01 November 2007

American Respect Newsletter And My Response

Wrote this in response to an e-mail newsletter I got from American Respect, a Democratic Party-allied group to whose newsletters am subscribed, on 25th October, 2007.

This newsletter, reproduced below, talks about a plan, advocated by US Senators Joseph Biden and Leslie Gelb to solve the current inter-ethnic political crisis and fighting in Iraq by dividing the country into three states that would be, under the plan’s provisions, united, more or less, under a kind of loose federal political system.

I have real problems with that, as you’ll see in the response I sent them a day later, and reproduced below the newsletter.

As of to-day, I’ve yet to receive a reply from American Respect, and don’t expect to.

They’re under no obligation to reply to my message, just as I’ve no obligation to support Biden’s and Gelb’s plan.

Anyhow, hope this proves to be of some minor interest and food for thought.

American Respect Banner

Dear Friends:

Yet again, an op-ed is printed by a famous scholar on the merits of partition in Iraq. The plan, initially proposed by Senator Biden and President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb, seems to be the only feasible option after 5 years of misguided policies.

In general, the proposal is rooted in history and reflects recent experience in Bosnia, as well as other historical examples such as Vietnam (initially), Korea, and Germany. When marriage doesn't work, divorce or separation is a good option. Partitioning the country before a civil war achieves the same thing and would at least avoid the tragic death and destruction that took place on a massive scale.

The Biden-Gelb plan would:

1. Keep Iraq together by giving its major groups breathing room in their own regions and control over their daily lives. A central government would be left in charge of common interests like defending the borders and distributing oil revenues.
2. Secure the support of the Sunnis -- who have no oil -- by guaranteeing them a proportionate share of oil revenue and reintegrating those with no blood on their hands.
3. Increase, not end, reconstruction assistance but insist that the oil-rich Arab Gulf states fund it and tie it to the creation of a massive jobs program and to the protection of minority rights.
4. Initiate a major diplomatic offensive to enlist the support of the major powers and Iraq's neighbors for a political settlement in Iraq and create an Oversight Contact Group to enforce regional commitments.
5. Begin the phased redeployment of U.S. forces this year and withdraw most of them by the summer of 2008, with a small follow-on force to keep the neighbors honest and to strike any concentration of terrorists.

One thing to keep in mind is that the ethnic and sectarian realities of Iraq today are far different than they were in 2003 or 2004. To some extent, ethnic and/or sectarian partition is a much more realistic proposal today because of the extensive resettlement and killing which has taken place as a result of the continued civil war. The battle for Baghdad has been won by Shiites. A federalist system, much like the one in the US, would ensure regional autonomy while maintaining the republic our forces have fought so hard to keep.

American Respect urges all of its members to contact their elected representatives and inform them about this article and the Biden-Gelb plan for Iraq.
American Respect is a not-for-profit organization that believes invading Iraq has increased global terrorism, is costing thousands of lives, (and literally trillions of tax dollars) and is increasing energy costs.

We believe the US should take a very different approach to addressing this problem. Our principles for reducing terrorism are:

* Pursue true terrorists such as al Qaeda by eliminating training camps, preventing arms smuggling, freezing financial assets and apprehending terrorist leaders.
* Find balanced solutions in sensitive areas which foment terrorism by rebuilding international coalitions. Violence in regions like Chechnya, Kashmir and especially Palestine directly and adversely affects the entire Muslim world.
* Decrease our profile in Iraq and use international coalitions to lead a march toward guaranteed rights, limited government and democratic representation. Further recognize that Iraq was arbitrarily assembled in 1919 from three ethnically and religiously different Ottoman provinces, and that a peaceful solution may require a return, either partly or fully, to this pre-1919 arrangement.
* Build up the economies of Muslim countries with the goal of creating a larger middle class in each. If abject poverty is a breeding ground for terrorism, then creating broad prosperity is a key part of the solution--especially in the areas of trade and land reform. And success in the economies of any Muslim country--from Morocco to Indonesia--is positive for stability and peace throughout the region.
* Establish a tone of goodwill in policies and actions toward these nations and their growing and increasingly global populations.

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Received your newsletter of 24th October, with its advocacy of the Biden-Gelb Plan for Iraq and its peoples, and am writing you to say that there are a few items in it with which I strongly disagree.

The first is, to be blunt, the unmitigated cheek on the parts of Sens. Biden and Gelb to even presume that they, and the American government in general, have the right and the authority to say how the Iraqi people, of whatever origins its component peoples are, should organise their society.

That really isn't much different than the kind of arrogance displayed by the current Administration, its allies and supporters in its premises for invading and occupying Iraq, and in setting up one government after another under occupation auspices for that country, all in the now-dashed hopes for somehow using Iraq as a base for expanding US power and influence throughout the Middle East.

The reasoning behind this plan is similar in that its authors presume that they "know" better than the Iraqis how to best organise and run Iraq, and, due to the waves of inter-ethnic conflict and murder that have raged throughout much of Iraq in the past few years, it's time to split the country into what would be essentially three ethnic cantons, albeit "united" under a loose sort of federal structure that would quite probably fall apart once the American and coalition occupation forces had well and truly left Iraq.

That is, to repeat myself yet again, not our call, as Iraq was never, and never will be, our country.

Our invasion of Iraq in March, 2003, along with our policies toward that nation since the summer of 1990, helped create the current farrago there, and, in my opinion, it will only be once our forces, whether they belong to the US Armed Forces proper, or to the various private contractors operating there, have fully left it.

I am of the opinion that we never had any business being in Iraq, and that's why I think that only an immediate, unconditional and total withdrawal of American, British and other coalition forces, with provisions made for resettling those Iraqis of various origins who threw in their lots with our efforts there in whatever countries they wish to live, is the only viable and truly moral option to advocate.

As for the idea of the reconstruction fund being financed by the Gulf Arab states, I want to say that, while I favour any reconstruction efforts to help rebuild Iraq, it shouldn't be solely, nor even primarily, financed by the Gulf Arab states, but by the US, UK, and other coalition partners that took part in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.


Well, for the reasons I've outlined above, that's why.

While I hate using any quote from any member, past or present, of the current Administration, I agree with Colin Powell's statement that, "We broke it, we bought it", which, like it or not, we did.

That's why I agree with a proposal made by Naomi Klein in either 2004 or 2005(Sorry if I've forgotten precisely when she made it)that the US pay reparations to whatever Iraqi government its people see fit to choose for themselves for the incredible amounts of damage, destruction and deaths inflicted on Iraq's people and infrastructure by us and our allies.

It is a solution that I believe is the only one that would entirely consistent with the values that we so love to trumpet so loudly to ourselves and the world that we believe in and stand for.

It's about time that we either put up or shut up about our love for freedom, peace, democracy and all the other values and ideals we say we admire and defend, and, like it or not, our actions, past, present and future really do speak much louder than all the fine words we throw out to the world for our and its consumption.

It's not that the Gulf Arab states, Iran, Syria, and Turkey don't have interests and responsibilities in Iraq. They do, and should fully be part of whatever solutions that are eventually planned and implemented in that country and in the Persian Gulf region.

But, they aren't the ones who battered practically every sector of Iraqi society to a gasping pulp in the 1990's, then, with the exception of Turkey in 1997, invaded that unhappy land and occupied it.

We, to a lesser extent, the British, and the other coalition partners did, and thus bear the primary responsibility in aiding the Iraqis in their reconstruction efforts.

Have no problem with other aspects of what was being advocated in this newsletter, especially with the emphasis on diplomatic engagement with the various countries in the Muslim world, and with assisting them in building up their economies. On the other hand, I think we'd be well advised to remember that it's not just a lack of economic opportunities for many folks in the various Muslim lands, but a severe lack of political and other freedoms of dissent and expression in many of those societies as well.

Here, we can, through a policy of critical engagement with those countries' elites and so-called ordinary peoples, help them to find a freer, fairer social, economic and political order for their societies.

But, in the end, to paraphrase T.E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, and one of the Britons most heavily involved in the creation of Iraq, it's their countries, their ways, and it's better for those peoples to do things their ways, however badly, than for us, or any other outsiders, to do them, however well, because in the end, it's their countries and our time there is short.

By the way, in closing, noted a piece of potential linguistic-historical error in the portion of the plan advocating the setting up of a new Iraqi political order in the statement that, if need be, the three major components of Iraq should return to the pre-1919 order, or to something like it.

Now, I rather doubt that the people who drafted this statement meant this when they crafted it, but, considering that all three parts of present-day Iraq were, and it's mentioned in the opening part of the newsletter, provinces in the Ottoman Empire.

I don't know about you, but I don't believe that all but maybe a tiny minority of Iraqis would want a return to Turkish rule over any part of Iraq, and most especially not the Kurds, even if Turkey evidenced any sort of interest in taking back the Ottomans' role in that country.

As for the Turks, well, even with their current actions against PKK rebels in northwestern Iraq in recent days and their warnings to the Iraqi Kurds that any move on their part toward creating an independent Kurdish state in their part of Iraq wouldn't be tolerated by the Turkish government at all, I don't think that any but perhaps the most vociferously anti-Kurdish Turkish nationalists would really want control of Iraqi Kurdistan and all the headaches that would go with it.

So, I think that Sens. Biden, Gelb, their aides, and other assistants might want to take a closer and more exacting look at the wording of that part of Biden-Gelb Plan, and revise it accordingly.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Respectfully, Donald Rilea.

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