Bring Back Hammurabi

It’s the only way. Only the conqueror of Sumer and Akkad could open up a can of whup-Assurbanipal on the thuggish likes of Moktada-Al-Sadar (now apparently considered a statesman, the qualification for which seems to be sending your militia to murder Sunnis and then blaming it all on a few troublemakers). Maliki is a paper prime minister, the Iraqi army can inflict little more than paper cuts. Real power is with the warring militias – Sunni and Shiite and all bloodthirsty.

Unlike some, I don’t pretend to be able to divine the motivations of the Bush administration. But I’d venture a guess that its reasons for backing a Shiite-dominated government riddled with murderous militia leaders are three-fold: oil, terrorism, and Iran. Actually, no – those are the rational reasons for doing so. The Bush motivation has been simply to save face since things started going shockingly, awe-inspiringly awry.

In any event, the collapse of the Iraqi government, however fictitious its current form, would jeopardize what little oil production capacity Iraq has been able to build. An ongoing civil war with its attendant refugee flows, destabilization and radicalization of neighboring countries, most particularly Saudi Arabia, could disrupt the entire Middle East oil supply to the West, seriously harming the U.S. economy. A balkanized and chaotic Iraq could also serve as a base for Al-Qaeda or other anti-American terrorist groups, with little chance of a clear shot from outside. And then there’s the Dinner Jacket – a shattered Iraq could strengthen the hand of Iran, especially if oil prices spiral, emboldening its aggressive stand against the United States and Israel and its gleeful pursuit of nuclear weapons.

There is of course one more reason to try and hold down the violence: the horrendous see-saw of civilian massacres that defines Iraq’s undeclared civil war. This is mass murder and the power vacuum created by America’s military action is the cause. One would think, in that context, that a moral obligation to minimize the harm to Iraqi civilians would be an absolute priority. Given the current terms of debate, I’d say putting one’s faith in the imminent return of Hammurabi is a safer bet.

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