Tuesday, January 07, 2020

The problem is less about Suleimani and more about how we act in Iraq

Some of the Lawyers Guns and Money blog authors are very good,* and all of them AFAICT range from very liberal to socialist. It says something that Robert Farley, LGM's national security expert, isn't quite ready to call taking out Suleimani a mistake, viewed from the narrow frame of whether to let him go about killing people:

In short, nothing about the “Suleimani was bad and it’s good he’s dead” takes is quite wrong, but it is dependent on “what I told you was true, from a certain point of view” thinking.

Farley goes on to discuss how Trump had no strategy beyond maximum pressure on Iran and stumbled into killing Suleimani because nothing was working.

True as far as it goes, but I think the deeper problem is both our military involvement in Iraq and how we treat the country as something less than sovereign, nearly 17 years after we invaded. Iraq is a semi-democracy where the majority kind-of runs the country. That majority isn't doing a great job of how it treats the minority Sunni and has kind-of wanted our military help to keep the Sunnis from murderous rebellion again.

Our help, for the most part, isn't helpful. We should be in Syria where there's no democratic government to go through a learning curve, and we shouldn't be in Iraq. At least, our involvement in Iraq should have been as limited as possible after ISIS had been mostly defeated, focusing on counter-insurgency tactics that don't involve repression and improving policing through capacity-building rather than beating up suspects.

And to the extent we're in Iraq, we should treat the government there as sovereign, rather than launch our own military activities on their soil without their support or approval, against the terms of our involvement. If Iraq can't or won't protect our troops or embassy or allow us to protect them, then we should leave.

This all comes back to Suleimani because it's our exposure in Iraq that puts us in such a difficult position that killing him isn't obviously a mistake (although it is a probable mistake). We have no good options in Iraq, when we probably shouldn't be there and we're inhibiting the country functioning as a sovereign democracy. Not being there lowers the exposure to the risk Suleimani, and more importantly Iran, has created.**

Iran's imperialism within Iraq has cost it a lot in the form of broad public opposition, including in the Shiite majority. The lesson from that is to not be somewhat-less imperialist, it's to not be imperialist.

Iraq's parliament has passed a non-binding resolution telling our troops to leave. Best case outcome is that this happens and Iran accepts it as the primary retaliation, and we de-escalate the situation. We'll see.

The best critique of my argument AFAICT is that the Kurds and some Sunnis see our forces in Iraq as moderating influences. I'm not sure that's actually the case, and regardless not a good way to handle a country.

*I'm not a fan of LGM bloggers supporting gratuitous violence.

**And we shouldn't ignore Trump's abrogation of Obama's nuclear deal, weakening moderates within Iran's power structure. That led to the escalation we saw with the Saudi oil facility strike and more recently attacks within Iraq.

UPDATE: a contrary opinion from some experts about withdrawing US troops. I'll agree that retaining/moving US troops to Kurdistan would be better than withdrawal. As to that and as to everything else the experts said, the Iraqi government has a veto on whether our troops are there. I also think continuing Iranian imperialism in Iraq will blow back against them in the medium term and long term, so I'm not that worried about balancing Iran's presence with our own troops, except possibly in Kurdistan.


William M. Connolley said...


Bernard J. said...

It's quaint that Thomas Friedman thinks that the take-home is that the Middle East is doomed if they don't sort out their politics. In the biosphere no man is an island, and we in Australia are staring Sahara-scale desertification in the face if we allow ourselves and the rest of the world to continue to play politics with climate science.

It's not just Iran in the cross-hairs of nukes and drought: the rest of us are in a smack-in-the-face queue of one sort or another too, and Friedman might have done well to dwell just a little longer on the source of that smoke, and the implications ignited underneath.

Gingerbaker said...

You all realize Iran is very close to getting nukes, right? That the Iran Deal was never about stopping them from getting nukes, but merely a way to slow them down?That they have been cheating all along, and we have hard proof of that?



I can't get over how calm the discussion about Iran is here. This is hair on fire dangerous. It'll make every Schwarzenegger film about Muslim terrorists with nukes a documentary.

TransparencyCNP said...


In a previous discussion, you went silent when I asked you for sources. Here we go again.

As you know, "Think Tankers" are paid to push some political agenda, using misrepresentation and spin if not outright lies.