How Neocons (and Neolibs) Dismissed the Prospect of Sunni-Shi’ite Conflict in Iraq

Now that everyone except Dick Cheney agrees that Iraq has dissolved into civil war, I grabbed a couple of neocons’ (and neolibs’) books off my shelf last night to see how they treated the issue of Sunnis and Shi’ites killing one another, back when these brains were pushing for the U.S. to invade Iraq.

Here are Bill Kristol and Lawrence F. Kaplan (in The War Over Iraq, 2003):

“That things might be worse without [Saddam] is of course a possibility. But… it is difficult to imagine how… Nevertheless, Powell and others have argued that if the United States alienates central Iraq’s Sunnis, say by overthrowing Saddam, Iraq could be plunged into chaos… But predictions of ethnic turmoil in Iraq are even more questionable than they were in the case of Afghanistan… Saddam has little support among any ethnic group, Sunnis included, and the Iraqi opposition [!] is itself a multiethnic force… Iraq was a multiethnic, multisectarian state before Saddam came to power… [T]he executive director of the Iraq Foundation, Rend Rahim Francke, says, ‘we will not have a civil war in Iraq. This is contrary to Iraqi history, and Iraq has not had a history of communal conflict as there has been in the Balkans or in Afghanistan… Iraq will not fall apart and will not be dismembered…'”

Then there’s Kenneth Pollack, in The Threatening Storm (the liberals’ manifesto for invasion), arguing that urban Iraq is way past such differences:

The Shi’ite clergy could represent the small percentage of Shi’ites who favor an Islamic form of government, but they probably constitute less than 15 percent of the Shi’ite population… [T]ribal Iraqis living in tribal circumstances (Sunni or Shi’ah) now comprise a fraction of the population, probably less than 15 percent. On the other hand, 70 percent of the population is urban, and evne those city dwellers who retain some links to their tribes probably would not want to be represented by shaykhs who know nothing about life in Iraq’s cities….[T]he mostly secular urban lower and middle classes… constitute the bulk of Iraq’s population…”

Then there’s David Wurmser, Cheney’s brainy adviser, arguing (in Tyranny’s Ally, 1999, published by the visionary American Enterprise Institute with support by Irving Moskowitz, who backs expansion of settlements in the West Bank) that liberating the Shi’ites would bring a modern, liberalizing spirit to the whole region, notably Iran:

“With totalitarian [Sunni] Ba’athism’s subjugation of the Iraqi Shi’ite centers… not just Iraq but the entire Arab and Islamic worlds have lost one of their most important models of civil society. These independent [Shi'ite] institutions could have served much as Protestantism did in the Anglo-Saxon world, as a levee against the inundating absolutism of the state and as a foundation of liberalism and civil society…With no clerical freedom in Iraq… no Shi’ite entity has the freedom to challenge the narrow, controversial, and revolutionary form of Shi’ite politics practiced by Ayatollah Khomeini [in Iran]… Liberating the Shi’ite centers in Najaf and Karbala… could allow Iraqi Shi’ites to challenge and perhaps fatally derail the Iranian revolution. Comparably, in the Soviet Union, communism was undermined when the people’s courts, the Politburo, and the cult of personality were abolished; without these weapons, power can again be diffused, civil society reestablished…”

I can offer only one comment on all this. Genius!