Monday, April 30, 2007

Facing Reality in Iraq

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

From yesterday's New York Times:

Anbar Province, long the lawless heartland of the tenacious Sunni Arab resistance, is undergoing a surprising transformation. Violence is ebbing in many areas, shops and schools are reopening, police forces are growing and the insurgency appears to be in retreat.

“Many people are challenging the insurgents,” said the governor of Anbar, Maamoon S. Rahid, though he quickly added, “We know we haven’t eliminated the threat 100 percent.”

Many Sunni tribal leaders, once openly hostile to the American presence, have formed a united front with American and Iraqi government forces against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. With the tribal leaders’ encouragement, thousands of local residents have joined the police force. About 10,000 police officers are now in Anbar, up from several thousand a year ago. During the same period, the police force here in Ramadi, the provincial capital, has grown from fewer than 200 to about 4,500, American military officials say.

At the same time, American and Iraqi forces have been conducting sweeps of insurgent strongholds, particularly in and around Ramadi, leaving behind a network of police stations and military garrisons, a strategy that is also being used in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, as part of its new security plan.

There are at least two ways to view this development. The first -- favored by supporters of the war and Pres. Bush's escalation of the war -- is that Anbar proves that the "surge" is working, that the U.S. can win the war, and that continued progress can only happen if U.S. troops stay in Iraq:

“There are some people who would say we’ve won the war out here,” said Col. John. A. Koenig, a planning officer for the Marines who oversees governing and economic development issues in Anbar. “I’m cautiously optimistic as we’re going forward.”

Ed Morrissey's one of those people:

Just as the Democrats have raised the white flag on Iraq, the New York Times reports that the surge strategy has started paying off in Anbar. Shops have reopened, people have moved back, and everyone's challenging the insurgents except Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. ...
The growing security forces rely on the Americans to assist them in getting the terrorists that everyone wants driven out of Iraq. Without us, they would have to sue for terms with the AQI lunatics that would have them divided and fighting amongst themselves. If we leave now, we will destroy all of the work we have done to reach this point -- when even the Times acknowledges that we have finally begun to set the stage for success in Anbar and elsewhere in Iraq.

Others say it's rather the other way around: the Americans need the cooperation of Anbar's Sunni population and local Iraqi forces to defeat Al Qaeda. The only reason the U.S. military is making such headway now is because those local leaders have decided they hate Al Qaeda more than they hate the Americans -- for now, at least.

I am struck, as well, by the arrogance implied in that sentence of Ed's: "Without us, they would have to sue for terms with the AQI lunatics that would have them divided and fighting amongst themselves. "

First off, who is Ed, or anyone on this side of the world, to assume that negotiation (that's what "suing for terms" means, right?) is automatically a bad thing? That's for Iraqis to decide, isn't it? And why would such negotiations leave Iraqis "divided and fighting amongst themselves"? That's a pretty infantilizing view of Iraqis, no? Isn't it just as likely that without the U.S. military there mucking up the works, Al Qaeda or local insurgents and the tribal leadership will be able to come to agreeable terms quite well on their own, thank you very much?

Andrew Sullivan thinks so. Writing in the London Times, Andrew makes the point that advocates for U.S. troop withdrawal are simply acknowledging reality:

Saddam is gone. There is no longer any potential threat of weapons of mass destruction from a failed Iraqi state. The actual reasons for fighting this war in the first place have therefore evaporated.

Bush says it would be a defeat against Al-Qaeda. But Al-Qaeda was not the presence in Iraq before the war that it is now. And occupying a Muslim country indefinitely is not exactly a way to staunch jihadist recruits either.

Most grown-ups in Washington, even Obama, are arguing for a redeployment out of Iraq that would retain an active potential to take on Al-Qaeda if it were to establish an enclave in Iraq more dangerous than the base it has already established in Pakistan. And if Iraq’s Shi’ites and Sunni tribes take on Al-Qaeda in Iraq, then we will have scored a huge victory by exposing the real battle that can only be fought by Muslims against other Muslims.

These arguments are not peacenik or liberal or defeatist. They are simply a recognition of fact. The fact is that a majority of Iraqis want the Americans to leave Iraq soon; and a solid majority of Americans want the same thing. Nothing looks as if it will change those two facts in the near future. And for Republicans facing an election next year, the near future is beginning to look alarmingly imminent.

Do events in Anbar invalidate the argument for redeployment? Andrew says no:

... What Anbar shows is that relative peace and stability will come only when Iraqis themselves, for reasons of their own, defend their own country from al Qaeda's poison. We can and should continue to help them in any way we can. But the more they take the lead in defending their own country the better. Even in Anbar, however, the "national" government remains a problem, since the Sunni tribes don't trust the Shiites in Baghdad (with good reason). The answer, it seems to me, will be gradual US withdrawal and redeployment to Kurdistan, and a soft, informal partition that gives each ethnic and religious group enough autonomy to have something to fight for.

If this war ends with a messy soft-partition, but in which various groups of Iraqi Muslims start to take on the war against al Qaeda for their own sake, it could still end up as a relative success. We will have precipitated a situation in which the real war here - within Islam, between mainstream Islam and al Qaeda - will finally be joined. We should do all we can to help from a distance, maybe even a small distance. But this is their fight not ours. We cannot win it; only they can. Our goal should not be our victory against al Qaeda; it should be their victory against al Qaeda. It will only be their victory if we are clearly on the road out. If that happens, we change the narrative of this war decisively - in our favor. But indefinite occupation prevents that scenario from taking place. Ending the occupation and winning the war, in other words, are not opposites. They can be complements. It's a tricky process, but by far the most feasible now on the table.

Cernig suggests that Andrew's altered war narrative might give some hope to erstwhile war supporters like Rick Moran, who have reluctantly and painfully come to the conclusion that the U.S. can no longer win in Iraq. Cernig writes:

Maybe Rick can take heart from that - certainly his new position isn't a million miles away from it. If you add to Sullivan's words the realisation that Al Qaida are toast as soon as the Sunnis no longer have any reason for common cause with them against the occupation, and that there is simply no chance that Al Qaida in Iraq will "follow us home" in greater numbers than they have hitherto found it possible to do, then you get to my position. The faster the withdrawal, the better.

And I am no longer convinced that trends in Iraq are towards a spreading civil war after US troops leave - indeed, the occupation may well be the enabling force behind sectarian violence too by creating a situation where polarisation against the occupation and against an Iranian-backed Shiite regime makes sectarian violence inevitable. Necessity is the mother of invention and there are signs, although only small ones, that if the occupation's support for the current Shiite government was removed and Iran no longer felt threatened by the US presence on its borders, then a true non-sectarian coalition of Iraqi leaders could effect a reconcilliation government that wouldn't be in the pocket of either the US or Iran. ...
I know it sounds counter-intuitive but consider that the US presence, which will always be countered by active meddling by other neighbours, especially Iran, acts to keep the current Iraqi political staus quo relatively stable. By withdrawing, the US could create a space for a non-sectarian coalition united by a wish to see the occupation leave and to reassert Iraqi sovereignty free of both US and Iranian influence. ...

Cernig follows up on the above post here.

The links in this post are courtesy of Memeorandum.

No comments: