "blue helmets". And there would be even more raging political arguments about the division of revenue. Verily, the committee is to be highly commended for courageously revealing this truth which is very often ignored by the even the most expert commentators (even you, Marc).

Well done.


From my perspective, the only way Iraq will remain relatively contained and geographically intact after a US withdrawal is if the Iraqi state establishes full territorial control. I'm not an Iraq expert, but just a brief skim of the headlines reveals that this is not the case.

Iraq is being held together by an external power that is serving the essential functions of the Iraqi state: a foreign military/police force stands in lieu of a reliable Iraqi counterpart, foreign consultants perform essential functions of regulatory ministries, and foreign economic assistance provides the livelihood that the Iraqi market cannot produce (and worse, the USG and AmCham seem to be routing foreign investment into the more stable region of Kurdistan, further undermining central authority).

I'm not sure that the US can fix these problems by continued occupation, but a withdrawal followed by extensive economic aid doesn't seem like the best solution either. If this happens, Iraq's future could parallel Jordan's past, where a foreign-supported ruler built a state, an economy, and a regime coalition based fundamentally upon tapping foreign assistance and foreign technical expertise. Now Jordan hosts an unsustainable economy is utterly dependent on foreign capital.

Does the U.S. really want to keep pouring billions into Iraq to maintain a precarious ethnic/class/sectarian balance that would not exist in the absence of foreign funds and political support? It sounds crude, and it is certainly politically untenable, but would it be best to let the various factions battle it out until someone wins decisively? The risk, of course, is ending up with another Saddam, a cruel strongman who manages to maintain order.

John Maszka

Constructive Sovereignty is an emerging theory pioneered by John Maszka intended to address globalization's increasing onslaught against state sovereignty. The theory maintains that states are not the primary actors, their constituents are. Therefore, their preferences are not fixed. Since states merely represent the preferences of their constituents, they will only adhere to and ultimately embed those international norms that their respective constituencies will accept. Rather than push for larger and more powerful international organizations that will impose global norms from the outside in, the theory of Constructive Sovereignty posits that ultimately change must come from the inside out. That is to say, from each state's own constituency. As each state's constituents become more and more international, they will become more receptive to international norms and they will voice their acceptance of these norms both politically and (especially) as consumers.

It is therefore a central pillar of the theory that privatization is not only the driving force behind globalization, but also that private enterprise possesses the incentive to implement those international norms reflected in the preferences of consumers (profit). Private enterprise is also the primary consumer of proprietary data used to measure the preferences of consumers, and as such remains the most up-to-date source of changing consumer preferences. As private enterprise meets the increasingly international demands of consumers, it will itself become more international in scope. The cycle is self-perpetuating. In this way international norms are embedded and viewed with legitimacy by each state's constituency, while state sovereignty is maintained and respected.

The seminal paper can be found at http://constructivesovereignty.blogspot.com/


I read this paper thinking I was watching the slow, difficult and risky process of withdrawal from the political battles of 2003.

Early on, the appearance of the telltale phrase "there was no wishful thinking" put me on the lookout for wishful thinking, which is in this report in copious quantity. Extravagant demonstrations of American goodwill; open and repeated gestures of contrition and repudiation of everything the current administration has done on the assumption that since Bush administration policy hasn't worked, doing what it hasn't done must work; public rejection of the Iraqi government's legitimacy, replaced by assigning it the status of "one faction among many" while at the same time negotiating with it an extension of the UN mandate. And UN blue helmets? Not in that environment -- not now, not ever. Ask the men who actually wear blue helmets for the UN now if you don't believe me.

This group's approach would work if everything went well, nothing went wrong, and none of Iraq's major armed factions emerged to challenge the view that a "not Bush" approach would give them all they could expect or want. When was the last time everything went well in Iraq?

Suppose things didn't go well. Diplomacy stalled; sectarian violence re-erupted; militias having learned the cost of challenging the American military trying their hand at a new game as the Americans leave. What then? Another strategic re-set, that's what -- the focus of this group remains on the future of Iraq, so if the situation heads south these folks will demand America live up to its responsibilities to the innocent Iraqi people by deploying the most effective tool it has. For those following at home, that would be the army we would like to withdraw.

I don't wish to seem completely negative. Certainly it would be better if Iraq did not fall apart as soon as the Americans left; Iraqis in all factions have many reasons to keep this from happening, and there are many things we could do to help, including some of the steps mentioned in this paper. Recognizing however that there is a very good chance the most careful and generous plans could get screwed up quickly, and things in Iraq get very bad very fast, I think it important we keep our eye on the ball.

The ball is not the future of Iraq; it is liquidation of the expensive and unprofitable American commitment there. Our priority is cutting our losses, not setting off on a new, "not-Bush" search for a happy ending. In plain English, this means we don't ascribe magical powers to the word "diplomacy," we don't reject the legitimacy of the current Iraqi government in the expectation that Iraq can soon produce a better one, we don't fiddle around with issues like the status of Iraqi women in divorce settlements. And we get the army out, whether things go well or they go badly.


I have to echo Zathras' comment: I think we (in U.S.) are still under the delusion that the situation is "recoverable" and everyone will start loving us again only if we do things "right." I imagine it could have been done in 2003--if things went extraordinarily smoothly--but far too much has been broken since. To wish for anything other than to be able to wrap up the unproductive military involvement without the region blowing up in a major fireball would be taking the path paved with good intentions--and we all know where that leads. To seek just this end, no doubt, will leave things ugly, even if not quite so awful, but we just haven't got what it takes to go beyond that now.

Is this ideal? Far from it. Is this moral? No. Is it honorable? Not really. But "peace with honor" is today a luxury that lies beyond our means.

Of course, even achieving this minimalist goal is not exactly easily within reach, especially if we are to assess the American political landscape realistically. There are enough people in this country chasing after another kind of "honor" and their political clout is far greater than what the left blogosphere is willing to credit them.


Blue helmuts?


Good luck.


I participated in the call, and had some similar concerns to those raised by Zathras.
See my post here: http://fpwatch.blogspot.com/2008/06/leaving-iraq.html


The bottom line is, since we have no credibility and we don't want to keep paying the price, we need someone else to help us pick up the pieces. Iraq is a mess--far more than it was in 2003. Even in 2003, getting others (UN) to play significant role would have taken substantial concessions--and things were bad enough that it could have fallen apart anyways. There is a lot more to be taken care of today--and our credibility is vastly less than in 2003. The price for others to join in, assuming they ever would, is vastly larger than in 2003. We couldn't, or wouldn't, pay the smaller price in 2003. I don't see us paying the piper what it'll take today.


don't agree with all of its points

What in particular do you disagree with?


Sorry, should have made clear: The quote is from Marc's post, and the question is addressed to Marc.


This is a joke. There is no way Iraq's elected government would accept it.

Does this report even acknowledge that this elected governemnt has a powerful army that is loyal to it? Blue Helmuts? How many countries in the world have a military that is as capable and high quality as the Iraqi Army? Oh what was that I heard. Silence. Yes. I thought it was silence.

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