Towards A Good Samaritan World

Saturday, September 24, 2005


I just published another article at Tech Central Station: "Iraq and the Police Principle." In this one, I argue (1) that the Iraq War could have helped establish a generalized credible threat against totalitarian regimes everywhere, forcing them to reform from within in order to avoid Saddam's fate, but that by running up the costs of the war by assuming responsibility for reconstruction we've weakened ourselves and lost the ability to make that credible threat, (2) the Pottery Barn Rule-- according to which we have a responsibility for reconstruction-- is a fallacy, and (3) that if we want to get out of Iraq without losing face, Nixon set an example which "deserves careful study." In particular, we could emulate his visit to China by Bush going to Iran; and we could emulate Nixon's bombing of Cambodia by bombing the places in Syria and Jordan where backers of the insurgency are hanging out-- if extradition fails, that is. (Hopefully the threat would be enough.)

I've had a guilty conscience since publishing it, for two reasons: 1) I've advocated a pull-out, even if I repeatedly emphasized that what our soldiers are doing in Iraq is a noble mission and I admire it, and even if I didn't really specify when, and 2) because I advocated a move that might be interpreted as giving US blessing to a totalitarian state. And 3) because-- would bombing Syria and Jordan spread the war and make a real World War III? (Not if we had a rapprochement with Iran first, I think.) I don't see us actually bombing Jordan. Jordan is a good country as Middle Eastern states go, but if your principles is that those who harbor terrorists are making war on you, it helps to apply the principle consistently. However, in practice it would be easy to press Syria harder; and if we bombed Syria, that would make the threat of bombing credible enough to Jordan that they'd probably flush out the ex-Baathists without our actually attacking them.

As for the pull-out, the Nixon allusion is a sort of mixed message: it does envision us pulling out, but not fast, really: Nixon began withdrawing from Vietnam immediately, but took four-and-a-half years to do it.

For all my misgivings, I stand by the point I made. We need to make our target global totalitarianism and tyranny, and that means rebuilding our military strength and pushing hard for changes in international law, or failing that, at least changes in US military doctrine that are as politically embedded as possible.

Btw, how would a rapprochment with Iran work? I think we might do well to get India to broker it. India has been drawing close to Iran, for the same reasons, I think, that I recommend America do it: India's enemy is Sunni, and the enemy of my enemy... India's new closeness to Iran is spoiling a very promising potential alliance. If we also made peace with Iran, then we wouldn't have to quarrel with India. We could back them for the Security Council, perform joint military exercises, develop a full-fledged alliance.

An alliance with Iran would also help to increase pressure on Pakistan, which is probably where bin Laden is, and in any case a lot of the Taliban are there. Yes, Musharraf is our ally and probably better than the alternatives. But if we could scare the Pakistanis by settling our differences with Iran, it might make them more inclined to cooperate.

Would Iran accept? That America is "the Great Satan" is part of Iran's national ideology. We may be popular with the people, but there's no reason that should endear us to the government, which is at daggers drawn with the people. However, if we were trying to settle differences and Iran refused, Iran would look pricklier and more hostile. Of course, they could sell it as having delivered a humiliation to an imperious great power-- and we would look a bit desperate and pathetic, perhaps, making approaches to a former enemy and getting rebuffed. But at least that would help dispel our warmonger image.

However, I think we could avoid that outcome, with the help of India and the Shias in Iraq. We could ask both of these groups, with whom we have good relations, to talk to the Iranians and put in a good word for us, encourage them to come to the table. They'd do it: the Indians love us, and the Iraqi Shiites owe us, and they know it. Also they want us to keep our troops in there so that we can keep fighting the insurgency. And the Iranians would listen. They want good relations with their fellow Shias in Iraq, and they need good relations with India, which is an important trading partner. If our intentions were peacemaking ones, India might deliver a credible threat that they would cut off trade with Iran if Iran was going to insist on maintaining hostility. (India needs-- and wants-- us more than they benefit from any arrangements with Iran.)

It would be a huge triumph for Indian foreign policy to broker a reconciliation between Iran and America, and they would know it, advertise it, take pride in it. If you can do the superpower a favor, you're a big player! Indians would love that. And anything that increases Indian self-confidence-- South Asia's great, peaceful, democratic, semi-Anglophone, pro-American power-- is good.

Would it be immoral to make a deal with a regime which murders dissidents. Neither a "yes" or "no" to that question is satisfactory. If you say "yes," does that mean we can't trade with them either? But not trading punishes the subjects of the regime more than the regime itself, which is cruel and unfair. If you say "no"-- well, a lot of our deals with such regimes in the past have seemed pretty immoral. There's a danger that if America draws closer to the regime, we might become less popular with the people. But we might become more popular, too, if we handled it right. First of all, we could lace the trip with lots of apologies. Bush could make a grand speech apologizing for the 1953 coup. He could also make a lot of grand apologies for the West's (ha ha France and Germany) role in arming Saddam, which would be another chance to make the case for the Iraq War (ha ha France and Germany). The Iraq War would be the proof of how stupid we were to support Saddam before, and how at long last we saw the error of our ways and made proper penitence-- the best argument for the war, probably, and one that most people haven't heard. We could lace these apologies with hints that we still disapproved of Iran's form of government. But we could make out that our admiration for Iranians' culture was great enough that the attraction overwhelmed any misgivings we had about the regime.

Would this make Iran more or less likely to go nuclear? I don't care. I've never thought we could do much about Iran going nuclear if it wanted to. It would be nice if we could, I suppose.


  • I wish I had more time, but this needs a serious reality-check in terms of ground truth and it's a recipe for another Afghanistan. Unfortunately since Tal Afar is a little bit active right now I'm working steady 16-hour days. Hopefully I'll return to this when things have calmed down and I have a little free time.

    By Blogger Nato, at 9:24 PM  

  • BTW - I'm aware that what I've said is nothing more than weightless asservation thus far.

    By Blogger Nato, at 9:27 PM  

  • So basically, now that iraq is a quagmire, you want to decare victory and get the hell out of there; and now that Iran has the bomb you want to hold coffee and cream meetings with them instead of calling for Iran to be invaded.

    And to distract attention to the fact that you're advocating running for the hills now that the Iraqis refuse to bend over a kiss USAss, you suggest bombing Syria, for no other reason than you really just don't want the entire war to look like a complete farce.

    Say what you really mean. Make a deal with the Iranians to take over Iraq for you, medieval style, while you keep the Syrians out. Only do the whole thing by proxy through the Indians. Great Idea.

    However, I doubt you'll enjoy the ill gotten fruits of your foreign policy in another fifty years time.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:38 AM  

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