Barry Posen makes the case for doing nothing in Iraq:

America need not throw in with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a power-hungry Shiite supremacist bent mainly on serving the interests of his own faction, to keep its people secure. Maliki’s heavy-handed employment of surveillance, incarceration, and violence has driven Sunni Arab fence sitters into the arms of ISIS fanatics; he’s part of the problem, not the solution.

That ought to make us cautious about meddling in Iraq’s internal politics. Restraint strategists are alert to the costs of intervening in the internal politics of other countries and the low odds of success inherent to doing so.

It should be clear by now that the U.S. doesn’t have the ability to influence Iraqi politics constructively and never had it. We know how to enable abusive governments, but unfortunately that is all that the U.S. would be doing if it came to Baghdad’s aid in the current conflict. Instead of rushing to Maliki’s aid, as many hawks predictably want the U.S. to do, Posen suggests another response:

For those thinking of active participation on the side of the Shiite regime in Baghdad, a smarter strategy is to wait for the Sunni population’s alliance of convenience with the jihadis to fall apart.

If the U.S. were to help prop up Maliki, that would presumably intensify the Sunni grievances and make the U.S. more of a target of their hostility. Perversely, many of the same hawks that have been so concerned to topple the Assad regime in order to reduce Iranian influence are essentially urging the U.S. to pursue a policy comparable to the one Iran has pursued in Syria: prop up an authoritarian and sectarian client ruler despite the fact that his abusive rule is at the root of the rebellion against him. There is no way that doing that would work out well for the U.S. in the long term, and it would be the wrong thing to do in any case.

Posen also dismisses the idea that the U.S. would be able to get Maliki to change how he governs:

Be that as it may, those who presently argue that Maliki must demonstrate a real effort to unify the disparate groups in his country seem hopelessly naive. Maliki will say whatever he has to say to get outside assistance. He won’t deliver. Moreover, given his past pattern of misbehavior, such statements, even if accompanied by some small symbolic concessions, will lack credibility with Sunni Arabs.

The U.S. has already indulged Maliki long enough, and that has contributed to the current crisis. It makes no sense to repeat that mistake in the vain hope that things will somehow turn out differently this time.

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