< meta name="DC.Date.Valid.End" content="20050825"> Amendment Nine: Why Robb is Right - Why Salvador is Wrong

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Why Robb is Right - Why Salvador is Wrong

Robb's editorial in the Times on 10/15 is as sharp and concise a statement of the problem in Iraq as anyone has published. Read it first.

After outlining the problem, Robb offers two solutions... let the insurgents win, and they will then disband. Or embrace the open-source warfare by feeding counterinsurgency through tribal columns. This is also known as the Salvador option (a tactic used by the US in Salvador and Colombia). As Robb states, this option is indeed "a depressing one." Militias fighting insurgents will undoubtedly "exact a horrible toll on Iraq and may persist for decades." As is always the case with American military maneuvers in the Middle East, we're stuck between Iraq, and a hard place.

But I think Robb hasn't fully explored the options offerend in his first solution. He says letting the insurgents win in order to have them melt away is a solution whose time has passed. Perhaps. But perhaps not. A Salvador option not only puts a heavy price on Iraqi hands, but it also risks spreading into neighboring countries. The Saudis, Iranians, Turks, and Syrians are all regimes still clinging to power, and their grip is completely controlled by the chaos which could ensue. If its true that we've limited ourselves to these two options, then I think thats a step in the right direction.

While it is undoubtedly the case that Iraqi insurgents now seek to destabilize the government instead of merely remove US military from their homeland, a good part of the insurgency is still based on the former impulse. If the US presence is removed, a large part of the insurgency will certainly melt away. That leaves the warlords looking for political power. The chance that these groups could provide a contagion effect on the rest of the region has got to be high, they want power, not respect, and they'll create any amount of mischief in order to get it.

I'm guessing Robb doesn't see this option, regional pressure towards political stability, as a diplomatic possibility. That may well be the case. The saber-rattling with Syria and Iran has been so great lately that such talks could be out of the question. On the other hand though, this very saber-rattling could also provide the political cover necessary for regimes to get on with the bargaining while no one is looking.

It is a gambit, for sure. Removing the military presence could result in nothing but civil war... but it could also result in regional stablization if all stakeholders look to their long term interests.