Firebreak Doctrine

The Firebreak Doctrine
An Alternative to Chaos or Surrender

American policy in Iraq is a failure. Alternatives suggested by opponents of the war or the Iraq Study Group, offer no viable solution and amount to nothing more than surrender. In a tragedy reflecting deep divisions in our democracy, politics has trumped policy. The Republican administration forges ahead towards further failure while the loyal opposition merely sees Iraq as a stick with which to bludgeon President Bush. Creative solutions languish on the sidelines while deaths mount and chaos grows. The Surge can only be a stopgap measure and its success rides on the hope and prayer that good generals might solve political, or even more absurdly, cultural problems.

The program of reconciliation within Iraq, ardently desired by the well intended, can hardly develop within a pseudo-nation constructed by post World War I colonial ambitions. Iraq must be understood as a nation of contradictions patched together as a counterweight to Iran held together by dictatorship. To expect reconciliation to grow out of centuries of hatred between Shites and Sunni is wrongheaded and, quite possibly against our national interest. If the United States believes that it can create order in an artificial country that craves conflict, it is sorely mistaken. Yet paradoxically, to simply leave would be the height of irresponsibility, and almost certainly give rise to catastrophic consequences on a global scale.

We thus propose the Firebreak Doctrine. It consists of three parts:

1. Divide the Country

2. Manage the Wealth

3. Govern from a Distance

Part One: Divide the Country

The internal contradictions within Iraq must be faced. Kurdistan is relatively peaceful because of its autonomy. Give similar autonomy to the Shites and the Sunnis. More importantly allow these warring factions to separate themselves officially. In point of fact, this process has already begun in one of the few mixed regions, namely Baghdad. The foreign policy establishment, and the fourth estate reject out-of-hand the division of the country into its presently hostile camps due to the belief that a united Iraq provides balance to the potential superpower of the region, Iran. Iran, its nuclear program notwithstanding, has little or no chance of absorbing the Arab Shites of Iraq and typically acts as a regional power whose influence is overstated. Iran, failing to achieve its policy initiatives conventionally acts as a rogue state, calling attention to itself via acts of piracy such as hostage taking. Nor is Iran the monolithic theocracy sometimes portrayed. Deep divisions create fault lines among many subcultures, the more prominent being that between the theocrats and the modernists. An inherently divided and unstable Iraq "united" through a weak and dysfunctional federalism provides less, not more balance to an ambitious Iran. The United States, in Wilsonian tradition, ought to encourage the formation of coherent countries, not prop up leftovers from the colonial era.

Part Two: Manage the Wealth

Simultaneously with the division of Iraq, U.S. military forces ought to be re-deployed to all areas of oil and natural gas production and distribution within Iraq. The purpose of such a shift in U.S. troops would be threefold: first, to reduce immediately and radically the casualties of U.S. troops in the country, second, to control the source of wealth in the country, and third, to substantially decrease the ongoing cost of fighting. Critics might believe controlling the wealth a transparently cynical move. In reality, it is enlightened compared to the present policy of funding all sides. In effect the bureaucracy in Iraq (both pre- and post-war) is so corrupt that vast quantities of U.S. funds find their way to the very terrorists, Baathists, and jihadists the U.S. presumably fights. Critics of our policy are right to point out that the fragmentation of the country has produced an anarchical situation. Oil revenues fund all sides and the U.S. funds all sides, exacerbating the growing chaos. Remove the source of that powerful chaos, namely the money. Control of the purse will give leverage to a rational program of securing, rebuilding, and pacifying the country. The most democratic way of realizing this is to assign the oil and gas wealth of the country to the people in equal proportions paid out to the government's they elect in accordance with that governments conformity to universally valued (but U.S. mandated and monitored) mandates such as eliminating sectarian violence, rebuilding infrastructure, and ensuring basic freedoms.

Part Three: Govern from a Distance

Division and control of the wealth imply the effectiveness of governing from a distance. No longer policing what cannot be controlled, namely the sectarian fighting, the U. S. military would guard the oil, allowing the United States to effectively control the behavior and therefore the policy direction of the region. In point of fact, any illusions of real, much less consistent influence that the United States has on the decision making process in Iraq should have died long ago by the sword of realpolitik. Unfortunately, policy makers have no end to a supply of delusion. The present administration persists in its public proclamations of spreading democracy, establishing the rule of law, and denying the Middle Eastern heartland to the terrorist enemy. Sadly, these ambitions appear all but lost except in the mind of the most die hard neo-conservative. The implementation of the Firebreak Doctrine would resurrect these policy goals. As firefighters regain control of a wildfire by controlled burning, the U.S. could both eliminate casualties (virtually) and assert control over the direction of politics in Iraq.  Only by unapologetically and conspicuously controlling the great wealth of Iraq's annual oil annuity does the U.S. stand a chance of successfully implementing the fundamental components of a civilized society, including the neutralizing of militias, establishing the rule of law, and the building of lasting public infrastructure.

The United States may need to fight this war until rationality and prosperity blossom or it may need to leave the region. Either outcome does not preclude the possibility of containing the conflict. The Firebreak Doctrine resurrects this possibility. Our fatigue with Iraq is based on our revulsion with the irrational, oft political, and grating incongruence: children encouraged by their families to blow themselves up and strange na├»ve doctrines of virgins in heaven. 

Our greatest vulnerability as a civilized society is our civility. Who in a culture other than the jihadist would not wish to simply run away?  Our contemporary body politic peddle the status quo, thus as a nation we remain predictable, gentle even.  By contrast the Firebreak Doctrine advocates a more radical, muscular, and heavy handed approach to the problem of Iraq.  For good or ill, we locked in a mortal combat with a radicalized enemy, conventional tact and diplomacy is no longer an option, whether we know it yet or not.

Christian Hunter

Peter Benbow