Five Easy Questions

Before the war in Iraq, Europe did not have a coherent policy for dealing with that country. Given that the current large-scale American presence there will not last forever, some questions arise for European governments:

Should Europe as a whole have a common policy for dealing with Iraq?
If so, what should it be?
Who will implement it?
Who will pay for it?
What needs to be done now to get a policy in place by the time the US Army starts winding things down?

12 thoughts on “Five Easy Questions

  1. I´m not sure one can discuss / develop a policy for “dealing with Iraq” when we don´t know how that country will look in 1, 2 or 5 years.

    Will it be still one country? If yes, with a weak or strong central government? How inclusive concerning Sunnis and maybe Kurds? How much ethnical cleansing (sp.?) will have happened? Will the middle class (doctors, teachers etc.) come back to Iraq?

    Or does the civil war really start “openly” when the US army “starts winding things down”?
    Will Iran and Saudi-Arabia become more openly involved? What about Turkey and the Kurds?

    Right now we´ve got Sunni – Shia fighting, Sunni – Kurdish rivalry (Kirkuk) and even some Shia – Shia rivalries (Mahdi army against SCIRI and Dawa IIRC). Throw in Al Qaeda and you´ve got four different “wars”.
    (I didn´t even mention Kurds – Turkoman.)

    And the big difference compared to former Yugoslavia in the 1990s seems to be that none of the three big groups in Iraq (Sunnis, Shia, Kurds) have a single undisputed leader. As in Milosevic for the Serbs, Tudjman for the Croats for example. A leader who can “deliver” his group for any kind of agreement.

    Instead we have – at least – three Shia groups /parties, two Kurdish parties (which fought against each other in the 1990s) and several Sunni groups including Baathists, Al Qaeda etc. And given the atmosphere in Iraq today, any single group can “torpedo” an agreement with a few well timed car bombs. Especially since almost every group got its own militia.

    How could anyone develop and implement a common European policy towards Iraq with all these uncertainties?
    Sure, they probably can agree on a few points.
    Hopefully, no open outside involvement (Turkey, Iran, Saudi-Arabia). Hopefully still one single Iraq. Maybe with a weak central government but a sharing of oil profits.
    But I´m not sure if Europe can influence things in Iraq that much.

  2. 1) Yes
    2) Containment
    3) Everyone
    4) Everyone
    5) Closer ties need to be forged with regional powers (Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey).

    The first step should be an ambitious but carefully phased in programme to support particularly Jordan and Syria with the massive amount of refugees from Iraq they have to harbour. We first need go get more diplomatic credit in the region. Working to stall any potential plans the US may have to launch an attack on Iran should also further that aim (and prevent the situation from becoming completely hopeless).

  3. Answer to question 1: clearly a “NO”
    I remember an EU meeting in Denmark where this very question was the issue… and this very meeting was torpedoed by a group of EU countries what more than clearly showed the incompatibility of the national agendas inside the Union. Not to mention the transatlantic gap on this, as well.

    What’s brewing up in the middle east is mainly a muslim intra-religious power struggle. The EU as a “christian club” is not a “neutral faction” but an “outsider” (whereas in the inter-religious jewish-muslim conflict we *can* play a neutral role).
    With Shiites (Iran), Sunnis (Saudi Arabia et al.), Kurds vs Turkey/Syria/Iran(/Iraq), and the US et al. as an “outside intruder” there are more than enough factions involved to make it a mess. Adding the EU with its different agendas as another faction is IMHO not only a waste of time and money but also complicating this Gordian knot.

    The EU has more than enough issues on their own: integrating the new members, the troublespots of the Balkans, issues beyond the eastern borders, migration at the southern borders etc.pp.
    Not to forget that we still need a “UN reserve” for conflicts elsewhere which are easily forgotten over the Iraq conflict.

    IMHO the EU should spend its resources on conflicts where it has a *realistic* chance to influence the outcome. I don’t see such a chance in the middle east right now.

  4. 1) Certainly.
    2) Liberal containment, as Robert MacNamara would have said. Press for a Gulf/Iraq neighbours security conference, plan for the worst in terms of Gulf shipping disruption and refugee flows, keep pressing on Israel/Palestine.
    3) Everyone, though the UK could do well with shutting up more – although it will have to take part on the military/spooky/diplomatic side.
    4) Nobody else but us will, although maybe some help might come from the GCC. We’d better ask’em.
    5) Admission of failure.

  5. Which inter-religious jewish-muslim conflict?
    Israel isn’t about religion but the conflict between immigrant and aboriginal. Europe sees itself as aboriginal so a neutral Europe would make Iran look pro Israeli. But states are not neutral and the Arabs are at this moment in time our major opponents so their enemies are our friends. (this is also why Israel can’t make friends with the Arab countries because we would flip sides)

    About Iraq.

    It depends on the US and the state the US will be in.

  6. So we should basically uphold the status quo? Aren’t we delaying the inevitable? Will it be worse due to that delay?

  7. I fear that “entering dialogue” or “forging closer ties” with many the region’s powers gives the collective west a perverse incentive to oppose democracy in the middle east. Because the effort involved in forging a relationship with those in charge is wasted if it should come to pass that they are no longer in charge, investing in that relationship gives one an incentive to turn a blind eye to the things that they do to stay in charge.

    Consider the number of young democracies that went authoritarian during the Cold War. When the powers go shopping for allies, they want assurance that allies will remain allies, and authoritarian allies can offer that assurance in a way that elected allies cannot.

  8. In response to Charly:
    “Which inter-religious jewish-muslim conflict? Israel isn’t about religion but the conflict between immigrant and aboriginal.”
    Totally agree…from a secular and local perspective it is. But when including the whole mideast I assume the religious dimension grows considerably. Or shorter: the farer away the more it is reduced to a jews vs muslims thingie (I suspect a Saudi or Iranian village dweller isn’t too much into immigration details).
    Well… just my assumption, I might be wrong.
    Anyway, I think in the Israel/Palestinian conflict the EU can do something, in the Sunni/Shia conflict it cannot. We should invest our resources accordingly.

  9. The Israeli-Plestinian conflict has been going on for 60 years. Progress has been minimal. Powers that had direct military influence in the region tried to solve it and failed, or achieved deals that cost billions in military aid and just shifted the conflict.

    Europe’s leverage is limited to trade and aid. Europe’s goals have to be compatible to its means.

  10. Cyrus,

    Concerning ‘perverse incentives’, maybe that’s a hazard that we will run with this. It’s something that we’ll have to accept. Right now the threat posed by the Iraqi civil war is far more serious than the danger that we might become attached to Assad and Khameini and undermine potential peaceful democratic revolutions.

    The quest for moral purity in Middle-East policy is mistaken and will have perverse consequences.

    Similar ideas have been expressed by neoconservatives in the United States. There is, for instance, the notion that western support for dictators in the region is part of what supports Al Qaeda and undermines moderate democratic forces in the region. This notion is not entirely without its merits. Another notion is the supposed historical inevitability of democracy. These ideas form the (more sophisticated) basis for the doctrine of ‘moral clarity’ in which evil is to be fought, good to be supported, etcetera.

    I would say that we have seen how this doctrine has worked out in Iraq, where historical inevitability was given a helping hand. But the glaring foreign policy failures of the US in Iran and North Korea have also shown that not engaging with the bad guys (and instead speaking with ‘moral clarity’ to the domestic press) is maybe not always such a bright idea.

    In the current situation, the instability caused by the Iraq civil war could lead to a regional conflict with all of the powers involved. Leaving that alone, the instability might cause the regime in Jordan to fall, probably resulting in a civil war (not a democracy). If instability causes the Saudi regime to fall, it is possible that it will become a theocracy with a few democratic elements (like Iran). Syria might respond to instability with severe repression and possibly forced displacement of minorities. The conflict between Turkey and the PKK might flare up again, with negative consequences for the civil liberties of the Kurdish minority in Turkey.

    The illiberal regimes in these countries are also the only ones who have any measure of control over the flow of weapons and fighters to Iraq. In order to prevent that they support rival factions in Iraq and turn it into a protracted proxy war, we need to deal with them.

    Now I’m not saying that we should turn these countries into our allies in any deep sense. But we do need good relations in order to first keep the current conflict from spilling over and then, second, try to solve it within Iraq (either by settlement should clear factions emerge or by gradual rollback).

    Important parts of the containment strategy can be achieved by the EU on its own (if it can get its act together). Solving the war within Iraq will have to be done through the UN or an ad hoc international gremium.

  11. There was an Israeli-Palistinian conflict before there was Israel. It is going on for only 90 years and the Palestinians are on the winning side but it will take another 30 years for a resolution which will look a lot like South Africa.

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