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THE NUB OF THE ISSUE is that transferring political power to the Iraqi “government elected by the people” means transferring military power at a rate not far behind; otherwise, our troops are not only hostages to a government we didn’t elect, but we will increasingly find ourselves at odds with our putative ally.
Iraq can be democratic — it was democratic before, under the British imperium — but it will be an Iraqi democracy; that is, a democracy with secret police and a short way with dissenters. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has political goals far different from our own. He doesn’t care a whit about the rights of Sunnis; he cares for ensuring and perpetuating the newfound dominance of the Iraqi Shiites. That’s not bad news for us, but it is bad news for al-Qaeda terrorists (and for Saddamites too). They know what congressional Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee don’t: al-Qaeda is Sunni.
And while there is no inherent military reason why our troops cannot train the Iraqi army to defeat the insurgents, we need to bear in mind what a “pacified” Iraq will look like.
We need to accept that Iraq will never be a country in our own image. Assassination, whether through roadside bombs, decapitation (by hanging or knife), a random spray of bullets, militia street battles, or government hit-men, is a traditional form of Middle Eastern greeting that we are not going to eliminate. All we should care about is leaving behind a reasonably pro-Western government. And if the standard of such government in the region is the likes of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon, Iraq will be as pro-Western as any.
And what about the argument that Shiite Iraq will become a tool of Shiite Iran? Not much to fear there. Neighboring states don’t often willingly accept — or welcome — an Anschluss. Iranian influence in Iraq is in direct proportion to our presence there. We want peace and harmony between Sunnis and Shiites, but because Prime Minister al-Maliki would rather the Sunnis be reduced to a state of near dhimmitude, he has no interest in repressing Shiite militias backed by Iran. Once we leave, however, the prime minister will have every interest in protecting his own power and Iraqi sovereignty against his Iranian neighbor, and suddenly it will be less important that Iran is Shiite than that Iran is Persian and Iraq is Arab.
ALL OF WHICH IS TO SAY that even though the “surge” is smaller and later than it has any right to be, it should provide the necessary force improvements to expedite the transfer of military responsibility from our shoulders to the shoulders of the Iraqis in a politically acceptable way. The surge needs to be swift and dramatic — let us pray that it is. And let us pray that the Bush administration drops its cowardly cover-your-ass rhetoric about a “long war.” This shouldn’t be a long war for us. Our little brown brothers should be turned loose to take the scimitar to their enemies — without American referees — as soon as politically possible, which should be early 2008.
The result will be an Iraq at least as pro-Western as some of our other semi-allies in the region — and that, for any realistic statesman, is certainly good enough.
And this is where we come to the two worst errors the Bush administration has made in Iraq — and I say this not as a Monday morning quarterback, but as someone who held this view before the war ever started. We should never have pledged to uphold a unified Iraq. We should instead have created an independent Kurdistan, an independent Shiite Mesopotamia, and an independent (and largely Sunni) rump state of Iraq. And while Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks were absolutely right to invade Iraq with a light force — for speed and surprise — we should have reinforced our initial victory with a doubling of our troop strength to stem the inevitable initial chaos. If we had done these things, if we had simply abided by two of the cardinal lessons of military history, “divide and conquer” and “reinforce success,” our job would be done, most of our troops would be home, and President Bush would not have received his electoral thumping. But you know the old saw about those who don’t read history….
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