« Eight Years on Priority One | Main | Postcard From the Lesser Hyatt: My Kos Adventures »

August 04, 2007

The Genocide Dodge

by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

This is one of those "Still True Today" things where plenty of blog posts have been written, but it deserves repeating: asking withdrawal supporters, as Matt Bai did to Bill Richardson, "What about the genocide that will follow American withdrawal from Iraq", is what Mitt Romney might call a "null set". Political support for daily US casualties cannot continue indefinitely. At some point in the future, and probably within the next decade, US troops will either leave Iraq, or at the least scale back their day-to-day peacekeeping actions; there is no precedent for having an occupying force endlessly conduct regular patrols in a foreign land. At that point, given the current level of ethnic strife and civil unrest in Iraq, the level of violence will increase whether it occurs six months from now or sixteen years from now. The burden needs to be on occupation supporters to explain how they will reduce the level of violence while grinding through US military equipment and personnel. Otherwise, we're just postponing the inveitable, and at an enormous cost, and we would be better off negotiating away as much violence as possible while withdrawing.

All of this, of course, takes as a given the idea that a US withdrawal is certain lead to genocide, something that hasn't received any real scrutiny and might not hold up under closer examination.

Since one of the refrains from print journalists is that the blogosphere gets too "personal", and I can empathize with that, let me say that none of this carping is really Matt Bai-specific; the "withdrawal will lead to genocide and it will be America's fault" frame of reporting about Iraq has dominated the Beltway discourse since at least 2005.

—Signed, not Ezra Klein, dagnabbit

August 4, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Good post, but please, "withdrawal" has two a's. You're making me feel like I'm reading Matt Yglesias.

Posted by: KCinDC | Aug 4, 2007 5:50:38 PM

That's what I get for growing up in the South.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Aug 4, 2007 6:01:10 PM

Of course the occupation of Iraq can be sustained for at least a hundred years. Send in a Viceroy, and entice the Ivy league graduates with booze and exotic boys and women to join the Iraqi Civil Service and appoint those who do as the District Magistrates lording over the local populace. Send some older Americans to make sure that the Sunni and Shia and Kurd sheikhs keep on fighting with each other. This arrangement can last for decades till the Iraqi oil runs out.

Posted by: gregor | Aug 4, 2007 6:08:00 PM

> The burden needs to be on occupation supporters to
> explain how they will reduce the level of violence
> while grinding through US military equipment and
> personnel.

Occupation supporters have a ready answer: the surge along with new rules of engagement will create conditions where a political solution becomes possible, etc. I don't see how anything in your post refutes their position.

Posted by: MarkT | Aug 4, 2007 6:52:04 PM

Occupation supporters have a ready answer: the surge along with new rules of engagement will create conditions where a political solution becomes possible, etc.

Which of course is not the same as explaining anything.

Posted by: Jason G. | Aug 4, 2007 6:54:49 PM

Occupation supporters have a ready answer: the surge along with new rules of engagement will create conditions where a political solution becomes possible, etc.

And a pony!

Posted by: Col Bat Guano | Aug 4, 2007 10:15:50 PM

Genocide then is better than genocide now because the victims get to live rather than die in the meantime.

And the Shi'ite militias likely to capture the state upon withdrawal might lose their grip if we stay long enough -- young men associated with the Shi'ite militias in multiethnic cities might age out of their interest in them; resistance to the occupation might drain enthusiasm for ethnic civil war; the Shi'ite leadership (the real leadership, not the American puppets in the Green Zone) might reconcile and gain enough centralized control over their own sects to prevent a full-scale bloodbath; a political transition in Iran toward moderation might create a negotiating partner capable of exerting a stabilizing influence. Probably not, but the question is not what's most likely to work, but which of the alternatives that are not likley to prevent genocide is least implausible.

The best course, I think, is probably to stay 20 years, all the while getting shot at, as a civil war continues more or less at its current pace. But you're right, this is probably not a political possibility.

To be clear, I marched against the invasion, and believe that every politician or commentator who facilitated it no longer deserves to hold office or influence public discourse.

Posted by: RW | Aug 4, 2007 11:14:42 PM

RW: that seems like a more clear-eyed moral justification than the usual "occupation will stop the genocide". But when the US withdraws, we will have some leverage to get the warring factions to stop the madness, right? Won't we be able to get Al-Sadr, Maliki, Sistani, etc. in a room and say "figure this out, or at least, figure out as much of it as you can"?

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Aug 5, 2007 1:12:19 AM


I hear Richardson make the same argument ("use the leverage of the withdrawal to promote reconciliation"), but I am not sure I follow it. What will be able to offer (or threaten) the sectarian leadership (with) upon announcing an imminent withdrawal that we won't be able to offer (or threaten) them (with) otherwise? The government? Can't we do that now?

I would ask, "isn't that what the occupation effectively is?" but that of course presumes competence and diplomacy. I'm not against pressure on the administration -- expanding the sub-veto majority against the war in the Congress, but if we are talking 2008, I (guess I) would prefer a candidate willing to stay.

This has been another installment of RW's inadvertent punctuation monstrosities.

Posted by: RW | Aug 5, 2007 1:33:42 AM

"What will be able to offer (or threaten) the sectarian leadership (with) upon announcing an imminent withdrawal that we won't be able to offer (or threaten) them (with) otherwise? The government? Can't we do that now?"

Big chunks of the "reconstruction" are being run by American firms that are importing workers from other countries. We can offer reconstruction contracts. We can offer to re-open the oil laws so that Iraq keeps a greater share of its oil revenue. We can pledge not to use air strikes unless actual set-piece battles or genocide breaks out.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Aug 5, 2007 2:43:58 AM

The British must continue to occupy Kenya, since the moment we leave the natives will surely turn to slaughter each other. God and Country demand that we remain to protect Their Safety.

Posted by: El Cid | Aug 5, 2007 9:34:26 AM

Why does everyone dance around the financial cost of this war? While I certainly hate what we have done in Iraq, what help can we give if we keep pouring in good money after bad? Whether there will be genocide in Iraq upon a withdrawal is impossible to know, but our presence could just as easily be only keeping them from finding their own centers of power and a path to what they feel is a decent society. Iraqi politicians and American contractors are simply lining their pockets now.

Reagan did not (contrary to popular belief), end the Cold War single-handedly. The ten punishing years the Soviets spent in Afghanistan trying to tame the region left Russia demoralized and broke and certainly hastened thei demise of the USSR.

The same thing is happening here.

Posted by: Liza Doolittle | Aug 5, 2007 11:13:36 AM

The burden needs to be on occupation supporters to explain how they will reduce the level of violence while grinding through US military equipment and personnel.

I agree that there is this burden, though I don't think it's the only burden here. Everyone needs to back up their position. I don't have anything new to say about it; the basic things that need to be done have all been identified before.

RW makes some good points. As for reducing the level of violence, I've been agnostic about the Surge, but it may, in combination with other tactics, help some before it has to expire in the spring. A key to less violence is a professional security force, something that looks almost as hard to achieve as peace itself. Everything good would be easier to achieve with more effective security. It would allow for economic growth and for political talk to take better root rather than fear and revenge. So the emphasis on training Iraqi forces needs to continue.

I don't think a genocide is certain, but there's a very high risk of it or a very bloody civil war easily costing tens of thousands of lives or more. We do need time to try whatever we can to prevent it. The best solution by far is a unified Iraq, possibly with three semi-autonomous regions with strong guarantees for minority rights. Polling suggests the majority of Iraqis support this, but working out the terms is hard if some of the major actors think they can do better by force, as some of the militia leaders seem to believe. Some of these leaders may just be waiting us out, hoping we'll leave soon so they can take over. Their position are strengthened by continued chaos, and weakened by better security provided by other forces.

If the political solution of a united Iraq doesn't come about, and there's obvious reason to doubt it will anytime soon, we may have to facilitate a soft partition. Even that seems problematic, since the bad actors trying to increase civil strife now will continue to do so even if there's a partition. It would probably still be better than the alternative.

Whether there will be genocide in Iraq upon a withdrawal is impossible to know, but our presence could just as easily be only keeping them from finding their own centers of power and a path to what they feel is a decent society.

I think the first part is an evasion--we have very good reason to expect something very bad if we leave under current conditions. The second part rather overlooks the truth in regard to the first part, among other points, such as that militia leaders seem ready to fight if we'll just get out of their way.

I agree that this is demoralizing.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 5, 2007 12:01:52 PM

"The best course, I think, is probably to stay 20 years, all the while getting shot at, as a civil war continues more or less at its current pace"

I am sorry that is a morally bankrupt statement that could only come from someone who has no skin in the game and doesn't expect to. At some 75+ American deaths a month RW has just casually waved away 18000 additional American lives not including the large numbers of permanently disabled and that just on our side.

"Genocide then is better than genocide now because the victims get to live rather than die in the meantime."

This could use some basic math skills as well. Because a lot of those potential victims are getting killed right now anyway, to suggest somehow they are better off taking there losses at hundreds per month for twenty years rather than in one limited period (assuming that anything like genocide even occurs) is crazy.

Two words of sanity appended to the most strained set of possibilities. I'm with the Col on this one, the likelyhood of a shower of pony's is more likely than any of these 'mights':
"And the Shi'ite militias likely to capture the state upon withdrawal might lose their grip if we stay long enough -- young men associated with the Shi'ite militias in multiethnic cities might age out of their interest in them; resistance to the occupation might drain enthusiasm for ethnic civil war; the Shi'ite leadership (the real leadership, not the American puppets in the Green Zone) might reconcile and gain enough centralized control over their own sects to prevent a full-scale bloodbath; a political transition in Iran toward moderation might create a negotiating partner capable of exerting a stabilizing influence. Probably not,"

RW you seem to be pretty casual with other peoples kids and other peoples money, all in an attempt as far as I can see to save face for Bush. No one has made the case that the presense of American troops on combat patrol in Iraqi cities has been a net security asset. It has simply been smugly assumed from the beginning by people who haven't got a single thing right to date.

Posted by: Bruce Webb | Aug 5, 2007 1:32:09 PM

This could use some basic math skills as well. Because a lot of those potential victims are getting killed right now anyway, to suggest somehow they are better off taking there losses at hundreds per month for twenty years rather than in one limited period (assuming that anything like genocide even occurs) is crazy.

No, the math is sound, and RW's point still stands. "A lot" isn't all or even most. There is a counter to this, that getting the worst over with now will allow faster healing, but that's a rather dicey claim, rather reminiscent of Bush's decisive/clarifying moments idea.

RW you seem to be pretty casual with other peoples kids and other peoples money, all in an attempt as far as I can see to save face for Bush.

Pure bullshit. RW is considering what you seem not to be, that the "skin in this game" doesn't all belong to Americans. Iraqis also have skin, and kids, and have been robbed by us. There is absolutely nothing in RW's posts, and I'm completely sure it plays no role in his thanking, about saving face for Bush.

No one has made the case that the presense of American troops on combat patrol in Iraqi cities has been a net security asset. It has simply been smugly assumed from the beginning by people who haven't got a single thing right to date.

More bullshit. If you actually read RW's posts, you saw that he was right about not invading Iraq (as I was). It's sheer delusion that the largest and most effective security force in Iraq could be withdrawn without making security far worse. Not even Iraqis who hate us believe that.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 5, 2007 2:22:27 PM

> Which of course is not the same as explaining anything.
> Posted by: Jason G. | Aug 4, 2007 6:54:49 PM

> And a pony!
> Posted by: Col Bat Guano | Aug 4, 2007 10:15:50 PM

Both of these are great comebacks! I'll be sure to use them the next time I am arguing with a war supporter - I'm sure they'll be convinced immediately.

Posted by: MarkT | Aug 5, 2007 2:50:08 PM

What is a really bad idea is to only listen to one-sided arguments, mostly from people whose original analysis was awful.

For example, the proper withdrawal of occupation forces could lead to positive developments.

Every single time Britain, France, or Portugal declared that it just couldn't leave its colonies yet, it was always justified for the sake of the natives.

Rwanda, for example, is an example not just of a lack of European intervention, but an over-abundance of French relations with the pre-genocidal, Hutu chauvinist Habyarimana regime.

And under the laws of the universe, though not under any political realities we're apparently allowed to recognize, all sorts of other nations could supply peacekeeping troops for a transition.

Except of course, for anyone that the US foreign policy establishment and the crazy hawks don't want to be involved, and of course barring any sort or type of involvement that they don't want either.

Posted by: El Cid | Aug 5, 2007 5:16:47 PM

I make the observation that when support for a war drops below 35% convinciing war proponents can't be reasonably described as a prioriry.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Aug 5, 2007 5:37:49 PM

It is too easy for us sitting here to forget the reality of the disaster that we have created in Iraq. Millions of Iraqis have been displaced and hundreds of thousands have been killed (well over half a million would be a conservative estimate), the civil war is happening now. The problem with three autonomous regions is that there is really no place for the Sunnis which is why they are the ones who are primarily against the idea.

Posted by: no relation to paris hilton | Aug 5, 2007 8:32:59 PM

there is no precedent for having an occupying force endlessly conduct regular patrols in a foreign land. Hate to say this, but Occupied Palestinian Territories?

Sure the U.S. can stay -- it is just that most of us get nothing except busted budgets, decaying infrastructure, and dead soldiers out of doing so. Our oil baron rulers on the other hand...

Posted by: janinsanfran | Aug 5, 2007 9:18:51 PM

the proper withdrawal of occupation forces could lead to positive developments

How would that work in Iraq, given the security problems there and the powder-keg atmosphere?

And under the laws of the universe, though not under any political realities we're apparently allowed to recognize, all sorts of other nations could supply peacekeeping troops for a transition.

I'm not sure what this means, but it's true that no nation wants to go into Iraq to "keep peace" under present conditions. I'd personally love to see the UN take over in Iraq, but no one is willing.

I make the observation that when support for a war drops below 35% convinciing war proponents can't be reasonably described as a prioriry.

Yeah, just like when opposition to an invasion is under 35% convincing war supporters can't reasonably be described as a priority, right? In any case, as I point out to you from time to time, it's not primarily about convincing anyone, least of all those who are determined not to be convinced on each side. It's about making and testing rational arguments, providing information, etc.

The problem with three autonomous regions is that there is really no place for the Sunnis which is why they are the ones who are primarily against the idea.

There's a place for Sunnis, but not much oil in it. That's one reason a soft partition would be preferable, one that includes oil money for Sunnis.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 5, 2007 9:43:22 PM

the proper withdrawal of occupation forces could lead to positive developments

How would that work in Iraq, given the security problems there and the powder-keg atmosphere?

So, logical discussions of the future of Iraq must begin with the non-empirical, theoretical a priori assumption that withdrawal of occupation forces will lead to more slaughter and death and destruction than the astounding current levels?

That's it? No need to empirically outline all possibilities? Just assume, because everyone who's sensible knows that that assumption is true?

If I even suggest that the possibility be included among discussion, I'm just sort of suggesting impossible things, similar to gravity reversing itself?

Posted by: El Cid | Aug 5, 2007 11:22:04 PM

As El Cid points out, there is really no good reason to assume that our withdrawal would necessarily make things worse for the Iraqis, we have so much blood on our hands I think, at this point, we should stop digging. This last July saw more US KIA than any other July, contrary to administration spin, it does not appear that the 'surge' is working.

Posted by: no relation to paris hilton | Aug 6, 2007 12:28:39 AM

El Cid, NRtPH, you're assuming a common standard of evidence and logic. That's a mistake.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Aug 6, 2007 2:33:07 AM

Yeah, just like when opposition to an invasion is under 35% convincing war supporters can't reasonably be described as a priority, right?

You think this makes sense?

Did you mean to say "war opponents"?

At least that would be coherent.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Aug 6, 2007 2:38:12 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.