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Anti-State Building

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Reading this Michael Gordon piece, I’m struck by the extent to which the strategy of allying with Sunni tribes amounts to a renunciation of US state-building aims in Iraq. Put simply, enhancing the prestige and capabilities of multiple non-state actors in Iraq is directly contradictory to the aim of constructing a viable nation-state. Indeed, I’m not sure I could envision a strategy less likely to produce a viable state; these groups are going to contend against what amounts to the Iraqi government at the earliest convenient opportunity. State-building is a nasty, violent business during which the central government becomes more militarily powerful than other societal groups, eventually disarming and delegitimizing its competitors. Current US policy is to rearm and relegitimize the competitors; any idiot should be able to see the contradiction.

The problem, I think, is that things have been so bad for so long in Iraq that US military and political officials were willing to jump on anything that looked like good news. The political and institutional pressure on Petraeus to produce good news and evidence of progress has led to the intensification of these programs of support for Sunni tribes, in spite of the fact that these programs directly contradict stated US aims in Iraq and would be fatal to Iraqi nation-state project, were than project not already dead. Yet, because of the political pressure from Washington and the institutional desire to produce a “win”, we continue to pursue a policy that is guaranteed to make the civil war worse, rather than better.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

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