- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2005

The Bush administration trumpets a delusional exit strategy for Iraq: an orderly departure of troops after entrenching a democratic and unified Iraq capable of suppressing a raging terrorist insurgency.

That utopian aim would keep U.S. troops in Iraq with mounting casualties for the ages. The least bad earthbound departure plan for the post-Saddam quagmire would partition Iraq between Kurds, Sunnis, and Shi’ites. Partition would still make the Iraqi war a modest success, whereas President Bush’s “stay the course” mantra promises a flaming disaster.

The United States began war against Iraq to end President Saddam Hussein’s genocide-like killings and brutalities; to destroy or to prevent Iraq’s acquisition of weapons of mass destruction (WMD); and, to install a secular democratic dispensation in a unified Iraq that would inspire emulation throughout the Middle East. The U.S. military deftly accomplished the first and second objectives, but has predictably failed in the third.

Soldiers are untrained in the arts of nation-building. They are unschooled in Plato’s “Republic,” Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the French Revolution” or Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America.” Democracy is neither a cluster of ideas on the end of a bayonet nor an electoral event, but a culture that honors government by the consent of the governed, reason over religion, a measured balance between order and liberty, and checks on majority rule.

Iraq is not a credible democracy after more than 30 months of military occupation. Its new constitution prohibits laws contrary to the tenets of Islam, which is tantamount to theocracy lite. Islamic tenets are determined by mullahs or imams, who will occupy key positions in the Iraqi judiciary. In any event, the Iraqi government commands at best anemic support from its people. Primary loyalties and trust are with tribal, ethnic or religious leaders.

Lawlessness and violence is rampant. The government cannot protect the lives, liberties and property of its constituents, the first obligation of the social contract. Citizens shy from intelligence or testimony to thwart daily terrorist horrors. Security forces are apathetic or disloyal. Private militias administer vigilante justice. Arbitrary arrests, detentions and maltreatment by government authorities are widespread, fueled by ethnic or religious hatreds and personal spite.

The Interior Ministry and the judiciary combine incompetence with corruption. In sum, Iraq is a government of men, not of laws, and not far removed from a Hobbesian state of nature.

Neither is it unified. Kurdish provinces in the north are de facto sovereign. Kurdish authorities control the borders, and the pesh merga are an independent military force. Shi’ites are headed for a theocracy in the oil-rich south. The heavily Sunni west is de facto separated from the center. Neighborhoods are ghettoized. Kirkuk remains a powder keg convulsed by disputes between Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds.

The recently adopted Constitution makes regional laws supreme over their national counterparts, and the enforcement of national edicts over the local power center opposition is a joke. The unspoken consensus is that Iraq would fragment if the United States decamped forthwith.

If each day brought greater legitimacy to the Iraqi government, strengthened democratic institutions, increased national unity and a reduced insurgency, a continued U.S. presence would be justified. But none of those propitious trends obtains. None even appear on the horizon.

U.S. soldiers die for no reason. The military has accomplished all it can in Iraq. It can neither increase the government’s popularity nor inculcate a democratic culture, nor create loyalties to the center, nor quell a largely domestic insurgency that has a critical base of popular support or acquiescence.

The United States should recognize rather than dispute the inevitable to derive a modicum of success from its post-Saddam mission. Regional plebiscites on independence should be organized for Kurds, Sunnis and Shi’ites. The United Nations should draw the national boundaries for the three groups. Kirkuk should become a “free city” under U.N. supervision like Danzig between the world wars.

As a condition of independence, each region’s constitution would be required to protect minority rights, to subscribe to counterterrorism conventions, to renounce WMD and territorial ambitions and to authorize the U.N. Security Council intervention in any breakdown of the constitutional order.

The three-state plebiscite solution for Iraq would enable the United States to leave with honor on its own terms. Soldiers would not have died in vain. And terrorists would not be emboldened. In contrast, persisting in the folly time will yield a democratic, peaceful and unified Iraq risks a humiliating departure reminiscent of Saigon. The morale of international terrorists would soar. U.S. prestige in the Muslim world and the Middle East would plunge. And the United States would turn dangerously isolationist for decades.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer and international consultant with Bruce Fein & Associates and the Lichfield Group.

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