OPED44 What To Do in Iraq - Part I
The mainstream consensus seems to have finally come around to the realization that the current course in Iraq is not working, and that changes need to be made. This change was catalyzed by the results of the recent U.S. elections.... Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, prior to the elections (May 15th, 2006) President Bush set up the Iraq Study Group under the co-leadership of James Baker and Lee Hamilton to examine the matter and come up with policy recommendations re how to move forward. This group is expected to deliver its recommendations next month (December). Some of the panel's ideas have been floated as trial balloons over the past month or two.
However, prior to discussing what changes ought to be made in policy and practice, it is worth discussing the 'mental' changes that need to be made by the folks making the decisions re what is to happen 'on the ground.' This OPED will briefly cover the most important mental adjustments that need to be made, a subsequent OPED will speak to changes that should be made 'on the ground.'
Bottom line: before making any meaningful changes in its Iraq policy the U.S. administration (and Washington power-brokers) need to make some simple but needed mental changes, and also study up a little...
- First, without a very clear understanding of the very complex situation (political, religious, tribal, etc.) in Iraq, in the region, and across the mid-East, the decision-makers will be handicapped. This would seem to be self-evident and one would expect it to be a sine qua non that the decision-makers would be cognizant of at least the the basic facts e.g. the difference between Sunni and Shia, which groups belong to which sect, etc. However, just by reading the newspapers, watching television, listening to radio commentary, etc. it is clear that many of the decision-makers (and newscasters, "pundits", etc.) have no idea re some of the most basic issues. For examples, see the November 1st, 2006 entry on the Brief Observations page. This is a recipe for disaster... when any of these folks make stupid statements in public they need to be slapped down and humiliated... perhaps that will send them back to their studies...
- The administration needs to better understand the centrality of religion in the every-day life of Iraqis and the core role that it plays... One would expect a leader (President Bush) and an administration which supposedly base their actions on religious values to have a better understanding of this, though one apparently would be wrong...
- President Bush and the folks in Washington need to 'get over' the fact of Iranian influence in Iraq. They need to quit making up stuff wholesale i.e. the whole "Iran is interfering in Iraq" meme. By eliminating Saddam Hussein, removing the Sunni from power, and giving the Shia their rightful voice in Iraq, it is the United States administration that has brought about this situation and has ensured that Iran has (and will continue to have) more influence in Iraq than the United States. This is a direct consequence of U.S. actions and is not due to Iranian 'meddling.' It's not meddling that has al-Maliki, Chalabi, et al. visiting Teharan, but a natural affinity. The U.S. needs to have more confidence in the Iraqi Shia - although they are strongly influenced by Iran they are not Iranian patsies (after all most of them stayed 'loyal' to Iraq in the 10-year war with Iran...)
- The administration needs to get over its reluctance to deal with Iran and Syria. Recently, when in Vietnam for the AIPEC meeting, President Bush was asked about the lessons from the Vietnam war... Perhaps one lesson that should be drawn is that if the U.S. can now have normal relations with a communist country with which it was in a shooting war for years (with over fifty thousand U.S. casualties and over a million NVA casualties) then the U.S. ought be able to talk to a country where the biggest problem was the hostage crisis during which the Iranians took 63 U.S. diplomats and 3 other U.S. citizens hostage, holding some of them for 444 days... And what's with the refusal to talk to Syria? True, Bashir Assad has a weak chin, stupid-looking mustache, and is prone to making announcements that tweak President Bush, but why does that make Syria one of the very few countries in the world that the U.S. will not talk to?
- The administration also needs to show more maturity - it should not allow itself to be so easily tweaked by pronouncements of the 'enemy' or other world leaders that they do not approve of, or so easily offended by criticism (even very robust criticism).... Why should anything that al-Quaeda might claim be a factor in any decision or dictate any U.S. action (i.e the 'we can't withdraw because al-Quaeda would claim victory' theory of statesmanship)? And if a foreign leader insults the President, surely personal pique should not dictate international policy?
© SNi 11/22/06