Almost the moment that the last US forces exited Iraq earlier this week, the country began gearing up for a full-blown, all-out, old fashioned political crisis. The Iraqi vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni (one of three distinct political/religious blocs in Iraq, along with Shia and Kurds) is wanted by the Shia-led central government on terrorism charges. Of course.
While there’s no good time to have the second most powerful man in an already volatile region that’s been decimated by sectarian strife wanted on charges of terrorism, right now, the timing is particularly bad. The conventional thinking about Iraq was that, dysfunctional as it is, the country has been making gradual improvements, both politically, militarily and economically, putting the country on a more even footing, and embracing a trajectory that holds promise for a brighter future. Had the country a bit more breathing time to put its house in order, so to speak, handling this crisis would have made the outcome a bit more predictable, without the possibility of massive upheaval.
And while those positive developments still stand, an arrest warrant for Hasemi, who, in his role as vice president, is effectively the de facto leader of the Sunni bloc, now throws the viability for continued improvement on various fronts in Iraq into question. Whereas there had been a government riven by division and squabbling, at least there was a government that functioned without the possibility of falling apart from the center. Now, with the various factions about to square off, there’s no telling what direction this crisis may take. It may resolve itself, or it may explode into another low-scale civil war, the likes of which Iraq already experienced in 2006-2007.
As Americans, our first impulse will be to somehow intervene, or otherwise involve ourselves. I would caution against this. The most active role that we should take in this is that of an honest broker, to the extent that we can. If Iraq is to become a more normal country, we have to let them sort this out on their own. For, as much as we want to ‘help,’ we’re usually very ill equipped to do so. Whatever involvement we have, is about as likely to harm us and them as it is to actually do good. And, let’s face it, our record there isn’t really stellar, now is it? We botched the occupation as much as we possibly could have. For whatever fears we have of Iraq exploding, our active, aggressive involvement would be like dumping a bucked of gas onto an already blazing fire. Best to mind our own business and hope for the best. And that would be a welcome change in US foreign policy that’s far cheaper, not to mention much more likely to pay high dividends.