UNEXPECTING THE EXPECTED. "Two top U.S. generals said yesterday that the sectarian violence in Iraq is much worse than they had ever anticipated and could lead to civil war," reports The Washington Post. It's good to see some reality creeping in. At the same time, it's worth noting that this outcome was fairly widely predicted by observers outside of the U.S. government. John Judis warned Prospect readers in April 2003 that "even if the United States quickly ousts Saddam Hussein, the Mideast might more closely resemble the gates of hell than the new dawn." He was drawing on some pretty basic facts:

The country was knitted together by the British after World War I out of three Turkish-controlled provinces and is composed of three feuding religious-ethnic groups, the Sunnis, the Shia and the Kurds. Even though the Sunnis constitute only about a third of the population, the British, following the practice of the Turks, put this group in charge. Under Hussein they have remained so, but only by violently repressing separatist uprisings. Iraq after Saddam Hussein would be like Yugoslavia after Josip Broz Tito: It will be pulled apart by centrifugal forces.

The belief among hawks seemed to be that the magic of democracy could overcome sectarian divisions, but this got the basic logic of the situation backwards: To have a workable democracy, you need an agreement on what constitutes a legitimate polity. We embarked on a mission whose success depended entirely on the ability to secure cross-sectarian agreement on the nature of the Iraqi state and there was simply no way to know in advance whether or not this was achievable or how to achieve it. That meant we were undertaking a giant risk with huge potential downsides for some very uncertain payoffs.

--Matthew Yglesias

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