Monday, March 19, 2007

Let's Talk Solutions

It's four years on now, plenty of time to see what doesn't work, plenty of time to realize that we've made an huge mess of Iraq and the Middle East in general.

We've done a few good things, most of them lately: we seem to have put the Palestinian-Israeli issue back on track a little, even if both sides are resentful and hurt by our ignorance and earlier Bush-led partisanship towards Israel. Iraq *might* be better off with Saddam gone...might, depending on who's statistics you accept. And we seem to have Iran back talking, even if they'ev made some progress in defeating our initial (and wrong-headed) agenda from the early Bush days.

What to do about all this, then? How do we regain the credibility that we once had, both in the region and at home? How do we incorporate ourselves back into the world community, now that the Bush-Cheney legacy is being chipped away?

I have an answer. Like most of my solutions, it's elegant, fairly simple, and only requires some quibbling about the details. The best part is, not only does it help solve OUR problems, but it helps solve Iraq's deep troubles, it keep Iran under the spotlight, and protects our interests in the western Middle East as well.

The centerpiece of my plan is a de facto partitioning of Iraq into three regions: the Kurdish north, the Sunni/Shi'a middle (around Baghdad) and the Shi'a south.

Here's the twist: We station a moderate number of troops in the Kurdish sector. The Kurds were and still, for some silly reason still are, our friends. We turned our backs on them in the fallout from Gulf War I. We can't do that again but at the same time, we can't alarm Turkey into believing we will destabilize a strong ally and an even stronger democracy in a region that we've failed to implant our democratic ideals in the first place (In truth, I've long believed that Turkey should have been more involved in Iraq, but that's just my opinion).

If we were to station, say, 40,000 troops in what I will call Kurdistan, we could protect the Kurds (and their oil assets) while having strike forces poised to defend Sunnis in "Baghdadistan". To keep the peace but also to keep our troops from being targets and from being icons of occupation. Let this middle region settle itself out, while clamping down on overt actions of ethnic cleansing. As it sorts itself out, we obtain commitments from various of the Coalition of the Bribed Willing to take in Iraqi refugees. Most of the wealthy Iraqis fled the country already (some two million of them). There's no reason why anyone who doesn't want to should have to remain behind in what will be the equivalent of the American Old West.

Then in the farther south regions, we could have a coalition, led by Britain, of NATO and UN peacekeeping forces, basically performing some mop up tasks and protecting allies such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, from what I see as a likely incursion from Iran into that region. If you look at a map, there's a bottleneck in southern Iraq which makes it very favorable for Iranian dominance in that area.

By forcing the UN to take a humanitarian stance here, it would signal to Iran (without much pressure form the Security Council) that we take them seriously. That may be enough to keep the more radical elements of Iran at bay while encouraging the moderates to the bargaining table. Too, the fist in the velvet glove is knowing the American forces are closer to Tehran than the UN forces.

Whatever squeeze play Syria and Iran could do in "Baghdadistan" could be covered by a joint pincer movement of the southern allies, supported by the British base on Diego Garcia and the American bases in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and the northern allied coalition of Kurds and Americans (hey, the Kurds would have to be included).

Once "Bahgdadistan" settles itself out, we can begin a strategic withdrawal, but notice this would also give us time to work out the other issues in the Middle East, and perhaps even begin to tackle the strategic interests China has begun to take in the region.

Four years is too long without even having a plan for "victory". By suggesting this plan, we can give our troops there something to fight for and the people of the entire Middle East some hope.

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