Time to cross the Rubicon and break Iraq in three

What would Caesar do in Iraq? I ask not only because it was in that region that Julius Caesar came, saw and conquered. I ask because Imperial Romans habitually thought clearly and acted decisively on geopolitical questions. As democratic politicians too often do the opposite, let me offer a simple, Caesarean solution to cut through the trouble and deliver Western security interests alive and well.

Start by facing unpleasant truths. Hawks need to abandon the Airplane II solution (“Pretend nothing has happened and hope everything turns out all right in the morning”). If nothing else, the 2006 elections should persuade U. S. Republicans of the folly of staying put while Iraqis slaughter one another and kill coalition troops, costs mount, and popular support in the United States falls.

Doves, on the other hand, should not rely on running away. In the wise words of Earl Bassett from the movie Tremors: “Running’s not a plan. Running’s what you do once a plan fails.” And since American Democrats often compare Iraq to Vietnam, they should recall the catastrophic foreign and domestic consequences last time they forced a Republican White House to bail recklessly on an unsavoury Third World ally.

Owls, meanwhile, will hoot at the emerging conventional foolishness, from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group to senior congressional Democrats, that the U. S. should run away slowly. The one virtue of precipitous flight is you might escape. And we don’t need ostriches like incoming U. S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joe Biden telling President Bush to negotiate with Syria and Iran because “the last thing they want is a civil war” in Iraq. It’s obviously the first thing they want, hence the jihadis and weapons streaming across their borders. Pretending you can’t be running away because you don’t really have enemies, so you must just be out jogging or something, is such an awful plan we’d even be better off consulting journalists.

So here I am. And let me note that on Feb. 7, 2003, I wrote in this space: “Here’s my plan for post- war Iraq: Saddam Hussein’s head on a post, and a ‘Good Luck’ card for the populace.” I even cited a long- forgotten Texas governor who ran for president in 2000 saying nation- building is not a suitable U. S. foreign- policy goal. It’s not much help that if I were you I wouldn’t start from here, since my time machine is broken and so is yours. But possibly I still give better advice than those hawks who, in 2003, imagined Iraq was like Ohio, except dustier and with a tyrant. So here’s my excellent plan that won’t happen, then my adequate one that could and should.

My plan A that won’t happen is the coalition troops grab their stuff and leave ... through Syria. About 200,000 heavily armed, highly trained, really annoyed U. S. and other coalition troops stomp Bashir Assad’s regime flat, hang a left through Lebanon to demolish Hezbollah, then sail home from Haifa waving a sign saying: “Don’t make us come back and do that again.” I call this plan Caesarean because it’s the sort of thing Imperial Rome would have done to extricate itself from Iraq while inspiring salutary caution in its enemies, especially following the provocative assassination of Pierre Gemayel in Lebanon. But you know it’s not going to happen and you know why.

Far from being the ogre of Michael Moore’s fantasies, the U. S. lacks even the hard- headed sang-froid of imperial Britain, let alone Rome. Everybody knows that the United States is too nice to make examples even of tyrants, just as they all know the U. S., like Israel, is profoundly averse to civilian casualties, while their enemies revel in them. Unfortunately, while we all know who the bad guys are, we have to pretend we don’t to take part in “sophisticated” discussions.

I don’t like it. But since I insisted on realism at the outset I must accept it, and devise a Plan B that could happen. Namely that the U. S partitions Iraq into Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite countries and leaves at least the latter two.

This plan is also Caesarean, and not just because Iraq est omnis divisa in partes tres. Yes, I realize it would require some people to relocate, but moving beats dying in a bloody civil war. Meanwhile my proposal has three decisive geopolitical virtues for the coalition (beyond the PR plus that if sectarian violence persists it will be clear who’s to blame).

First, whatever the various domestic and foreign insurgents in Iraq want, it clearly isn’t partition. Second, once done it would be extremely hard to undo. Third, it lets the coalition depart without fleeing, leaving in splendid Roman fashion at least one client state very keen on U. S. support.

Standing at the Rubicon you can neither flee nor remain. So cast the die.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson