I hate writing posts like this. Since I don’t advocate an immediate “turn tail and run” the left climbs all over me. And since I don’t say everything is going swimmingly in Iraq and that we’re on the verge of victory, the right thinks I’m a traitor.
The fact of the matter is, most commenters here and elsewhere on blogs don’t do nuance. Those few (and you know who you are) who carefully read what I write and either agree or disagree to varying degrees, I am most grateful for and therefore, I am dedicating this post to you. Your opinions are the only ones I care about anyway because most of us have made a similar journey with regards to our beliefs and insights into what is going on in Iraq.
Even those of you who started out opposed to the war and who have commented intelligently here by critiquing our strategy and tactics, have caused me to think about where I stand. And of course, those of us who supported the war, still support the mission to varying degrees, but have looked on in frustration and horror as the Bush Administration, the Pentagon, and our generals on the ground in Iraq have made mistake after mistake, blunder after blunder and brought us to where we are now – the edge of the precipice – we all have had our eyes opened and beliefs challenged by practicing a little independent thinking.
I have come to the conclusion over the last few days that, due to domestic conditions here in the US and the inability of the Iraqi government and society to deal in a timely manner with the political problems that must be solved if Iraq is to have a viable, multi-sectarian society the United States is on the verge of suffering a humiliating defeat in Iraq. A perfect storm of almost non-existent public support for our war aims coupled with US pressure on the Iraqis to shoehorn radical changes in their society, their constitution, and their politics into an unrealistic and inevitably, an impossible time frame will ultimately doom our efforts to take any military success achieved via the surge and turn it into progress on the political front.
If we had 3 or 4 years and the political will to maintain troop levels where they are now, then we would have a real chance to make the difference. But our commitment to the military aspects of the surge will be measured in months, not years. By early fall, the race for President will be in full swing and the obvious lack of political progress in Iraq will increase calls for some kind of redeployment – probably from even some Republicans. And it doesn’t appear that the insurgents nor al-Qaeda in Iraq are interested in dialing down their vicious attacks on civilians. They will continue to maximize their attacks, killing as many Iraqis per attack as possible to keep the body count high and the American press fixated on the blood. The continuing large body counts from these attacks will also give the Democrats a ready made benchmark to claim that the surge isn’t working, even if other, less publicized aspects of our strategy are showing signs of success.
This eye opening article that deals exclusively with the political situation in Iraq as it stands now not only rings true but shows how the ticking clock of American involvement may have caused us to overplay our hand in some instances while allowing some elements in Iraqi politics to exploit our vulnerability to the time factor:
U.S. military commanders say a key goal of the ongoing security offensive is to buy time for Iraq’s leaders to reach political benchmarks that can unite its fractured coalition government and persuade insurgents to stop fighting.
But in pressuring the Iraqis to speed up, U.S. officials are encountering a variety of hurdles: The parliament is riven by personality and sect, and some politicians are abandoning Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government. There is deep mistrust of U.S. intentions, especially among Shiites who see American efforts to bring Sunnis into the political process as an attempt to weaken the Shiites’ grip on power.
Many Iraqi politicians view the U.S. pressure as bullying that reminds them they are under occupation. And the security offensive, bolstered by additional U.S. forces, has failed to stop the violence that is widening the sectarian divide.
One of the biggest obstacle appears to be the chicken everyone believed as long ago as the immediate aftermath of the invasion who would eventually come home to roost; the Kurds and their desire for a large degree of autonomy. The Kurds have made no secret of their desire for as much independence as they can get away with, being restrained only by the US desire not to agitate Turkish feelings about the Kurds setting up a separate state. The Kurds appear willing to bide their time until the Americans are no longer a factor in Iraq. This is evident in their opposition to the oil revenue distribution law that was passed by the cabinet back in March but is languishing in Parliament as members wrangle over many of the details:
Politicians from the semiautonomous Kurdish region say measures in the law that would take undeveloped oil fields away from regional governments and have a new national oil company oversee them are unconstitutional.
“Iraq, frankly, does not have the money to invest in oil fields,” said Ashti Hawrami, the Kurdish region’s minister of natural resources. He added that the Kurds are disputing four annexes to the draft law that would dilute their ability to exploit oil in their territory. If the draft isn’t “watered down,” Kurdish regional authorities will not support it, he said.
The Kurds also don’t trust the central government to distribute oil revenue, saying it has been behind in payments in other instances. Some have suggested that a fund be set up outside Iraq to dole out that money. “We are asking for our fair share and guarantees that we will receive it,” Hawrami said.
Sunni Arabs and some secular Shiite politicians, however, stand firm that the central government must control oil production and revenue distribution. “If we want to keep the unity of Iraq, the best way is to keep the oil under the authority of the central government,” said Adnan Pachachi, a secular Sunni with the Iraqi National List party of former prime minister Ayad Allawi.
And the oil revenue law isn’t the only necessary political development that Prime Minister Maliki must address if our current strategy is to achieve the desired results:
“The Americans should take into consideration the Iraqi situation and its complications, not just their own internal politics,” said Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish legislator.
Ten weeks into the security plan, even as U.S. lawmakers propose timelines for a U.S. troop withdrawal, there has been little or no progress in achieving three key political benchmarks set by the Bush administration: new laws governing the sharing of Iraq’s oil resources and allowing many former members of the banned Baath Party to return to their jobs, and amendments to Iraq’s constitution. As divisions widen, a bitter, prolonged legislative struggle is hindering prospects for political reconciliation.
“They are all up in the air,” said Ahmed Chalabi, a secular Shiite who is chairman of Iraq’s Supreme National Commission for De-Baathification. “They are certainly not going to be produced in any timetable that is acceptable within the context of the current political climate in the United States.”
Issue after issue that the Iraqis absolutely must deal with if reconciliation is to have a chance and disaster avoided is being bottled up by political forces with differing agendas and competing interests. Couple that with the mistrust, the hate, and the decades of brutality experienced by the people, and it appears to me that as bravely as our troops are performing now and will no doubt continue to perform, the fact is they are “buying time” for a government that has already decided that our commitment is coming to an end and that all those competing interests will have to make the best deals possible without the Americans.
The problem, is that it is liable to get very bloody once we depart. Michael O’Hanlon from the Brookings Institution:
[I] think [the consequences] would probably beâ€¦the civil war getting anywhere from two to ten times worse in terms of the rate of killing. I think ultimately, the Sunni Arabs would be mostly defeated, and they would essentially be ghettoized in the western part of their country without much oil, very angry at the world, and therefore even more likely to collaborate with al Qaeda. As you know, one of the hopeful things right now is that the Sunni Arabs are not collaborating as much with al Qaeda, and in some cases, fighting them out in al Anbar Province. But I think that dynamic would probably change for the worse, and you would see that region become to some extent a sanctuary for terrorism, and of course, thereâ€™d be a risk of regional war. I donâ€™t know how to score the probabilities on that, but some risk of a greater regional war. And Iraq itself would be in mayhem probably for many years to come, looking sort of like Somalia or maybe the way Afghanistan did in the 80â€™s and 90â€™s. I think thatâ€™s the most likely outcome. You know, Iâ€™m not saying that it would destabilize the entire Persian Gulf, but there would be some chance of a regional war, and a very high chance of genocide inside Iraq.(HT: Powerline)
Is it time then for a Plan B? Can the President and the Democrats lay aside their hostility toward one another and come up with some kind of a strategy that will allow us to continue to fight al-Qaeda while trying to protect the Sunnis from the worst of what surely will be an attempt by many Shias to make Iraq a “Sunni free” country? It seems to me that only our presence in Iraq would prevent Sunni nations like Saudi Arabia and even Jordan from intervening militarily to prevent a slaughter of their co-religionists. That, of course, might draw Shia Iran into the mix and it would be a Middle East free for all.
Time enough for playing the blame game later. After all, we’re still a year and a half away from the 2008 elections – plenty of time for the Democrats to remind voters who got us involved in Iraq in the first place. For now, the imperative is preventing unmitigated disaster. It may involve giving in to the Democrats and withdrawing some of our troops and redeploying some others. Is the President a big enough man to do this? Or is he more in love with his legacy and would therefore resist changing course to reflect the reality of what is happening on the ground and in the councils of government in Iraq?
I have no confidence in either the Democrats or the Administration. Both parties have played politics with the war for so long that now that we have this disaster staring us in the face, it seems ludicrous to think that they could work together in the national interest to avoid the worst of it. And perhaps the absolute best we can hope for at this point; to take our lumps while still being able to keep Iraq from falling apart and descending into chaos while preventing the blood being shed there from spreading outward to affect the rest of the Middle East.
This will not be accomplished without compromise by both parties as well as some extremely frank talk from the President to the American people about the dire straits we find ourselves as a result of the failure of his policies. Only then – and with the help of the Democrats – will it be possible to convince enough of the American people that it is absolutely vital we maintain some kind of presence in Iraq.
So the question ultimately rests with the President and, to a lesser extent with the Democrats; will politics trump the national interest? Will this stiff-necked President who has refused to admit many mistakes in the past be capable of demonstrating such largeness of character?
He has risen to the occasion in the past. He must do so again.
I have posted “A Clarification or Two” to this article here.