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September 10, 2008



The solution, as I've written before, is to accept that the U.S. military is a legitimate political player in Iraqi affairs, one that possesses considerable moral authority and thus can appeal to the populace.


This generally sound analysis continues to be marred by wishful thinking about the nature of the reconciliation that can be expected in the absence in Iraq of the American army.

I presuming here that the authors are not merely resorting to a convenient euphemism when they speak of Iraq achieving a "...true internal consolidation of power." The probability that this "consolidation" would depend on the winners in Iraq's internal political battles killing many of the losers is very high. Are the authors resolved that a "reconciliation" that evolves in this way is acceptable to them?

It's acceptable to me. I have no disagreement with most of the argument presented here, and certainly have no wish to see Iraq return to the sectarian bloodletting of the pre-surge period. However, I also have no interest in resting the case for the liquidation of the American commitment in Iraq on the assertion that it is the Americans that are standing in the way of "reconciliation." Honestly, we are supposed to accept the idea that "true political accomodation" in Iraq was less elusive when thousands of Iraqis were being blown up or butchered every month than it is now?

If we're resolved that Iraqi politics are the Iraqis' responsibility, than we also have to resolve that Iraqi political failures are the Iraqis' fault. Assigning responsibility for political stalemate in Iraq to American policy may be expedient for people determined to avoid giving any credit to steps taken by an unpopular American administration (or to revisit their own past arguments against those steps) but it falls short as a rationale for liquidating the American commitment in Iraq -- because if American withdrawal is accompanied by renewed sectarian upheaval, this argument requires the United States to accept responsibility for that, too, and try to keep it from getting out of control. Which would mean leaving an army in Iraq indefinitely.

No one would be more delighted than I if this turned out to be a moot point, and Iraqis from Irbil to Basra decided that the prospect of an American withdrawal was a splendid opportunity to turn their backs on the violence-prone aspects of Arab political culture. If they don't do this, we still have to get the American army out of the country. This means the argument for doing so has got to be based on something other than assumptions about how Iraqis will behave.

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