Saturday, February 3, 2007
When Borders Fail
Josh Marshall has a good post on some of the difficulty involved in trying to tease out who's doing what to sponsor the factional and sectarian infighting in Iraq. And then he closes with this:
But this gets to a deeper fallacy of the line of argument about neighboring countries 'meddling' in Iraq. Every shred of the failure that is Iraq bleeds over into the neighboring states, either as a threat or an opportunity, since they are all of the same fabric, or rather the same patchwork bleeding over national borders. The Sunnis with their coreligionists in Saudi Arabia; the Shia with theirs in Iran; the Kurds with theirs in southeastern Turkey whose affinity threatens to bring the Turks down into Iraq as well. The more we fail in Iraq, the more the threads we pull will pull into neighboring states. In other words, our inability to come to terms with and deal wtih what we have created in Iraq will almost inevitably lead to a widening gyre of escalation across Iraq's frontiers. I take it that this is what the Iraq Study Group folks were talking about when they spoke of the bleak outlook in Iraq and the necessity of getting quickly to some regional negotiations rather than trying to fight our way out of this box.
We're used to thinking of buffer states, like Kashmir or Iraq, as flashpoints for violence. But there are other more cooperative models for dealing with demographic realities that overtake geographic borders. (California and Texas spring to mind, where despite protectionist reactions, Mexicans and Americans on both sides of the border continue to take advantage of economic opportunites to create a web of inter-dependence.)
Here's a thought experiment: Imagine a scenario where Iraqi Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds were dying in the thousands, but the cause was not a civil war but a deadly earthquake. No one would question the outpouring of aid and support that would immediately start flowing in from across the borders in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. That's the difference between a humanitarian crisis and sectarian warfare.
The key to extricating ourselves from Iraq while leaving behind the semblance of a stable state is to de-militarize the situation. And the only way to do that is to start dialoguing with the other regional players, ie. Iran. Right now, we're pressuring the Sunnis to accept less of the cake than they were used to under Saddam, in exchange for more of the cake than they'll get through war with the Shiites. Seems like pretty good advice for us, too.