Saturday, September 25, 2004

# Posted 4:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CLIMBING BACK IN THE SADDLE: I haven't written much about Iraq in a while, which is unfortunate given that it is far and away the most urgent challenge facing the United States as well as the most important issue in this election other than 'character'.

To be sure, my unending such for a reliable used car has gotten in the way. But I also think that I have been avoiding the issue because the news coming out Iraq is so bad and because I have invested so much of credibility in a more positive outcome. On a related note, I've fallen an entire month behind on my "Accountability Watch" posts, probably because they will compel me to go back over all of my optimistic posts about Iraq from last fall.

For the moment, I guess what I'll do is just post a couple of the pessimist/realist arguments that have been getting me down, so I'll have a starting point for my own further research. Kevin Drum asks:
Is George Bush in "fantasyland" regarding Iraq, as John Kerry says? I
realize that's the fashionable position among lefty partisans, but it's honestly hard to come to any other conclusion these days...

So now we're on Plan D, a feebly disguised version of Plan C: the elections will proceed as scheduled and that will fix everything. It's unlikely that anyone below the level of cabinet secretary actually believes this, but it's impossible to say so because there's an election coming up. An American election, that is.

That election, and the political considerations that go along with it, have been driving our military strategy for the past two years. Before the war, we passed up a chance to take out terrorist mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi — for political reasons. We invaded with too few troops — for political reasons. We lowballed the cost of the war — for political reasons. We ignored the UN and then turned around and pleaded for their help — for political reasons. Then we installed Iyad Allawi as president behind the UN's back — for political reasons.

And just recently we've learned that the Marines were yo-yoed
in and out of Fallujah
— for political reasons. The president has bizarrely dismissed his own intelligence agencies' analysis of Iraq as "guessing" — for political reasons. He's ignored the advice of his own generals about troop requirements for the upcoming elections — for political reasons. And assaults on Baathist enclaves have been postponed until December — for fairly obvious political reasons.
Responding to one of my recent posts, Matt Yglesias writes that:
What David's missing is that a democratic outcome for Iraq in the medium term is off the table. The question is how long will US forces continue to be engaged on Iyad Allawi's side in the Iraqi Civil War not whether or not we'll stay the course until we generate a democracy.

Soon after the January 20 Inauguration Day we're going to have some
fraudulent elections in Iraq which will return a National Assembly composed of roughly the same elements as the present Interim Government -- i.e., Baathists who became dissilusioned with Saddam before the war, a couple of varieties of Shiite fundamentalist, the Kurdish parties, and a smattering of Communists. These folks will face, throughout 2005, the following dilemma. The longer US
forces remain in Iraq the more dissilusioned the Iraqi populace will grow with their regime and the more support the armed opposition (i.e., the Sadr Movement and whatever we care to call the Sunni insurgency) will gain as the authentic voice of (Arab) Iraqi nationalism. On the other hand, the sooner US forces leave, the sooner the government (along with the militias of pro-government parties) will need to stand on their own against the armed opposition.
For the moment, I'm so behind on the issue that I really don't have much to say in response. The best I can do is cite a recent Fareed Zakaria column on the subject, a column that is more optimistic than one might expect from someone who writes books about democracy promotion is bound to fail. Here's Zakaria:
But for all its resilience, the insurgency has not spread across the
country, nor is it likely to. Its appeal has clear limits. While it has
drawn some support from all Iraqis because of its anti-American character, the insurgency is essentially a Sunni movement, fueled by the anger of Iraq's once-dominant community, which now fears the future. It is not supported by the Shiites or the Kurds. (The Shiite radical Sadr has been careful not to align himself too closely with the insurgency, for fear of losing support among the Shiites.) This is what still makes me believe that Iraq is not Vietnam. There, the Viet Cong and their northern sponsors both appealed to a broad nationalism
that much of the country shared.

Hence the temptations of a "Shiite strategy." Such an approach
would view the Sunni areas in Iraq as hopeless until an Iraqi army could go in and establish control. It would ensure that the Shiite community, as well as the Kurds, remained supportive of Allawi's government and of the upcoming elections. It would attempt to hold elections everywhere -- but if they could not be held in the Sunni areas, elections would go forward anyway. That would isolate the
Sunni problem and leave it to be dealt with when forces become

In Iraq the one truly pleasant surprise so far is that there has been
little religious and ethnic bloodshed. Many of the experts who counseled against an invasion predicted that after Hussein's fall, the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds would tear each other apart. Nothing like this has happened. The problems -- of resistance, nationalism and anti-Americanism -- have been quite different. But the balance is fragile. If the United States and the Iraqi government played a
sectarian strategy, things could unravel.

Zakaria's column sums up the basic logic on which my optimism has always rested: that the American plan for holding elections advanced the most fundamental interest of Iraq's Shi'ite majoirty. That is why Ayatollah Sistani favors elections and why he and other influential Shi'ites have helped the United States confront Moktada Sadr. If Iraq turns out to have even a semblance of democracy 18 months from now, it will be because the interests of the United States and the Shi'ite majority have overlapped throughout the occupation.

The most important unanswered questions now are whether credible elections can be held with minimal or no Sunni participation and whether the Allawi government can expected to run the process fairly. I guess all we can do for the moment is hope.
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