Divide and Rule

Noah Schactman reports on Bush administration efforts to lay the groundwork for massive bloodshed in Iraq:

Sunni political and tribal leaders are increasingly throwing in their lot with U.S. forces here against Al-Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent types. But, to get them to come over to our side, the American military has fed them a steady diet of anti-Shi'ite propaganda.

Arrests and killings of Shi'ite militants are announced from loudspeaker blasts; President Bush's bellicose rhetoric towards Shi'a Iran is reported on friendly radio programs. But the majority of this country is Shi'ite. Are we setting ourselves up as the enemies of the majority here? Are we priming the pump for an all-in sectarian battle royale? It seems like a possibility.

Robert Farley and Kevin Drum make some smart comments. I think this supports my view that our policy may, on some level, be deliberately aimed at fostering sectarian conflict in order to keep both sides friendly to the idea of an open-ended American military presence. Eric Martin has his doubts about that.

I'm reminded, however, of Alex Cooley's commentary on Daniel Nexon and Thomas Wright (PDF) "What's at Stake in the American Empire Debate?" from the May issue of The American Political Science Review:

In fact, the extreme implication of the Nexon/Wright model for U.S. policymakers would be to more vigorously pursue “divide-and-rule” policies in Iraq instead of its contradictory nation-building policies of “unite and rule.”

I don't think one need necessarily see this as an incredibly deliberate development. Rather, the top political leadership in the country, from Bush and Cheney on down, has consistently failed to articulate meaningful objectives in Iraq beyond a stubborn refusal to answer calls for withdrawal. Under the circumstances, we shouldn't be surprised that this priority filtered down over time and has, increasingly, led our strategy to evolve in a divide and rule direction rather than a nation-building one.