- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006

President Bush should immediately begin an orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. It is the least bad alternative to cap a magnificent start. Last week’s orgy of sectarian violence is sufficient proof that post-Saddam nation-building has failed.

A miracle hypothetically could save the day, like walking on water. But no responsible leader would hazard the lives of soldiers based on such an improbability.

A 30 percent confidence level is the best that can be expected in predicting politics outside of Western democracies. It is an art, not a science. Experts are generally clueless, for example, why South Korea and Taiwan evolved from authoritarian governments into viable democracies, why extremist mullahs became ascendant in Iran, or why the Soviet Union disintegrated. Accordingly, after Saddam’s overthrow, the idea Iraq might be transformed into a secular, democratic and unified nation from unpromising protoplasm with United States military force, decrees and exhortations was not irrefutably ridiculous. But the volumes of evidence accumulated over three years are now conclusive. It cannot be done irrespective of United States troops, money or political arm-twisting.

The stubborn facts are commonplace. The Kurds in the north universally covet de jure independence. They enjoyed de facto sovereignty for more than a decade under U.S. protection before the 2003 liberation.

Kurdish sovereignty on the ground continues to this very moment. The pesh merga are tantamount to a Kurdish army. The Kurdish Parliament is supreme over Baghdad. Customs and immigration are in Kurdish hands. Kurds aim to annex oil-rich Kirkuk to the north over the protests of Arabs and Turkmen through intimidation and population manipulation. Kurdish politics is dominated by two rival parties with no democratic trappings or traditions that might incline them to bow to a popularly elected national government.

The Shi’ite majority were oppressed and brutalized by a Sunni minority until Saddam’s overthrow. Now the situation is reversed. Private Shi’ite militias are taking revenge, provoked in part by the Sunni insurgency. Private Sunni militias are emerging in response. Last week’s bombing of a sacred Shi’ite shrine in Samarra is emblematic of waxing sectarian violence. There also is mounting evidence the Iraqi national police dominated by Shi’ites are implicated in systematic killings and torture of Sunnis. In sum, Iraq’s internecine strife smacks of Beirut during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 convulsions.

Neither Shi’ite nor Sunni can rely on the feeble national government to protect their lives, limbs or property. Law enforcement is a joke. The rival sects have turned inward for safety. No Shi’ite or Sunni arises daily and plans his behavior on the assumption national edicts or laws will be obeyed. Polarization and mutual suspicion is rising, not receding.

It is folly to think domestic tranquility is destined to prevail in Iraq because the majority prefers peace to violence. Especially when government is weak, extremism regularly triumphs. Political strength is ultimately determined by what people will fight and die for no matter how demented or crazed their creeds. Bolsheviks captured power in Russia with a small minority. Iran’s mullahs rule with a tiny fraction of popular support. Myanmar is governed by military thugs despite overwhelming public enthusiasm for the National League for Democracy. Power in Iraq is similarly falling into the hands of extremists who rule by the gun or intimidation. According to a report in the New York Times last Sunday, “Rival hard-line Shiite clerical factions have pushed each other toward more militant an anti-American stances,… Even Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the paramount Shi’ite cleric whom the Americans have often looked for moderation, appears to have been outflanked by younger and more aggressive figures.”

The elected national government is generally impotent because only a handful will risk that last full measure of devotion for its preservation. Iraqi military loyalties are sectarian or ethnic, not national. And the U.S. military cannot substitute for a patriotic national army as the Vietnam War confirmed.

On the other hand, a nation-building requires patience. If there were some sign democracy, the rule of law and unity were strengthening — even from a tiny base — a U.S. military presence might be justified. But nothing serious on that score has emerged since the Coalition Provisional Authority was dissolved. Iraq’s elections and constitution, simpliciter, mean little because their legitimacy is not accepted by the losers. Even Saddam’s war crimes trial has not proven unifying.

Scientific certainty cannot exclude the possibility that with many more years of U.S. military protection, Iraqis will turn swords into plowshares, make war no more, and embrace a politics of compromise and moderation. But foreign policy must be sterner to escape the reproach of being quixotic.

The United States, moreover, is not saddled with a moral responsibility to remain in Iraq to contain its domestic upheaval. Iraqis have been given more than ample opportunity to forge a secular democracy featuring federalism, human rights and the rule of law. The opportunity has been squandered because of mean-spirited or parochial political jealousies.

The aftermath of a United States withdrawal will not be pretty. Civil war might erupt. Oil flows could be threatened. Meddling by Iran or Syria is serious possibility. But these risks will not diminish by simply postponing the day of reckoning. All the latter will yield is more American casualties.

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

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