Here Cato Institute’s Jennifer Keister writes, “Backing Maliki’s government puts the United States in a position of supporting a sectarian regime.”
For partnerships to be effective, they generally require effective partners. To be sure, U.S. engagement may aim to improve these states’ capabilities, but a policy based on partnerships still needs a litmus test to sort out good partners from potential risks. Choosing good partners requires information. While some states refuse U.S. assistance, others pursue American aid and then seek to use it for unrelated purposes.
The current Iraq debate highlights Maliki’s sectarian policies as contributing to ISIS’s success, and questions whether aid might inadvertently facilitate such policies. Assistance to other possible partners requires similar information about the political, social, and economic dynamics that create and sustain violent groups.
Most violent groups that policy makers identify as security threats attract U.S. attention by rebelling or attacking the states in which they live or operate. These groups are generally disgruntled for a reason. Criticism of Maliki’s sectarian policies highlight this issue in Iraq, but questionable governance, corruption and military abuse in Nigeria have spurred Boko Haram, and Mali’s Tuaregs have complained for decades of underrepresentation.
A decade of direct U.S. intervention failed to solve Iraq’s sectarian problems, but less-than-direct forms of intervention face the same difficulties. U.S. assistance can come with pressure to professionalize militaries and make governments less corrupt and more representative. But both direct and indirect intervention may exacerbate tensions. Backing Maliki’s government puts the United States in a position of supporting a sectarian regime. Answering the justifiable outcry against Boko Haram’s kidnappings and other atrocities puts the United States in a position of aiding Nigeria’s brutal military.