Sat Jun 7th, 2008 at 08:58:22 AM EST
It seems that European (Union) involvement in sorting out Bush's Iraqi misadventure has become a hot topic again:
Jörg's diary especially got me thinking about what could be expected of European Union involvement in Iraq, and what a European strategy should be. My tentative answer is based on two principles: human rights and riding the wave.
It may be unrealistic to think of the EU as postcolonialist, but in any case I personally would like to see European Union foreign policy built around a true concern for Human Rights (counterexample). It is true that Iraq is everyone's problem even if the blame for the current mess can be pinned almost exclusively on the US. A spillover of violence from Iraq would be of concern to Europe, the Middle East is relatively close and accessible, and we need the oil, too. But instead of traditional geopolitical power-plays and grand-chessboard strategy, assume that the EU's concern would simply be to help Iraq contain the bleeding, restore a semblance of dignity and respect for human rights, and allow a civil society to emerge from the ashes. What would be the strategy, and what would be the roadblocks along the way?
Riding the wave
One metaphor that is sometimes seen in geopolitical discussions is that of Judo - use the opponent's momentum for your own goals. This, of course, requires adapting one's goals to the direction in which the opponent is going. Or, in less adversarial terms, going with the flow, riding the wave, following the Tao.
So the first thing to consider is where the flow is going, what the likely outcome would be if things were left to themselves, and whether that can be modified slightly to conform to the EU's goal (again: dignity and human rights in Iraq). I would claim that Iraq is in a civil war and that the likely outcome of political developments in Iraq would be either partition or a loose federation, both along ethnic lines with a special treatment needed for Baghdad and Kirkuk. Also, I would claim that the EU could live with a partitioned Iraq. The goal of respect for human rights is compatible with it as long as efforts are made to accommodate minorities instead of ethnically cleansing them. Politics might become less sectarian along ethnic lines in each of the successor states to a partitioned Iraq, which would help. In a country with three large ethnic groups it is very easy for the system to degenerate into shifting alliances where two of them gang up on the third and that is inherently undesirable.
Short of partition, one could have a confederation or loose federation consisting of Sunni Iraq, Shia Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, with Baghdad and Kirkuk as multi-ethnic city-states.
Who would stand in the way of such an endpoint and why? First of all, the Iraqi Sunni would be left with very little water or oil. In addition, they used to be the politically dominant ethnic group under Saddam and would resent either losing access to resources or a marginal role (compared to the Shia) in a federal Iraq.
The Shia Iraq would emerge as the strongest of the parts, to the benefit of Iran. This is not good news for Saudi Arabia. Not only is its particularly toxic Wahhabi regime in the antipodes of Iran theologically, but also Saudi Arabia's oil is sitting under the region where its own Shia minority lives, along the border to Iraq. An independent and oil-rich Shia Iraq would appear to pose a serious internal threat. In fact, it appears that Saudi Arabia would prefer to have another Sunni leader subjugate the Shia regions. They probably would not mind a new Saddam.
It also appears that Turkey wouldn't tolerate an independent (or even an autonomous) Iraqi Kurdistan. This is for internal reasons as Turkey has an unresolved issue with its own Kurdish minority, as well as because there is a Turkmen minority in the Iraqi Kurdistan which Turkey would feel compelled to assist. The conflict around Kirkuk involves this Turkmen minority as well as oil. Note that Turkey is a NATO member.
The US would side with Saudi Arabia and the Iraqi Sunni against Iran and the Iraqi Shia and probably be ambivalent about the Kurdish/Turkish side of the conflict.
The EU could potentially broker an understanding between the Turks and the Kurds, using EU accession to bargain with Turkey. In this respect, it would really help if the European right wing (and notably the French) stopped posturing against Turkey.
The EU would point out to Turkey that EU accession is impossible without respect for minority rights which entail recognition of the Kurds in Turkey and the granting of some sort of political autonomy.
The EU would also put pressure on the Iraqi Kurds on the issue of minority rights for the Turkmen in Iraqi Kurdistan, and point to its parallel efforts to help the Turkish Kurds. The argument would be that both problems must be solved together and that if the Iraqi Kurds don't play along and make Turkey feel threatened there's little the EU can do to prevent Turkey from attempting to occupy the Iraqi Kurdistan.
On this, one has to assume a modicum of good will and sanity on both sides. If the Kurds make Turkey feel it cannot afford not to invade them, there's nothing the EU can do to stop Turkey. And, worryingly, all the anti-Turkish rhetoric in Europe is reducing the EU's leverage.
The Saudi are, as I said above, a toxic regime. But could a moderate faction be found in Sunni Iraq which would be content without access to Iraq's oil in exchange for a favoured economic relationship with the EU? Is development aid and economic partnership agreements enough of a carrot to get the Sunnis to give up on a war they cannot win given the demographics?
Iran would have no problems with this scenario - except that any or all of Saudi Arabia, Israel or the US might feel tempted to attack Iran if it appears to be getting too powerful. The EU might try to tie this to the ongoing negotiations about Iran's nuclear program. The EU could provide a credible guarantee that Iran is not going for the Bomb while helping Iran use its oil wealth to develop alternative energy resources (possibly civilian nuclear but that would make those credible assurances harder to believe by a paranoid Israel, Saudi Arabia and US).
Possible bad outcomes
The first is that Turkey invades and occupies Iraqi Kurdistan.
The second is that the US extends the conflict to Iran.
It seems to me there is a relatively high likelihood that within 5 years Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan will all be in flames (and Pakistan, too) which is definitely the outcome the EU should be trying to avert.