OPINION: Civil wars don’t end quickly; partition isn’t America’s choice

You can’t win with civil wars

Since the beginning of the Iraq war, President Bush has made it very clear that we will stay in that country for as long as it takes to get the job done, and that the United States will prevail in the end. This mantra allows the president to avoid admitting failure, but it ignores everything we’ve learned about civil wars since World War II.

The approximately 125 civil wars — conflicts involving a government and rebels that produce at least 1,000 battle deaths — since 1945 tell us several things: The civil war in Iraq will drag on for many more years; it will end in a decisive victory for either the Shiites or the Sunnis, not in a compromise settlement; and the weaker side will never sign a settlement or lay down its arms because it has no way to enforce the terms.

Civil wars don’t end quickly. The average length of all civil wars since 1945 is 10 years. Conflicts in Burma, Angola, India, the Philippines, Chad and Colombia have lasted more than 30 years. Wars in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Lebanon, Sudan and Peru have lasted more than 15 years. Even Iraq’s previous civil war, fought against the Kurds, lasted 14 years. [complete article]

See also, Shiites tell U.S. to quit recruiting Sunni tribesmen (WP) and Fall in Iraq violence may prove short-lived (Reuters).

Dividing Iraq to save it

During the recent debate in Washington about what is gently termed the “soft partition” of Iraq, I have been remembering one of the macabre signature phrases of the Vietnam War: “It was necessary to destroy the town in order to save it.”

I know the senators who endorsed Sen. Joe Biden’s plan to devolve power in a more federal Iraq don’t mean to destroy the country. They want to save it. But like the unidentified U.S. Army officer who was quoted in 1968 after the destruction of a village called Ben Tre, they are cloaking expediency in the rhetoric of salvation.

Iraq may indeed separate into three semi-autonomous cantons — Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish — as Biden and others recommend. Looking at the sectarian strife plaguing the country, that often seems like an inevitable outcome. But this act of national dismemberment is not something that Americans should recommend. No matter how much blood and treasure we have spent in Iraq, we remain outsiders there. It’s not our call. [complete article]

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