- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2007

In the search for some kind of “third way” in Iraq, there are increasing suggestions that an Iraqi civil war is really none of our business, and that permitting such a war to run its course is a plausible alternative for U.S. policy-makers. In going public with his concerns about the war last year, Sen. John Warner emphasized that American troops have no place in the midst of an civil war. Sen. Barack Obama argues that American soldiers have no business trying to “solve the differences at the heart of somebody else’s civil war.” Even the estimable Charles Krauthammer seems to be moving in that direction, suggesting that the United States should seriously consider warning Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that if he disappoints us, we should be prepared to withdraw from Baghdad and tell the Iraqis: “You can have your Baghdad civil war without us. We will be around to pick up the pieces as best we can.”

To believe that allowing the current situation to explode into an all-out Iraqi civil war is a plausible alternative, one must either think that: 1) the United States has no strategic interests in the Persian Gulf region (a nonsensical position that none of the three persons mentioned above actually believes); or 2) that somehow letting an Iraqi civil war run its course will permit American soldiers to be “redeployed” to other locations out of harm’s way, and that the war will not affect Iraq’s neighbors in ways that destabilize the region. But a careful look at option number two reveals that the premise is deeply flawed as well. A new study by the Brookings Institution, which examines the history of recent civil wars in diverse countries such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Lebanon and Somalia, among others, makes a powerful case that walking away from the chaos in Iraq is not a serious option for U.S. policy-makers.

The study, co-authored by Kenneth Pollack, a Brookings scholar who formerly served on the National Security Council staff during the Clinton administration and Professor Daniel Byman of Georgetown University, should serve as a cautionary note for anyone who believes that “redeploying” or removing altogether substantial numbers of troops in Iraq will not result in a disaster for the United States on multiple levels, starting with the creation of a massive humanitarian tragedy for Iraqis. Some of the consequences will include hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths (or more); several times that number maimed and millions of refugees. American influence in the region would be severely weakened; the loss of Iraqi oil production could have a huge impact on world oil prices.

But that’s only part of the bleak picture. Messrs. Pollack and Byman contend that the most serious, damaging consequences of civil war will be the “spillover” into neighboring countries. A partial listing of the problems include the creation of new terrorist groups (Hezbollah, for example, was created as a result of the Lebanon civil war), radicalization of native populations; the formation of secessionist movements; and heightened potential for new violence as Iraq’s neighbors are drawn in. Anyone who seriously believes that a worsening civil war in Iraq serves U.S. policy interests needs to carefully examine the Brookings report, which suggests that they are delusional. In future editorials, we will examine further the Brookings report, available at www.brookings.org.

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