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August 10, 2007

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Solomon2

They aren't working at cross-purposes, exactly. By appealing to Iraqis more directly, Petraeus is moving the entire table.

It's a little like the medieval practice of circuit courts: by demonstrating that Iraqis can get better results at the hands of the Americans rather than their own government, the U.S. increases its credibility among the populace, just as English citizens' discovery that they received better justice at the hands of the King's servants' rather than their local lords increased loyalty to the King.

Maliki can no longer drive out the Sunni populace by withholding state funds from them and turning a blind eye (at best) to the Shia militias and the Al-Qaeda groups used to justify their existence. The root problem, I guess, is in the Iraqi Arab winner-take-all approach to government, no matter if it is democratic or not. Just look at how a Saddam-era law was revived to protect government ministers AND their entourage from prying eyes, once again enabling high-level corruption.

If Maliki and his ilk refuse to change their purposes very soon, answers to these problems can only be found at the political, not diplomatic, level. Possibly the U.S. could help by taking a more active role in the Iraqi political process, openly pointing out Maliki's failures and proposing that Iraqis support a government that truly embraces the country, rather than sectarian desires. Perhaps the U.S. can encourage the development of local leaders, especially those who have become prominent in the wake of The Surge. These can then band together and, because of their popularity, apply pressure to the "national" government, or start a national campaign themselves.

This makes the success of The Surge more important than ever. Not only must Al-Qaeda be dealt with, but the Shia militants as well, to better forestall any campaign to silence or assassinate moderate Shia leaders by militant extremists of any stripe.

David Lloyd-Jones

Two fine posts above, and I have only one thought to add: the American policy from the beginning should have paralleled that of General MacArthur in Japan and Paul Nitze in Germany in 1945.

In the context of Iraq that would have been something called Ba'ath -- Arab Renaissance and Islamic Reformation. Put differently: Saddamism without Saddam.

Unfortunately Bushlet cut and ran: he held "elections," which predictably, as in Algeria and elsewhere, meant handing the country over to the theocratic thugs, and the largest bunch of them at that, hence the Shiites.

Petraeus is an impressive piece of work, his book is excellent, and one wishes him well. On the other hand that's what I felt about my friend Colonel James R. Corson in Vietnam: If our culture had been able to produce 500 James R. Corsons, one for every thousand men in the field, we would have won Vietnam at a walk, and would have deserved to.

If we were able to produce, say, 150 of General Petraeus, we might have a chance. Unfortunately we live in a society that produces a Cheney, a Rumsfeld and a Bushlet for every Petraeus it is able to come up with.

bb

Has the US' goal been a "centralised" state? If so it must have been missing when the Iraqi constitution was drafted? I would have thought that US diplomatic policy from the beginning has been to ensure the Sunnis viability in the political process under the PR electoral system?

When the Shiites finally unleashed the death squads last year the insurgency proved incapable of protecting the Sunnis. Now the US is doing it, a fact that is surely not lost on the insurgency's constituency?

Seems to me the US is training the basis of a future Sunni Arab "peshmerga" which will provide security for the future Sunni region based in Anbar, Salahadin, Ninewah and Diyala, not coincidentally the provinces that AlQ declared to be the ISI last October. This seems to be the only viable future available for the Sunnis, given they are outnumbered 4 to 1 by the Shiites in Arab Iraq. Unless the insurgency can drive the US out, which seems increasingly unlikely, the US will be staying around for a long time in Iraq to oversee the maturing of the democratic political process?

Zathras

This sounds like over-analysis to me. Gen. Petraeus' tactics in Anbar aren't reducing the credibility of the Iraqi government among Sunni Arabs -- that credibility was nonexistent in the first place. Some of this, for sure, had to do with Shiite death squad activity after February of 2006. But most of it has to do with Sunni Arab factions only wanting to be party to a government on terms Iraqi Shiites aren't willing to accept.

Say Maliki -- or another Iraqi leader, perhaps one from a Shiite faction larger than Dawa -- did adopt another course and tried to push militia members out of the ministries, send oil revenue to the Sunni areas and so forth. Assume, as we have to, that mass casualty attacks on Shiite civilians, policement and government employees continue. How long does the Iraqi leader maintain his position? Days? Weeks? If the best argument against Iraqi political leaders pursuing factional and sectarian interests rather than national ones is that this is the best way to reduce violence against their followers and the violence proceeds anyway, what is Amb. Crocker supposed to tell them? Be patient?

Actually, while I think that in general the surge is taking us in the wrong direction, in one respect Petraeus is clearly helping Crocker in what appears to me his hopeless task. The fight in Anbar seems to be hurting the al Qaeda faction -- not destroying it, but at least reducing its pool of recruits and denying it its rear echelon in Anbar. No Sunni Arab faction has been more committed to sectarian war against, well, all non-Sunni Arabs in Iraq than the al Qaeda in Mesopotamia group. The weaker this faction is, the fewer provocations of Shiites there are likely to be. This won't pull a government in Baghdad together, but it may reduce the chances that feuding Shiite factions will feel compelled to unite in a future ethnic cleansing campaign. That's not much, but it's not nothing.

nur al-cubicle

This reflects a behind-the-lines battle on the Potomac, does it not? Defense+Cheney+Saudi (Petraeus) vs. Condi+Crocker (but they're not allowed to talk to the boss anymore, are they?). BTW, Tony Blair left for the Middle East and hasn't been heard from since.

nur al-cubicle

They are organizing the Sunnis outside of the state rather than fostering integration.

But this is what the Saudis demanded when they summoned Cheney, no?

No Preference

To me, our entire national discussion of Iraq misses the point. Is the US goal in Iraq truly a strong, successful, unified state with a government that reflects the desires of its people? I don't think so. Americans and our policies are highly unpopular among Iraqis. Iraqis want Iraq to retain control of its oil; they want a state strongly flavored by Islam; they don't want long-term American military bases; they certainly don't agree with the general American view of the Middle East. An independent government with popular support could never be an American client.

The US is only interested in democracy in Iraq insofar as it serves our objectives, which are to maintain a permanent military presence and to have final say over its oil. No legitimate Iraqi government is going to embrace those objectives.

The US is in the dilemma of not having an Iraqi faction to support. The Shia are too close to Iran. The Sunni appear to have the goal of a Sunni-dominated state, which is untenable without a great deal of bloodshed. The Kurds support an insurgency in Turkey. Democratic secularists are weak and few, and friends of Israel nonexistent. We keep running from one ally to the next only to be disappointed.

The US claims to want a unified Iraqi society, but what we do in fact is set Iraqis against each other while trying to accomplish our own goals. The US is unwilling to see peace in Iraq except on our terms. We may be willing to settle for a dysfunctional, nonrepresentative Iraqi state as long as we retain a military presence and keep Iraqi oil from falling into the "wrong hands". What the Iraqis might like is beside the point.

What is really terrible is that this is a non-issue in the US.

No Preference

To me, our entire national discussion of Iraq misses the point. Is the US goal in Iraq truly a strong, successful, unified state with a government that reflects the desires of its people? I don't think so. Americans and our policies are highly unpopular among Iraqis. Iraqis want Iraq to retain control of its oil; they want a state strongly flavored by Islam; they don't want long-term American military bases; they certainly don't agree with the general American view of the Middle East. An independent government with popular support could never be an American client.

The US is only interested in democracy in Iraq insofar as it serves our objectives, which are to maintain a permanent military presence and to have final say over its oil. No legitimate Iraqi government is going to embrace those objectives.

The US is in the dilemma of not having an Iraqi faction to support. The Shia are too close to Iran. The Sunni appear to have the goal of a Sunni-dominated state, which is untenable without a great deal of bloodshed. The Kurds support an insurgency in Turkey. Democratic secularists are weak and few, and friends of Israel nonexistent. We keep running from one ally to the next only to be disappointed.

The US claims to want a unified Iraqi society, but what we do in fact is set Iraqis against each other while trying to accomplish our own goals. The US is unwilling to see peace in Iraq except on our terms. We may be willing to settle for a dysfunctional, nonrepresentative Iraqi state as long as we retain a military presence and keep Iraqi oil from falling into the "wrong hands". What the Iraqis might like is beside the point.

What is really terrible is that this is a non-issue in the US.

No Preference

Sorry for the double-post.

observer

excellent post and excellent comments.
Just to reiterate--and I see this alluded to in this thread-- it doesn't seem like the US interests were ever _actually_ (that is, at the 'highest' levels) being seen as served by anything resembling stability there. A masterful polyphony of obfuscation on that note. It's a very long term, vanguard exercise in 'gardening'. What's going on now is something like clearing the table (or hoeing) through progressive implementation of chaos. A nice clean canvas of excruciating white noise. A view from something like what Burroughs called 'Big Picture'.
I wouldn't expect much from the American Idiocracy. The 'sphere' is evolving nicely however. . .

Aaron

"Sunni leaders felt emboldened to demand more, while Shia leaders worried about making concessions to a group accumulating military and political power outside their control."

Exactly. But that's probably healthy if we want to keep Iraq as an intact state without letting the Shia take over completely.

Also, I wonder if perhaps the political negotiations may go faster than we think AT THE END, i.e. no progress until breakthrough.

Philippe Duhart

Excellent post and discussion.

An issue I find concerning is our over-essentializing of the categories "Sunni" and "Shia." Petraeus is not arming and organizing Sunni insurgents so much as arming specific factions and organizations within the broader Sunni camp. With the tribal allies, we are finding out that specific constellations of tribal factions are seeking to use the American strategy to their advantage in inter- or intra-tribal political power plays.

The term "al Qaeda" seems to be a convenient rhetorical ploy for both the American military and Sunni militants to provide cover for the rational of striking such deals. But, I have read little to lead me to think that there is a sincere effort against al Qaeda. Instead, we are looking at very local efforts to gain control of geography and political power.

Petraeus's strategy seems both in tune with the political realities of the competitive environment of violence in Iraq and wholly out of touch with the longterm strategy of creating an effective Iraqi state. It seems that the consequence of the immediate strategy is to decrease American casualties and decrease the level of headline-grabbing bombings. The American media does little reporting of the actual low-level factional fighting in Iraq, especially in Sunni dominated regions. All Petraeus needs is a perceived sense of progress among Americans, which will further the war effort or salvage enough "victory" in Iraq in anticipation of any future draw down or withdrawal.

Don Cox

"not just at the local level but outside the institutions of the state. "

Petraeus is working with (or using) the Iraqi Army, which is certainly an institution of the state. Indeed, it will soon be the strongest institution, if it isn't already.

My understanding of his policy is to support any group which is less violent and more inclined to cooperate with the Iraqi Army, against any group which is more violent and more inclined to operate independently (or under Iranian auspices). The centre against the extremes.

Don Cox

"not just at the local level but outside the institutions of the state. "

Petraeus is working with (or using) the Iraqi Army, which is certainly an institution of the state. Indeed, it will soon be the strongest institution, if it isn't already.

My understanding of his policy is to support any group which is less violent and more inclined to cooperate with the Iraqi Army, against any group which is more violent and more inclined to operate independently (or under Iranian auspices). The centre against the extremes.

Mr. Robinson

"They are organizing the Sunnis outside of the state rather than fostering integration. And by heightening Sunni military weight and political expectations, these policies likely encouraged the political trainwreck we saw over the last few weeks:"


At this juncture it doesn't really seem possible to "organize the Sunnis" in any meaningful way within state institutions as they currently exist.

While it will still probably end in another trainwreck, the idea of strenghtening elements of the Sunni base outside of state institutions could in theory lead to a situation where Maliki would be compelled to make more concessions to Sunni blocks in subsequent reconsilliation attempts.

Abu Ghayib

Sound analysis. However, you don't consider the possibility that maintaining the contradiction between the surface-level political strategy (supporting the government and working toward reconciliation) and the on-the-ground military strategy (co-opting local control outside the government framework) works in our favor. If we publicly abandon the former strategy and openly pursue the latter, we’re going to find ourselves with a whole bunch of new Shi’a enemies, particularly SCIRI, Badr, and Da’wa, the dominant Shi’a stakeholders in the government. These Shi’a parties and Iran are not blind to the Sunni outreach we’re already doing, and they’re getting increasingly angry and contemplating and taking serious counter-measures.

Publicly abandoning these Shi’a parties would only exacerbate this, as supporting the fiction that this government has staying power and that these parties will eventually be in total control of it is the only thing keeping them in line. Moreover, while you're right that the military strategy undermines the political strategy, the political strategy does NOT undermine the military strategy, and there is no harm in claiming to be pursuing the political strategy as long as we can, no matter how obviously kaput it may be. Besides, as I argued in a comment on this site a couple of weeks ago, by bringing many of these Sunni insurgent and tribal coalitions technically into the ISF structure (even if in reality their loyalties lie elsewhere, and their interests and power are purely local), Petraeus can argue, with a straight face, that he is aiming to shore up the central government.

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