Agreeing with David Ignatius is, for me, a thing exceedingly rare – especially on the matter of foreign affairs. In fact, I think this might only be possible when an idea comes along so bad that a hard-nosed realist and a liberal interventionist – er, “postglobalist” – can unite against it. That idea is the partition of Iraq, which was approved by the Senate in a non-binding resolution, and which Ignatius has sensibly opposed in his latest column for the Post.
In my last Exit-Strategies post, I focused on the history of the interwar period, particularly Wilsonian “national determination” and the Paris Peace Conference’s creation of new nation-states, and statelettes, as all part of the bad history of ethno-nation-building form above. Ignatius’s analogy is Vietnam; or to be more precise, he sees a certain sentiment among U.S. policy-makers of the Vietnam era – the gist being, "It was necessary to destroy the town in order to save it" – resurfacing in today’s Washington.
It is a thoughtful, if not particularly original, critique: American war-managers and “laptop bombardiers” love to dream up that one big solution, that grand social-engineering project, that will solve all our problems – while consistently underestimating, or outright ignoring, the costs in human life. Carving up a county in order to save is in this terrible tradition. And one need not strain to dream up some “Iraq immemorial” – a Romantic vision of the nation of Iraq – as Ignatius does at the end of his piece, to oppose partition.
The endgame in Iraq may, indeed, be bloody – entailing either Shia hegemony from Baghdad, the rule of a ruthless strongman like al-Sadyr, or a resurgent Sunni class based in al-Anbar. Someone will become sovereign. But this is a battle in which America should not take a side by either arming and making deals with Sunnis in Anbar or supporting unconditionally the Iraqi parliament.
Indeed, as William Lind has observed, the U.S. has a reverse Midas Touch – anything we touch essentially turns to sh-t – it loses sovereignty and is perceived as “collaboration” or “treason” or a “puppet” of Uncle Sam. So too would any neat little ethno-partitions drawn up in Washington. A stable state will emerge in Iraq only when we get out of this mess.