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October 9, 2006
Will Baker Bring Back Federalism For Iraq?

Both the New York Times and the London Times indulged in a little speculation about the advice James Baker will give the White House after his Iraq Study Group concludes its research into war policy. The NYT focuses more on the open nature of the inquiry, while the British newspaper believes a decision has already been made:

James A. Baker III , the Republican co-chairman of a bipartisan commission assessing Iraq strategy for President Bush, said today that he expected the group to depart from Mr. Bush’s call to “stay the course.”

In an interview on the ABC News program “This Week,” Mr. Baker said, “I think it’s fair to say our commission believes that there are alternatives between the stated alternatives, the ones that are out there in the political debate, of ‘stay the course’ and ‘cut and run.’ ”

Mr. Baker, who served Mr. Bush’s father as secretary of state and White House chief of staff, did explicitly reject a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, which he said would only invite Iran, Syria and “even our friends in the gulf” to fill the power vacuum.

David Sanger reports that Baker will work within the larger framework of Bush's foreign policy, which means that a Murtha-style "rapid redeployment" will not be one of their recommendations in any event. In finding a middle ground between cut-and-run and retreat, one has to assume that the solution will have to fundamentally change the Iraqi equation as well as the American equation. Sarah Baxter believes that Baker intends on exactly that approach:

The Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by James Baker, the former US secretary of state, is preparing to report after next month’s congressional elections amid signs that sectarian violence and attacks on coalition forces are spiralling out of control. The conflict is claiming the lives of 100 civilians a day and bombings have reached record levels.

The Baker commission has grown increasingly interested in the idea of splitting the Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish regions of Iraq as the only alternative to what Baker calls “cutting and running” or “staying the course”.

“The Kurds already effectively have their own area,” said a source close to the group. “The federalisation of Iraq is going to take place one way or another. The challenge for the Iraqis is how to work that through.”

So we're back to federalism, a solution that is almost guaranteed to enrage the Sunnis. Baker's study group envisions a canton-style Iraq with a bare framework for a national government, one that only concerns itself with external security and the distribution of oil revenues. That last is a sop to the Sunnis. but that will not mollify them. If the Sunnis wave goodbye to the Kurds and the Shi'a, they understand that they will wave goodbye to the only natural resource they have. A weak central government will never be able to force the Kurds and the Shi'a to split their oil revenue; eventually the two will starve the Sunni, especially given the hard feelings from decades of Sunni domination, and the Sunni know it.

It also doesn't address the issue of Turkey. The Turks have millions of Kurds in their east, and they do not want to see an independent Kurdistan on their borders. The creation of such a protostate will almost certainly cause Turkey to take military action against their own Kurds to keep them from opening the border to their Iraqi cousins. Turkey will vociferously oppose any federalist solution that allows the Kurds to maintain their own army in the North.

And in the South, the split will allow Iran to exert even more influence and power in Iraq. Iran may actually prefer to keep Iraq united, because a canton system will keep its influence limited to the south, whereas their reach extends throughout Iraq, with the possible exception of the Kurdish areas. However, the lack of a strong central government will allow the Basra area to fly into Teheran's orbit much more significantly than it otherwise would. That seems like a bad idea, considering the nuclear ambitions and the genocidal impulses of the Iranian ruling class.

If this is what Baker will suggest, one should ask him when a weak central government has ever made a nation stable and able to protect itself.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 9, 2006 5:55 AM

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