News out of Iraq today from the Los Angeles Times, a fierce critic of the war, quotes several anonymous military sources they say are close to General Petreaus, that the government of Prime Minister Maliki will fail to achieve any of the major political goals set by the Administration when the troop surge began:
U.S. military leaders in Iraq are increasingly convinced that most of the broad political goals President Bush laid out early this year in his announcement of a troop buildup will not be met this summer and are seeking ways to redefine success.
In September, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, is scheduled to present Congress with an assessment of progress in Iraq. Military officers in Baghdad and outside advisors working with Petraeus doubt that the three major goals set by U.S. officials for the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki will be achieved by then.
Enactment of a new law to share Iraq’s oil revenue among Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions is the only goal they think might be achieved in time, and even that is considered a long shot. The two other key benchmarks are provincial elections and a deal to allow more Sunni Arabs into government jobs.
With overhauls by the central government stalled and with security in Baghdad still a distant goal, Petraeus’ advisors hope to focus on smaller achievements that they see as signs of progress, including local deals among Iraq’s rival factions to establish areas of peace in some provincial cities.
The political realities facing the Iraqi government are no secret and it doesn’t take high ranking aides to Petreaus to tell us what has been obvious at least since the beginning of April; that Maliki is unable to bring most of the Shia parties along with him (if he himself is even committed to many of these political goals) in an effort to reconcile the country’s factions and bring peace to Iraq.
The fact is, we can point to our great successes in Anbar province and elsewhere in defeating the insurgency and al-Qaeda but if Baghdad continues to bleed the way it does today, there is no way the surge will be seen as a success in any way, shape, or form. Of course, most of the press, the Democrats, and the left have already declared the surge a failure which makes subduing Baghdad even more important. And in this case, we are bedeviled by the fact that the terrorists only have to succeed once and a while in setting off huge bombs that kill dozens of people for the perception to kick in that the surge has been useless.
Couple the continued bloodshed in Baghdad with the inability (or outright refusal) of the Maliki government to deal with sharing oil revenue, de-Baathication, and constitutional changes and you can see where Petreaus aides are coming from. The surge is next to useless without the Iraqi government using any reduction in violence and the subsequent increase in confidence by the people that this would inspire to reach out to the Sunnis who are cooperating with us in Anbar and other provinces and make them partners in rebuilding the country.
What’s the answer then? Apparently, we are beginning to shift the playing field, bypassing the empty suit of a prime minister, and dealing with the problem of reconciliation Anbar-style; by making deals with the Sheiks and their tribes at the local level:
Military officers said they understood that any report that key goals had not been met would add to congressional Democrats’ skepticism. But some counterinsurgency advisors to Petraeus have said it was never realistic to expect that Iraqis would reach agreement on some of their most divisive issues after just a few months of the American troop buildup.
The advisors and military officers say the local deals and advances they see are not insignificant and can be building blocks of wider sectarian reconciliation.
Military officers in Iraq said the efforts included recruiting Sunni Arab nationalists into security forces, forging agreements among neighborhoods of rival sects, establishing new businesses in once-violent areas and shifting local attitudes.
Frederick W. Kagan, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and early advocate of the troop buildup, said the military would have few major political accomplishments to report by September. “I think the political progress will be mostly of this local variety,” said Kagan, who recently visited Iraq and met with American commanders.
This is an intriguing approach and once again I weep because we waited 4 years to try it. But the sad fact is, the sands in the hour glass are draining fast and all the signs point to a dramatic political change in September if Petreaus can’t convince lawmakers – and through them the American people – that the progress being made at the local level is worth the expenditure in lives and treasure this war has cost us already.
It is still unclear to me how this progress at the local level will translate into putting the pieces of Iraqi society back together. In some ways, it sounds as if it could actually work to further separate the factions:
The push for smaller, local deals represents a significant shift for the Bush administration, which has emphasized that security in Baghdad has to be the top priority to allow the central government to make progress toward national political reconciliation. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have pressured Iraqi political leaders to reach key agreements by the end of summer.
But Gates said last week that U.S. officials may have over-emphasized the importance of Iraq’s central government.
“One of the concerns that I’ve had,” Gates said, “was whether we had focused too much on central government construction in both Iraq and Afghanistan and not enough on the cultural and historical, provincial, tribal and other entities that have played an important role in the history of both countries.”
The new command has realized that there will be no quick national-level deal on the key issues, said the senior military officer in Baghdad.
“You are talking about Sunnis who had power and Shiites who have power forgetting about what happened over the last 30 years,” the officer said. “How easy is that going to be?”
In Iraq, local leaders have doubts about the central government’s abilities to make a meaningful deal.
“The sheiks are not waiting to see if the law is passed or not,” Kagan said. “The Iraqi local leaders clearly don’t see reconciliation as something that has to come from the top or necessarily should come from the top.”
There is good reason that local leaders don’t trust the central government. They have promised much and delivered nothing. And the fact that it is generally recognized in the country that the writ of Baghdad law does not run much outside of Baghdad itself makes the Sheiks wonder how the central government could enforce any agreements it makes with other factions like the Mahdi Army or the Badr Organization who Sunnis see as largely responsible for the sectarian killings. Perhaps they consider it suicide to trust the national government to rein in the militias through any agreements signed with them.
Frankly, I just don’t think our progress in Anbar and other provinces will be enough to convince the Congress to grant the Administration the time it needs to assist the Iraqis in pacifying their country and leave behind a viable state. The Democrats will return with a vengeance hawking their timetables and advocating a cut off in funds on some date certain. They will be driven by their base of rabid netnuts who are already livid with most Democratic lawmakers for what they see as caving in to the President this last go around on Iraq funding.
And not surprisingly, they will be joined by a substantial number of Republicans who fear for their electoral lives. Just over the horizon, it is easy to discern the political disaster for the GOP if they stick with a lame duck Commander in Chief at less than 30% in the polls who refuses to budge on doing what a majority of Americans want him to do; start bringing the troops home.
It should also not come as a surprise that when both Democrats and Republicans are driven by fear, the chances of something less than desirable for the national interest coming out of this mess are considerably increased. What is needed is rationality and a compromise both sides can live with. What we will probably end up getting is political panic and bitter recriminations over who to blame for our situation.