Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Iraq As the New Korea? Bad Idea!

The other day, I was listening to a podcast from a Cato Institute policy forum about the Iraq war. It was brought up by a couple of the participants that much of the current line is that Korea will serve as the model for the future of American military presence in Iraq. As I heard this, I could not help but think of what one of my favorite foreign policy experts – Doug Bandow – would have to say about this. After all, he did write a book on Korean policy , and would most likely provide some quality analysis of such an idea.

Then, lo and behold, he writes an article on this very topic , and not surprisingly, he is not too enamored with the idea.

It's a profoundly stupid idea, but then, no other administration vision involving Iraq has survived contact with reality. No weapons of mass destruction, no involvement in 9/11, no threat to America. Why did we go to war again?

The celebrated cakewalk was a bust. The famous "dead-enders" turned out to be constructing a highway to sectarian war. Liberated Iraq radiates instability rather than democracy throughout the Mideast.

All along the administration hoped to maintain a permanent military presence in the region. Iraq would cheerfully host American troops and bases, while being managed through the largest embassy in the world. Even more than the vision of Shi'ites, Sunnis, Christians, Turkmen, Kurds, and other Iraqi citizens circling campfires singing Kumbaya, this picture was a fantasy: the U.S. would occupy yet another Muslim land, utilizing a Shi'ite-dominated nation to impose Washington's will on Shi'ite and Sunni alike throughout the Mideast. Heckuva job, Georgie!

He goes on to list specific reasons why Iraq is not even close to being analogous to Korea:
First, why would anyone want to mimic U.S. policy towards Korea? American forces spent three years fighting to a bloody stalemate on the Korean peninsula, followed by another 54 years on station ready for war. There's no end to the U.S. deployment in sight even today, with roughly 29,000 Army and Air Force personnel remaining. Yet South Korea, with the world's 12th largest economy, vastly outdistances the North in virtually every measure of national power. Today the two countries are edging towards an uneasy detente, and many younger South Koreans pronounce America to be a greater threat to peace than is North Korea.

So why is it good that American troops are still there?

Second, how can anyone who knows anything confuse the Republic of Korea and Iraq? Korea really is a nation, an ethnically homogenous people with a history running back thousands of years. The present division of the Korean peninsula is unnatural, in contrast to Iraq, where the unified state is wholly artificial. There are no ethnic or tribal divisions; the rapid rise of Christianity has occasioned some disquiet but no violence. No Koreans feel an allegiance to a neighboring state, as many Shi'ite Iraqis do to Iran; no Koreans desire to break off into a separate country, as do many Kurds.

Third, the role of the U.S. is completely different. The ROK was an allied state during the Cold War which the U.S. saved from outside invasion. Perhaps President Bush has forgotten, but Washington invaded Iraq.

By and large the South Korean people (and many North Koreans, who fled their own nation amidst the shifting battle lines) were grateful for American aid. Although the vast majority of Iraqis were pleased after Washington defenstrated Saddam Hussein, there was little support for rule by either the U.S. or U.S. appointees.

Until recently, most South Koreans wanted U.S. troops to stay; not so in Iraq, where the number who want Americans to stick around for years, decades, forever, are infinitesimal. Moreover, in the ROK those few who opposed the U.S. presence did not bury IEDs along rural roads and snipe along busy streets. No one was killing American soldiers in South Korea, while a majority of Iraqis justify attacks on American forces.

Finally, the purpose of the U.S. occupation of the ROK was, at least until the end of the Cold War, coherent. That is, Washington was protecting the South from renewed North Korean aggression, potentially aided by Maoist China and the Soviet Union. Even if the alliance once made sense, it no longer does so. The original objective belongs to a different world, and the alliance is likely to collapse as its parties pursue separate objectives. The U.S. would like to utilize the Korean peninsula as a base for containing China, a prospect that is anathema to Seoul, while the South wants America to hang out to defend the ROK from potential but highly unlikely threats, allowing Seoul to skimp on military outlays.

Worse, though, is the case of Iraq. It is impossible to concoct a logical role for an American occupation today, let alone 50 years in the future. Ironically, the U.S. made Iraq vulnerable to outside attack by wrecking its government and military. Still, outside aggression really is not an issue. Only Iran poses a potential threat, but Iran has won substantial influence without war. What the Iraqi factions all want is protection from each other. Sectarian advantage, not construction of a liberal, tolerant political order, is their primary objective.
Pointed, insightful analysis ends with equally pointed closing remarks.
In short, the Iraq as Korea strategy is as dumb as all of the other administration plans for Washington's newest client state. It should be evident by now that war supporters have gotten it wrong at every turn in Iraq. They were wrong about the justification for invading, wrong about how the occupation would turn out, wrong about the regional consequences of loosing the dogs of war. They are wrong to compare Iraq to Korea.

Instead of making fantastic plans to turn Iraq into a compliant satellite and permanent host of U.S. military forces, the administration should be planning an expeditious exit. The American and Iraqi people deserve no less.
Amen, Doug!


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