Troop Withdrawal: Looking Beyond Iraq

December 14th, 2007 - by admin

The Independent Institute – 2007-12-14 21:01:00

WASHINGTON, DC (Posted December 13, 2007) — How will Iraq fare if and when the United States significantly reduces its military personnel from that country? How strong is the economic case for US military intervention in the oil-rich Middle East? These and related issues were addressed at the panel discussion, “Troop Withdrawal: Looking Beyond Iraq,” held September 21, at the Independent Institute’s Washington, DC, office.

Leon T. Hadar, author of the new Independent Policy Report The Diplomatic Road to Damascus began by comparing the Iraq war to a movie that fails at the box office. Whereas many people might attribute its failure to weak acting or sloppy editing, the fundamental problem may have been a bad script that no amount of money or technical excellence could have fixed.

Such is the case with the U.S. in Iraq, according to Hadar. Had US military commanders acted differently in Iraq, the campaign still would have suffered from a faulty “script”—that is, a set of dubious assumptions that have long guided U.S. policy in the Middle East. Those assumptions—which support the notion that the US should be the region’s predominant security guarantor and peace broker—are strategically outdated, economically fallacious and morally questionable, according to Hadar.

The U.S. foreign-policy establishment accepts those assumptions and hopes the U.S. will resume the leadership role it played in the Middle East in the 1990s, but that course would be a mistake, according to Hadar. Instead, he proposed that the U.S. help create a consortium of great powers—including the European Union, Russia, and perhaps eventually China and India—to deal with global threats such as terrorism, rogue states, and weapons of mass destruction.

Next, David R. Henderson (Professor of Economics, Naval Postgraduate School) examined the leading economic rationale for U.S. intervention in the Middle East: “oil security.”

“The idea that a government needs to use military force to maintain access to oil is false,” said Henderson, who drew on his recent policy report, Do We Need to Go to War for Oil?. Because oil is sold in a world market, an oil-exporting government cannot effectively target an enemy country by ending its exports to that country.

“Moreover, by restricting supply, this government will forgo oil revenues and hurt itself,” he said. “And finally, no government restriction of supply in any other country can cause people in another country to line up for gasoline. Only price controls in the home country can do that.”

Finally, Ivan Eland (Director, Center on Peace and Liberty, The Independent Institute), author of The Way Out of Iraq: Decentralizing the Iraqi Government[ addressed criticisms leveled at US troop withdrawal from Iraq.

Withdrawal, he argued, could help prevent a full-blown civil war by pressuring the Iraqi government to pursue political decentralization, either by partitioning the country or by creating a loose confederation of Shi’ite, Sunni, and Kurdish states.

History can teach us much about how—and how not—to partition a country, Eland then explained. For example, the Indo-Pakistani partition of 1947 shows that security should be provided to migrating populations; whereas the partition of Ireland in 1921 shows that leaving a large minority in one region can prolong civil strife.

“The lesson for Iraq is, you can’t leave a big block of one group on the other side of the line,” Eland said. “Small group pockets are okay, but we must gerrymander the borders to make the new statelets as homogeneous as possible, leaving no big concentration of one group on either side.”

Eland also stressed the need for each group to help draw defensible borders and to be given its own oil-producing land.

• A transcript of this event is available here.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Winter 2007 issue of The Independent. © Copyright 2007, The Independent Institute, 100 Swan Way, Oakland, CA 94621-1428; 510-632-1366;