Thursday, August 09, 2007

Optimism in Iraq - Proceed Cautiously

A few days ago Chris, at Mason Conservative, wrote a piece thundering against Democratic defeatism in Iraq and trumpeting an article by William Kristol. He also cited a New York Times op ed by two analysts from the Brookings Institute, a Washington, DC think tank, who wrote there was reason for cautious optimism in some recent events in Iraq. (I have more to say about the authors of that report and the op ed piece below)

At the time, I posted a reply to Chris that his take on the op ed piece was overly optimistic and out of proportion to the authors’ claims. At no time did either of them say that victory, as Chris, other conservatives, and the Bush administration envision it, is a possibility. Their claim was a modest one. We shouldn’t be too quick to leave. Mainly, they were cautioning about the dangers of a precipitous withdrawal and urging patience based on some recent improvements in security.
The surge has in fact helped the military situation modestly. Another development caught them by pleasant surprise. And it’s been corroborated by this report in today’s Washington Post. Some Sunni insurgent leaders are fed up with the group al Qaeda in Iraq and are trying to negotiate a role for themselves as allies with the U.S.

Their motives are two-fold. They want a political role in the Iraqi government, and they realize that to get it they need to cooperate with the American forces. And they are unhappy with al Qaeda in Iraq’s insistence on Sharia law.

Indeed, the Iraqi Sunnis were always more secular than most of the Arab world. Under Saddam Hussein, women were discouraged from wearing the veil. Women’s dress in the Arab world is a snapshot of where a country or a movement is heading in terms of extremism. The veil is as much a political statement as a religious one. And until the destabilization of that country, the rise of the Shia and al Maliki’s government, women did not wear the veil. They dressed in Western style clothing, had their hair done in salons, held jobs throughout the business and professional world, and even served in the military. In other words, they had an equal role in society.

While they have not slid backwards to the degree that women under the Taliban in Afghanistan did or Saudi Arabia under Wahabbism, they no longer enjoy the freedom of movement they formerly had.

The Shia have always been less secular in Iraq than the Sunnis and this is reflected in the style of clothing women now wear, including the veil. Under Sunni rule women did not wear it, and it’s the al Qaeda insistence on the veil that is one of the reasons the Sunnis are turning against them, as well as other puritanical religious rules against music, encouraging men to grow beards, etc.

So, the Sunni insurgents, put off by the piety of al Qaeda and wanting a role in the new government have decided to cast their lot with aiding the Americans and perhaps even attempting an uneasy peace with the Shia to gain their ends.

But the Americans on the ground, while working with them, give them only cautious trust, which is probably wise. After all the Sunnis still state openly that by cooperating with the U.S. and the Shia to gain a role in the Iraqi government, they also hope that America will go home. They want to run their own country without our presence and if cooperating with us brings them closer to that goal, they will try it.

But that begs the question of whether they will continue to cooperate with the Shia once we leave. Or even if the Shia will embrace them in a power sharing arrangement.

While the military and security situation gives analysts some reason for cautious hope, they still agree that the political situation has not improved at all. And that’s really where we need to see progress.

I basically agree with the assessment that we should have a cautious patience for somewhat longer and that leaving in too hasty a manner would be dangerously destabilizing. Sorry, I know that’s an unpopular position with some Democrats. But I believe it’s true.

On the other hand, we can’t stay there indefinitely. By doing so, we are weakening our military strength, spending our treasure, hurting our economy, and hamstringing our diplomatic and military efforts in other parts of the world that are even more dangerous. That includes routing bin Laden and the real al Qaeda from Wazirstan in the wild, mountainous tribal lands of Pakistan. There also needs to be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian situation; and Iraq, rather than helping that, is a diversion.

We need an exit strategy that includes plans to keep any Iraqi civil war from spilling over its borders into surrounding states. We also need to involve the international community, including other Arab nations in the region, by convincing them that they have a stake in stabilizing the area and preventing genocide.

Unfortunately, as we come up to election season, we will be getting simple sound byte opinions to a complicated problem that needs a complex and nuanced solution.

Note: Although the authors of the Brookings report, Michael O’Hanlon and Kevin Pollack, are called critics of the Bush administration’s Iraqi policy, there could be some misunderstanding of their real position. Kevin Pollack, a former CIA analyst, wrote a book called The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, which was anything but anti-invasion. If he objects to Bush’s handling of the war, it’s because he perceives Bush as having botched it, not because he opposed invasion. Not that this invalidates his findings, but his bias is actually pro U.S military intervention in Iraq to start with.


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Anonymous said...

"On the other hand, we can’t stay there indefinitely."

I'm curious -- how long were we in Korea? Or Germany?