THE BLOG

Exploit the Inevitible

07/06/2014 11:34 am ET | Updated Sep 05, 2014

There are two basic rules to the practice of Real Politick. The first is straightforward: Keep in with the outs. This is easy to practice when dealing with democratic regimes such as the United Kingdom where keeping lines open with the Tories when Labor is in power or visa versa is normal. It is more difficult, and more necessary, when dealing with autocratic regimes such as Russia or Egypt where those in power would prefer the opposition to be invisible and mute.

The second rule is a two-sided coin. On one hand nations should see where history is headed and exploit the inevitabilities therein. The flip side is to not be exploited by the inevitable, or, as sometimes stated, do not stand between a dog and a fire hydrant.

Current policy in Iraq places the U.S. between that dog and the fire hydrant. We are continuing to cling to the fiction that a unitary Iraq can and should be saved even when a breakup is inevitable.

Instead, we should exploit the inevitable to enhance our interests the primary one of which is to defeat the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL) and bring a modicum of stability to the region. How do we do this?

The cornerstone is to accept and help the development of the inevitably independent Kurdistan. With the control of the disputed city of Kirkuk and its oil resources, where the central government under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reneged on a promised referendum, Kurdistan now has sufficient oil resources to be a viable independent state. The U.S. can be of great assistance once this fact is accepted. They may need U.S. help to deal with managing repercussions from the Kurdish minorities in Iran and Syria. A modus Vivendi already appears to have emerged with Turkey. And the U.S. can be a useful conduit to keep peaceful lines of communication open with other parts of disintegrating Iraq.

In the South, the Shia government has fallen victim to its corruption, incompetence and sectarian extremism. With the help of Iran and Shia militia it can hang on and has the oil revenues from the Basra region to build a viable state if the corruption can be contained and the various Shia faction can forge a workable political system. But that system will not include Kurds or significant Suni participation, particularly if Shi extremists continue to inflict violence on the Sunis remaining in the South. This state might best be called Shiastan but will probably hang on to the fig leaf that it is Iraq.

This leaves the Suni-dominated west where the ISIL (now Islamic State) has captured large swaths of land as government forces dissolved and Suni tribes either helped or stood aside. The betting is that once ISIL has served the tribal leaders purposes and their extreme form of Islam has again alienated the population, a repeat of the 2006-2007 "Awakening" will turn on ISIL and establish tribal control of this region. The Key question the is whether a "Sunistan" can be created. Conventional wisdom is that such a state would lack the needed resources. But there are unexploited resources such as the 15 oil fields in Nineveh province. And other Suni states such as Saudi Arabia would see it in their interest to build a buffer between the Kingdom and an Iranian dominated Shiastan.

The fragmentation of Iraq is happening. Whether any central authority will remain is doubtful although a forum where the three equal sides could discuss and negotiate would be helpful. The fragmentation will not solve the region's problems but it might make them more manageable and turn the parties' focus internally to solve a myriad of security, governance and economic issues. The question at hand is not whether it will happen but whether the United States will help shape the future of the new alignment.

Or we can continue to pretend that a break-up will not happen and wind up with a wet trouser leg.

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