Sunday, July 02, 2006

Possible Objections to Negotiations and My Answers

In my last two posts, I have argued that our best option in Iraq is to press for negotiations among all factions except the Al Qaeda types without trying to predetermine what the outcome should be. In this post, I try to anticipate objections some people may have to this approach and give my responses.

Objection: This would mean negotiating with some truly odious people.

Answer: This is certainly true. On the other hand, all armed factions in Iraq, including the ones that are nominally on our side are truly odious (i.e., we back the government and the government backs the death squads). And any faction without an army is too unimportant to consider. But if we could get these truly odious factions to negotiate a cease fire and stop killing, they would become at least somewhat less odious.

Objection: This means negotiating with the insurgents who are killing our troops.

Answer: Duh! That is how to make peace, by negotiating with the enemy, i.e., the people killing your troops. Besides, if we will be asking the insurgents to negotiate with our army that kills Iraqis.

Objection: Many factions are so small and unorganized they probably do not have anyone to negotiate on their behalf. Are meaningful negotiations even possible in so fragmented a situation?

Answer: This is a serious concern. The situation in Iraq is extremely fragmented, which makes negotiations difficult. Our best option in that case is to begin negotiations among the largest, strongest, and best organized factions, which are the ones that truly hold the power of war and peace. If the larger and stronger factions start making deals, the smaller and weaker factions will find it in their interest to affiliate with larger factions or risk being crushed by them.

Objection: Not all of the violence in Iraq is the work of political/religious factions at all. Much of it is being carried out by common criminals.

Answer: One of the reasons crime is thriving is the general chaos and breakdown in order. If peace and order can be restored, it will be much easier to crack down on common criminal gangs.

Objection: The ultimate outcome of such negotiations may very well be a crazy patchwork quilt of territories, each controlled by a different faction.

Answer: Once again, this is true. Certainly that was what happened when we intervened to protect the Kurds -- two rival Kurdish factions fought a civil war, which they ultimately resolved by dividing Kurdistan between them. For the two factions to coexist in the same space and compete peacefully through elections was something they simply were not ready for. If allowing each faction to control its own subsection of Iraq, perhaps with some peacekeepers patrolling the borders between them, is the best way the Iraqis can come up with to end/avoid a civil war, that is their decision. It is not as good as democratic competition through elections, but it is a great deal better than what we have now.

Objection: A patchwork quilt is not a stable outcome. The factions will fight, each trying to expand the area it controls.

Answer: Unfortunately, any negotiations to end a war are often accompanied by a temporary escalation in the fighting, as each side strives to bargain from a position of strength. We can use our army to try to curb such escalation and hold it in check, but it will probably not be possible to avoid altogether. Once a settlement is reached, I would advocate some sort of peace keeping force patroling between enclaves to keep fighting from breaking out again. And we can hope to do our part in the long, slow, painful process of nation-building as we try to slowly coax all sides to re-integrate. So long as the process is mostly bloodless, it should not inspire too much opposition. (Witness Afghanistan, Bosnia, etc).

Objection: This type of cantonization amounts to ethnic cleansing.

Answer: Ethnic (or sectarian) cleansing is already in full swing in Iraq today. If we can stop the fighting, we can stop the ethnic cleansing, or at least allow it to proceed in a more peaceful and orderly way.

Objection: This amounts to turning Iraq over to theocrats who will treat women abominably.

Answer: Tragically, this is true. Given where the power rests in Iraq today, I do not see any way to avoid erosion in the position of women. Certainly we will not help Iraqi women by prolonging the fighting; on the contrary, all evidence is that Islamic factions become increasingly radicalized the longer upheaval and social chaos persists.

Objection: What about Al Quada in Iraq?

Answer: We will, of course, be parties to the negotiations, and that will be the one term we insist on. Al Qaeda in Iraq must be destroyed and must not be allowed to return. As has been noted, when we killed Zarqawi, we obtained a whole treasure trove of valuable documents on his organization, which led us to other hideouts which, in turn, had their own documents leading to further hideouts. This is a most encouraging prospect. And given the number of enemies Zarqawi and his followers have made in Iraq, I am sure most Iraqis will be overjoyed to destroy his organization. If we tell them that if Al Qaeda comes back, so will we, I am sure the Iraqis will agree to keep them out.



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