What are the Bush administration’s plans in Iraq? On the surface, everything is going badly. The Jan 30th elections are destined to fail, and there are huge structural obstacles to overcome before Iraq can become a stable, peaceful nation. On top of that, the Iraq situation is so closely intermingled with two neighboring crises, in Iran and Saudi Arabia, that it will be exceptionally more difficult to deal with any single problem in isolation. Does the Bush administration have a plan to deal with this web of problems? Are they just blazing ahead with a plan that they know won’t work for lack of any viable alternatives? Or… are they pioneering an entirely new strategy in international relations: Intentional Instability? In order to answer that, I must first lay a foundation:
The Exploitation Model of colonial control, and the legacy of British cartography: England is a small country, with a relatively small population. They were never able to field the kind of imperial expeditionary forces of other empires. Instead, from the very beginnings in India, they pioneered a new means of controlling colonies: exploit internal divisions. I call this the “Exploitation Model”, and it has been used with great success, first by Britain, then by the US in all corners of the globe. It started in India, where the British recognized that they could not field a force large enough to control the hugely populous and well armed people of the subcontinent. They recognized, however, that India was rife with internal divisions, fractured into a complex web of princes and potentates each with long-running internal disputes. They learned that by leveraging their forces in the support of one local group against another, they could greatly multiply their power, and effectively control a nation several times larger than their own. It was in India that they laid the groundwork for the Exploitation Model: leverage a minority group with the promise of “If you help make us rich, we’ll see to it that you also get a disproportionate share of the wealth”, and ensure loyalty by withholding access to some critical part of the machinery of power – make them rely on you just as much as you rely on them.
This model was used by the British to establish and control their empire: from the apartheid exploitation model used in colonial Africa to the tribal exploitation model used to establish the House of Saud, as well as control the remnants of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.
With rise in expectations for independence and self-determination beginning in the 20th century, Britain had to adapt their model to the changing geo-political arena. They had to permit the appearance of independence to their colonies, while maintaining the flow of wealth and resources on which they depended. The Exploitation Model adapted quite well to this end: if a minority group depends on your support to control an “independent” country, then you can exert the exact same level of influence on this “sovereign” nation as you can over a colony – perhaps more, because you are no longer as culpable in matters of starvation, poverty and human rights. In addition to adapting the exploitation model to the changing world stage, the British carefully used their monopoly over cartography to ensure that these newly independent entities were cut up into chunks that would perpetuate ethnic strife and provide a ready pool of minority groups bidding for British support to their power with offers of enhancing British influence over the nations affairs.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are both excellent examples of the success of the British Exploitation Model in the 20th century, as well as Britain’s passing of the torch to the United States. However, no nation in the world better exemplifies this process more than Iraq.
The British first gained control of what is now Iraq after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire following World War I. The value of controlling Iraq’s oil wealth was not lost on the British, even during the war, as the secretary of the War Cabinet, advised Foreign Secretary Arthur Belfour in writing that control of Persian and Mesopotamian oil was a “first-class British war aim.” The territories gained from the Ottomans were quickly divided up by British cartographers into units more compatible with the exploitation model: Kuwait was parceled off from Mesopotamia (later to be renamed Iraq) in an action quite reminiscent of Gerrymandering, ensuring that the Shi’ite majority in Iraq could be effectively managed by the British-supported Sunni minority, and that the British could in-turn exploit internal Shi’ite divisions in Kuwait.
From this point, up until 1990, the US and Britain effectively used the Exploitation Model to control Iraq through support to the Sunni minority. This raises the question: what is the US doing to control Iraq at present? The January 3oth elections scheduled to create a new Iraqi government seem, on the surface, to violate every tenet of the Exploitation Model: the 60% Shi’ite majority will clearly win control of the government, they have very close ties to Iran, and will essentially exclude the US from significant control in the affairs—especially the economic affairs—of Iraq. In fact, the new Iranian/Iraqi Shi’ite position will assist Iran’s power play in the region, also at the expense of US influence. So does the US have a plan? Or are they stuck between a rock (Shi’ite Control, Shi’ite/Sunni civil war) and a hard place (Fixing the election and inciting Shi’ite/Iranian violence), and are simply pressing ahead with the better of two very bad positions? Is it time for the Exploitation Model to take another evolutionary leap… is there some entirely new US strategy afoot?
What I am proposing is the possibility that the US is intentionally pressing ahead with an entirely new model, what I am calling the Intentional Instability Model. The impetus for this development is the understanding that the situation in Iraq will deteriorate significantly no matter what happens on January 31st (it will likely be accelerated by the election), and that it is critical to US economic health to stabilize the interrelated crises in Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia simultaneously.
There are some pretty simple issues that underlie this problem. The US economy is dependent on the regular supply of petroleum from the Middle East. The US economy is dependent on the continued use of the petrodollar (dollar denomination of petroleum sales) standard. The US has the most powerful and projectable military force in the world, and will maintain this advantage for the next 10+ years. The Intentional Instability Model is based on the principle that fostering, not resolving instability in a region is the most effective way to ensure acceptance of the use of dominant military force to exert influence. Intentional Instability creates the kind of permanent-crisis mentality first suggested by George Orwell’s continuous state of “war” in his book “1984”. Intentional Instability facilitates the kind of Keynesian stimulus favored by the power elite: defense spending and economic subsidies that concentrate power in the hands of the few. Intentional Instability in the region will provide the context to support the House of Saud when that crisis matures into a full-blown insurgency. Intentional Instability provides a context to contain Iranian ambitions – especially those of establishing an Iranian/PetroEuro alternative to the Saudi/PetroDollar standard upon which the entire US economy hangs. The January 3oth elections will create a civil war in Iraq along Sunni vs. Shi’ite lines, and will ensure the US presence in the region for decades. In classic Exploitation Model manner, the US military will continue to leverage local fighters and governments against each other, attempting to reserve its military power behind protective barriers to launch lightning-quick strikes against carefully planned targets. In my estimation, the Intentional Instability Model will work, and it will work well. That is, until adversaries learn the tactics of net-war, understand how to amplify the effects of their attacks by targeting critical nodes, and realize the fundamental weaknesses of hierarchy. But that could take years, and in the mean time, the situation in the Middle East will take only one path: increasing instability. The most important question, in my mind: is this the result of a new, intentional US strategy, or is it simply incompetence on the part of American foreign policy.