When you cut through all of the preening that surrounds today’s Senate debate on Iraq, the bottom line is this: A majority of senators appear ready to join Majority Leader Harry Reid in voting for a resolution denouncing Mr. Bush’s plan to send more troops. The main alternatives to Bush policies offered by the war critics boil down to empty cliches about browbeating the Iraqis to “take responsibility” for their own security. But the Iraqi security forces, penetrated by terrorist sympathizers and mired in sectarian discord — are incapable of doing this and will continue to be for some time. Given these realities, demanding cutbacks in the level of U.S. military forces (the one thing preventing a total collapse of the government and the country) means increasing the likelihood of all-out civil war in Iraq.
It would be nice if lawmakers and their staffs, whatever their party affiliation or ideology, could pull themselves away from the television cameras and focus groups for a few hours and look seriously at the findings of a new study from the generally liberal Brookings Institution which tries to seriously examine what such a war in Iraq might look like and what it would mean for the United States. This study, (titled “Things Fall Apart: Containing The Spillover From An Iraqi Civil War” and available at www.brookings.edu) is essential to understanding what happens if we abandon Iraq.
The authors, Brookings scholars Kenneth Pollack and Daniel Byman, examined civil wars in countries such as the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Congo, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Lebanon. “Without question, a wider Iraqi civil war would be a humanitarian nightmare,” they concluded. “Based on the experiences of other recent major civil wars we should expect many hundreds of thousands or even millions of people to die with three to four times that number wounded.” Large outflows of Shi’ite refugees could change the political balance in Kuwait, destabilizing that government. And there is every possibility that Iraq’s neighbors, ranging from Iran and Syria to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey, a NATO ally, could be dragged in. The genocide of 800,000 to 1 million Rwandan Tutsi tribesman drew neighboring states like Uganda and Angola into that conflict, which eventually spread to Congo, where civil war continues to this day.
Violent jihadists would be greatly strengthened as a result of an all-out civil war in Iraq. After the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan, “Afghan Arabs” returned to Muslim countries around the world convinced that their win over the Soviets was God’s will, and that jihad should be spread elsewhere. In other cases, like al Qaeda in Afghanistan, terrorists find a home in states in civil war. In other instances, civil wars spawn new terrorist groups — Hezbollah, Yasser Arafat’s PLO, Hamas and the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka all were created as a result of such conflicts. The Brookings study reminds us that listening to the focus groups and abandoning Iraq would be a catastrophe of the first order.