Carroll Andrew Morse makes a strong political argument for partitioning Iraq (via InstaPundit). The United States, by insisting on keeping Iraq together, has made Iraqi progress hostage to wreckers and terrorists who must be killed or coopted before a stable nation can be created. Morse says that we could make more headway by subdividing Iraq into self-governing sectors, so that the non-disfunctional regions and people are not held back by the thug minority. I agree, and think that we have made a big mistake by not considering such a course of action.
Reuven Brenner, in a December 2003 column, addresses the same problems as Morse does, dealing with the politics in historical context and also taking more account of economics. He frames the issue as a failure of the Wilsonian paradigm that we still use (and that wasn’t successful the first time around):
Wilson’s administration miscalculated. The policy prevented neither German nor communist aggression. Adherence to the abstract principle of “self-determination” also showed that the creation of small nations did not solve the problem of other smaller ones, which now found themselves within new borders. They were just called “minorities”, so as to deflect their claim to nationhood and self-determination. Language, too, can be an effective weapon.
Brenner suggests a federal solution that is similar to Morse’s. One issue that Brenner deals with explicitly, which Morse does not address, is oil. A unified Iraq likely means a central government controlling all of the revenue, which thus both encourages and facilitates centralization of power — as Saddam Hussein well knew. Brenner suggests that oil revenue be split proportionately among the various Iraqi ethnic groups.
With revenues from oil being widely dispersed, the chances of much funds going for rebuilding centralized military and police powers are diminished. “Power” has been dispersed and brought closer to the people. Whether or not such dispersion of financial clout will lead to developing – bottom up – a “canton”-like federal arrangement as in Switzerland, or lead to a breakup of Iraq along ethnic lines – time would tell. Both solutions seem more stable than what the world now faces.
If the tribes do not see eventual advantages of staying together, so be it. The separation of Slovakia from the Czech Republic did not end in any great disaster. If the ethnic groups now populating Iraq can’t get along, and will end up fighting, the resulting instability can be more easily contained, since none of the groups would have as much financial (oil-generated) clout as Saddam Hussein had. The best scenario would obviously be if these tribes – now having stakes in stability because of shared oil revenues administered by impartial outsiders (some Swiss, maybe?) – slowly find ways of making deals, and trade and live together. But even if one is prepared for the worst-case scenario – of the three major tribes not finding a modus vivendi and breaking up within the anyway artificial borders of what now defines Iraq – the harm is minimized.
“Ideas have long lives,” as Brenner puts it. Part of our problem is that our policy makers still rely by default on a sort of stagnant Wilsonianism as their model for dealing with multi-ethnic societies. Iraq, perhaps more than any other post-war crisis, demonstrates the limits of that approach. Brenner and Morse use different routes to arrive at similar policy responses to the crisis, and those responses make a lot of sense.