One of the key reasons for Bush pushing for an invasion of Iraq was to have a single central government for American businesses, particularly oil businesses, to do deals with. The reason for the central government of what is currently termed “The Republic of Iraq” was to have an entity that could override local control. However, this, in my view, was never going to happen. As with Afghanistan, the was destined to be an intermediate phase of “de facto partition” of Iraq. In Afghanistan de facto partition can be maintained, at some cost, by the United States, because there is no single overwhelming resource which Afghanistan produces, and having a disunified geographical expression, rather than a country or nation, is more or less the status quo for much of Afghanistan’s history. It was Russia’s attempt to impose a central government which cost it so much, had it been willing to merely have a buffer zone on its flank, it could have left Afghanistan much sooner with much lower losses.
Broder in the Post says that it is time to think about de facto partition, and that means we are starting to turn towards the time when it is really time to think about what has always been the most likely endgame in Iraq – a strong man who pumps the oil and demands that we don’t ask too many questions about how much blood is mixed in with it.
The argument for de facto partition is relatively simple: to maintain fiat over all of Iraq requires enough force, and enough incentives, to cajole, force, and bribe the various factions rooted in sectarian identity and geographical interest into coÃ¶perating. However, US failure to rebuild Iraq, and the failure of a string of security plans – some drafted and implemented by individuals of suspicious backgrounds and blank page pasts – leaves the viability of this outcome in doubt. It wasn’t impossible, but given the information about the managerial capabilities of Bush, and the people Bush appointed to run the occupation, it was never likely.
In the world of investment, one doesn’t just look at the idea, one looks at the management team, and the management team in this case was never up to the job.
Thus, goes the partition argument, allow the different groups to control their own sections, and force some kind of agreement on the oil revenue, is far preferable to an open ended committment by the United States. The Biden plan is an attempt to get the benefits of partition – namely reduced exposure to security risk, without losing the advantage of the single central government on the oil:
The current constitution gives the 18 provinces of Iraq the right to form regional groups. Biden would retain control of defense, foreign policy and oil resources for the central government now on the way to formation, but he would let the regional governments largely run their own affairs.
This is, he told me, not a call for partition. It is a recognition of what he considers a reality — that the component parts of Iraqi society need “breathing space” to adjust their relations, rather than continue down the present road, where militias loyal to one side or the other are engaged in wanton killing and ethnic cleansing.
This of course, is a fantasy. Biden is not being sensible, he is being absurd. It is control of the oil resources, and their unequal physical distribution, which is driving the current conflict. In essence, the Iraq civil war is a giant futures market for control of the oil. Those areas with large oil reserves are willing to settle for a division based on possession, while those that are not, particularly the Sunnis, want some other distribution. Since the major leaders of the Sunni rebellion remember a time of “winner take all” or at least most – their division will not be acceptable to factions that believe they could do better.
There are two basic sources of revenue in Iraq – oil, and the money from running holy sites. This conflict has revolved around the oil, the mosques, and the metropolitan center of Baghdad, since control of this leaves open the possibility of control of everything. Giving the parts “breathing space” means that all of them will unit against the possibility of a dominant control over the center. We’ve just witnessed this with the fall of the Ibrahim Jaafari after his failure to form a government – the other factions, with enough of the Shiite votes out of he favor of the coalition which backed Jaafari, could agree on little else except that they didn’t want a narrow plurality in control.
Biden’s plan, then, while it calls for the US to stop trying to impose fiat over much of Iraq, is really a gateway to the strong man government – the strong man who controls the capital, the resources we care about, and leaves the rest of the country to meager subsistence. It is a recipe that has been cooked in Africa many times, and while it can often hold power for long stretches, it assures another cycle of upheaval – after some intermittently profitable extraction by Western countries. At some later point the populace grows outraged at the opulence of the expatriots and starts taking matters into their own hands, with unpredictable, but bloody, results.
There is no such thing as a free lunch. Areas left to their own devices will pursue comparative advantage. That advantage will be exporting lawlessness and turning their most abundant resource – unemployed, enraged and hopeless military age males – into guerillas and enforcement officers.
What Biden is proposing then, requires a strong man, because only a strong man will be able to strike outwards at any gathering storms, with sufficient savagery and brutality, to impose the kind of “single point of contact” cleanliness which Biden, Bush and the bouncing baby billionaires to be in the Iraqi oil business want.
This piece gives an insight into why Bush is continuing to wield power so freely, according to elites he is doing basically the right things: keeping taxes on elites low, invading Iraq and maintaining a high profitable recovery – it is merely his ideological rigidness and unwillingness to share some of the profits which is causing less than optimal implementations of those projects. Americans aren’t going to get to vote on the Iraq War this 2006 election, nor in the 2008 election, because settled elite opinion is that it was a good idea that was badly run.
In short, they believe we can’t be on the wrong track, because there is only one track to be on.
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