from Yugoslavia to Iraq

Most Americans are still mystified by why, exactly, we invaded Iraq in the first place. But our confusion stands in sharp contrast to mainstream Arab opinion, which is based on 200 years of "divide-and-conquer" treatment from the West: we're going in to tear the place up. Duh.

Perhaps we are so little aware of this as a strategy, as an intention, because our leaders talk so much about their desire to bring peace and stability - "democracy" - to the region. What does that mean to them? Who is in play? And what are the players saying about each other?

Jon Lee Anderson, in the New Yorker, relays this warm commentary on Zalmay Khalilzad, our current ambassador to Iraq, from the relentlessly pro-Kurdish Peter Galbraith, who helped oversee US policy during the break-up of Yugoslavia:

"'Khalilzad was absolutely part of the neocon cabal that brought the war to Iraq,' Peter W. Galbraith, a former US ambassador to Croatia, who has written extensively on Iraq and the Kurds, said. Still, he added, 'I credit him with bringing the first dose of realism I've seen in this administration since they came to Iraq'...He said that Khalilzad, whom he has known for years, proved to be a pragmatist. 'This surprised me, frankly, because he is extremely ideological, extremely partisan. But I was impressed with what he did.'

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"Galbraith's satisfaction, however, has much to do with what others see as the constitution's great weakness: that it prepares the way for Iraq to split into Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish statelets. In the end, Galbraith said, the Kurds 'got everything they wanted: control of their oil, supremacy of Kurdish law over Iraqi law, and their own army, as well as limitation on the power of the central government...'

"Galbraith has been one of the chief spokesmen for the idea that the break-up of Iraq would be for the best. 'Iraq as a country will not hold together,' he said. 'The question is what is a decent interval, and whether there will be two states or three. But sooner or later there will be an independent Kurdistan. And this is something Khalilzad grasps. He did what strategists are supposed to do, he prioritized.'

"Galbraith pointed out that under Khalilzad, the rhetoric about a US commitment to a single, unified nation of Iraq had diminished. 'He understood quickly that this constitution was more of a peace treaty than a nation-building exercise, and that what he had to produce was a road map to avoid a future war...'"

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