Loose Canons

Allawi’s Lament

He feels he, not Maliki, should be forming the new Iraqi government -- but does it matter?

By 6.14.10

Iraq's U.S.-induced experiment with democracy seems to be going quite well but for the fact that there's little security, stability, or democracy in Iraq. And, in the opinion of former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, it is failing in one key aspect, the peaceful transfer of power.

Allawi, leader of the Iraqiya List Party, apparently won the March election, achieving two more seats (91-89) than incumbent Nouri al-Maliki's party in the national parliamentary election. That result survived a recount which was confirmed by the Iraqi supreme court. And now, in a Friday op-ed in the Washington Post, Allawi condemns Maliki for continuing to try to form a minority government.

Allawi worries about Iran's influence on his nation and wants to use U.S. troops as a human hedge fund for Iraq's political future.

If this is Bush vs. Gore all over again, it's impossible to tell which is which. And, truthfully, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that Allawi's plea reveals the biggest mistakes George Bush made and which Barack Obama is compounding at terrible cost.

Allawi is right in accusing the Maliki government of failing to provide security, basic services, and job prospects. But he did no better when he was prime minister from 2004 to 2005. And on the claim that his 1% parliamentary majority (2 out of 180) entitles him to demand that Maliki surrender politically and help him form a government, he should seek counsel from Britain's David Cameron.

That part of Allawi's lament reveals a deeper problem that has plagued Iraq since the French and the Brits divvied up the remains of the Ottoman Empire: there is no nationalistic sense, no loyalty to an "Iraqi nation" that would cause Maliki to give up his ambitions, or Allawi to make sufficient compromises with Maliki to enable the government to function.

Each man stands on one side of a political divide that neither believes is worth crossing. As long as such divides remain, there cannot and will not be an independent Iraqi nation.

The Iraqi leaders -- Allawi and Maliki, as well as ranking Shiite clergyman Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, whose political power is enormous -- have not been forced to accept the responsibility of governing. The circumstance of our nation-building exercise allows them to pursue alternative futures for Iraq far different from those that democratic compromise would produce.

The mistaken choice of nation-building as a war strategy is founded on the weakest of premises: the incorrect definition of the enemy. On September 11, 2001 -- while the World Trade Center burned -- I wrote a piece that was published the following day in the Washington Times. In it, I said that the nations that sponsor terrorism are the real enemy and that they must be compelled to stop doing so with whatever force might be needed.

President Bush seemed to adopt that definition in his September 20, 2001 address to Congress, but quickly backed down from it. In January 2003, before the Iraq invasion, he adopted the nation-building strategy for Iraq, saying our goal there was an Iraq that could govern, sustain and defend itself and be an ally in what he called the "global war on terrorism."

On March 20, 2006, I wrote in Loose Canons that nation-building was a catastrophic mistake because it placed us on the strategic defensive, in a self-imposed quagmire that enabled the enemy -- the nations which sponsor Islamic terrorism -- to control the pace and direction of the war. And that if we were to pursue it -- instead of pursuing our real enemies, the nations that sponsor Islamic terrorism, we would have to occupy Iraq indefinitely with hundreds of thousands of troops and tens of thousands of bureaucrats to re-create colonial India of the British Raj.

Mr. Allawi implicitly -- and rather belatedly -- agrees. The rest of his article provides the few other elements necessary to complete it as the epitaph for the nation-builders:

Washington still has unrivaled leverage in Iraq, as well as a moral responsibility to the Iraqi people whom it freed from tyranny to do all it can to deliver sustainable peace and stability. Vice President Biden recently said that the United States was "going to be able to keep our commitment" to reduce troop levels in Iraq to 50,000 by this summer. While I have long supported the withdrawal of U.S. troops, Iraq cannot be allowed to revert to an unstable state of sectarian strife, dominated by regional influences.

Such an outcome would insult the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians whose lives were stolen in terrorist attacks and the thousands of U.S. soldiers who sacrificed their lives; it would also put at risk every U.S. and international policy priority in the region -- the planned troop withdrawals, nuclear containment, a stable energy supply, even the chances of success in the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

It is essential to infer from Allawi's article that he -- and the Iraqis for whom he speaks -- would like the American occupation to continue indefinitely. But Mr. Allawi's statement that Iraq's security is a necessary predicate to the defeat of terrorism, containment of a nuclear Iran (if that were possible) and every other U.S. goal in the Middle East, is merely a restatement of President Bush's mistake in defining nation-building as a predicate to the defeat of terrorism.

Mr. Allawi has it precisely backwards. Iraq's future cannot be stable or secure unless and until the outside influences – the nations, such as Iran, -- which sponsor terrorism and threaten Iraqi independence – are forced to end their interference. And the same is true for the other "flashpoint" issues in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. From Israel to Pakistan, from Iran to Syria to Saudi Arabia, the wars we fight and may in the future cannot be won without correctly defining the enemy as the state sponsors of terrorism. Only then can we derive a strategy that can end the threat to America.

President Obama is compounding the same mistake in Afghanistan by combining nation-building (for which the military term is "counterinsurgency") with a too-short timeline. Just last week, Gen. Stanley McChrystal said that the critical campaign in Kandahar Province is much-delayed, implying that the president's July 2011 deadline is impossible. To that, a New York Times report adds that -- according to the director of the Afghan intelligence chief who resigned this month -- Afghan President Karzai has lost faith that the U.S. and NATO will win in Afghanistan.

The two great rivers of the Middle East -- the Tigris and the Euphrates -- combine in Iraq to form the Shatt al Arab, which flows into the Persian Gulf. But the flow of water in the Shatt is so weak that the seawater from the Gulf is now flowing backwards into Iraq, damaging agriculture and wildlife.

The problem, you see, is that Syria and Iran have dammed the Tigris and Euphrates, keeping much of the water for themselves. Unless they release more water, the agriculture of southern Iraq will continue to fail.

No matter what we build in Iraq, it won't put more water in the Shatt al Arab or democracy in Baghdad. No matter how briefly or how long Gen. McChrystal pursues counterinsurgency in Afghanistan without pursuing the terror-sponsors beyond its borders, he won't defeat the Taliban there or prevent it from conquering Pakistan.

Neither effort will bring us closer to ending the threat Islamic state sponsored terrorism poses to our way of life.

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.