OxBlog

Thursday, July 06, 2006

# Posted 12:54 AM by Taylor Owen  

SO I THOUGHT I could start things off with a question and two observations on Iraq. Question: Why has there been almost no coverage of the proposed Al-Maliki government's peace plan and the positive response from the Sunni insurgency groups?

Observations: 1. The proposed plan runs directly contrary to significant aspects of US Iraq policy. 2. The contrast between the US congressional debate on Iraq last week and the proposed Iraqi plan is extraordinary.

OK, let me elaborate (for the 5 of you who read something similar on my site last week, I apologize).

Is this proposed peace deal potentially one of the more striking (and potentially positive) developments from Iraq in some time? The 28 point package, developed by the Al-Maliki government, is aimed at including the Sunni insurgency in the political processes and isolating them from the international fighters.

The government concessions offered in return for insurgent amnesty are actually quite extensive, and I think are a pretty clear indication of how dire the situation really is. For example:

The Government will promise a finite, UN-approved timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq; a halt to US operations against insurgent strongholds; an end to human rights violations, including those by coalition troops; and compensation for victims of attacks by terrorists or Iraqi and coalition forces.

It will pledge to take action against Shia militias and death squads. It will also offer to review the process of “de-Baathification” and financial compensation for the thousands of Sunnis who were purged from senior jobs in the Armed Forces and Civil Service after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Does this not run almost completely contrary to US policy over the past 2 years? Are they not suggesting a reversal of the majority of US policy and tactics? Are they not making the distinction between different types of terrorists, a distinction this administration is absolutist against? Imagine if a Democratic Senator were to propose such a deal.

Even more poignant is the call for a timeline for withdrawal. This coming from all involved in the negotiations, including Khalilzad, the US Ambassador. On timelines, the document states:

We must agree on a timed schedule to pull out the troops from Iraq, while at the same time building up the Iraqi forces that will guarantee Iraqi security and this must be supported by a United Nations Security Council decision.

This is in marked contrast to the current debate in the US congress, where any discussion of timelines is ridiculed.

The response from the insurgency to the Al-Maliki government's tentative peace deal is no less remarkable - offering to halt attacks.

Eleven Sunni insurgent groups have offered to halt attacks on the U.S.-led military if the Iraqi government and President Bush set a two-year timetable for withdrawing all foreign troops from the country, insurgent and government officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The disconnect between the US domestic debate, and the negotiations IN IRAQ could not be more poignant. One has to wonder if the former, in an election year, will limit the success of the latter? Will the administration agree to a deal that goes against the bulk of its Iraq policy, makes a deal with elements of an insurgency it has refused to nuance, and sets a firm timeline for complete withdrawal (including the 12 permanent military bases), all of this in an election year? The thing is, they may not have a choice.


UPDATE: Phew - tough first day.

The Times piece linked to above details elements of a peace plan in progress. While early versions were quite widely reported, a significantly and hastily revised version was made public on the 25th. Despite my journalistic carelessness, the last minute changes to the deal do not substantially alter my argument.

First, overviews of this deal are found here, and here. The main thrust of the change is detailed in the latter Newsweek piece:
Under intense pressure from leaders of the Shia-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki offered a greatly softened national reconciliation plan when his National Assembly met Sunday. The UIA, which includes Maliki's own Dawa Party, met in an emergency session late Saturday night to hammer out the changes, removing any explicit mention of amnesty for insurgents, or of a timetable for withdrawal of coalition forces.
Four key clauses were taken out, including one that insisted on distinguishing between "national resistance" forces and "terrorists", and another one that would reverse the dismissals of many former Baathist party officials under the country's deBaathfication program. Explicit language about controlling party militias and "death squads" was missing as well from the final draft. That left a much vaguer statement of principles, but one that everyone could agree to put on the table.
Maliki's aides insisted that they would press to restore the deleted principles as the National Assembly continues to debate the plan, and said that an amnesty is implicit in calls to negotiate with all segments of Iraqi society. (emphasis added)
A few quick points (I'll address some of the other critiques in the opinions section):

First, these changes came "under intense pressure". While we can of course debate where this pressure really came from, it's pretty safe to say that this answers one of my questions regarding how the US would react to such a deal.

Second, the fact that the deal changed (at the last minute and under intense pressure), does not alter the fact that a close to finalized version does indeed contradict significant aspects of US policy in Iraq.

Third, the contrast between the negotiations in Iraq, and the US Congressional debate remains stark. This is not a partisan critique, as neither party line evolved much beyond "Cut and Run" vs. "More of the Same" nonsense.

Fourth, and related, there has indeed been very little coverage of this deal, at any of its stages.
(22) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
If at least some Dem senators proposed a two-year withdrawal timeline, contingent on no more attacks by Sunnis, the administration would cautiously and publicly agree and everyone else would cheer.

It's quite hard to tell from news accounts just how much the Iraqi government is promising. Most of the commitments on that side seem to be best-efforts, contingent, or ratifications of existing policies. It's too easy to foresee Sunni claims of breach by the government and a return to low-level war.

The proposal seems to require that the Sunnis immediately sell out AQ et al. If not, the foreign elements on that side gain the initiative in launching attacks that destroy the whole arrangement.

If the Sunnis actually throw the foreigners overboard, the US administration will be all too happy to declare victory and go home, almost certainly in less than 24 months. Why stand around until things fall apart?
 
Sounds like "good cop -- bad cop" to me. We'll object, kicking and screaming, all the way to Camp Pendleton and Fort Bragg.
 
The real question seems to be one of trust. Iraq's young government is still hanging on to Mammy America's apron strings. But do they want to be? Not according to http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110008564

"'That was the difference between many of us Iraqis and our American friends,' [Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari] adds, suggesting the coalition has too often preferred to try 'overwhelming force.' In fact, the fundamental flaw in our approach, he says, was our reluctance to let Iraqis get on with political reconciliation and their own security and intelligence efforts earlier than we did."

Are we being the over-protective parent?
 
the difference between giving somebody a 10 dollar bill in exchange for a sandwich, and giving them a 10 dollar bill in the hope that they will then be grateful and give you a sandwich gratis, would seem to be large.

In fact it would seem to be promising a withdrawl with no quid pro quo (the Kerry approach) that would undercut negotiations - fortunately it was rejected by Dems as well as Repubs.

How much Maliki should give, depends on what he gets. Its worth giving more if ALL the non-AQ insurgents will lay down arms - if only a few do, thats not worth as much. Plenty of debate in Baghdad about how many and which groups are actually involved.

Khalilzad has been distinguishing the different parts of the insurgency, and talking about negotiations for at least a year, as has the US military. So the admin conflation of the different parts of the insurgency is a straw man.

Obviously WHILE we are fighting them on the ground, we WILL conflate them, for propaganda value - this is a war, dammit. And they ARE fighting against the troops are there to protect Iraq from AQ. During WW2 when we were fighting the Italians, we blamed them for the German aggression they supported. When they negotiated to get out of the war, we were quick to distinguish them from the German, and to accept the honor of Italian arms. Darlan too, went from being a fascist to being a peacemaker, pretty quickly.
 
I definitely buy the "good cop - bad cop" routine.

The Iraqi government acting independently of US desires is a good thing -- it means that they may be in fact, independent.

As the above poster indicates, publically stated foreign policy is by definition never consistent. At some point, the vague body of "people who shoot at us" have to be converted to "people who have stopped shooting at us." That means accepting that some nasty people will not be blown up.

The key is convincing everyone that the majority of the "really bad guys" got what was coming to them, and the "sorta bad guys" got accepted back into society, as long as they behave.
 
I don't know who Taylor Owen is, but this post is disingenuous in the extreme. He's posted a link to an Article dated JUNE 23! That article discussed a "plan" that never existed in the first place and isn't the same as the plan that Maliki actually proposed.

Why doesn't Tayor Owen post a link to an article that is about the ACTUAL peace proposal, not some piece of garbage that speculating on something when we know that the speculation was wrong!

Sheesh, Oxblog's standards have gone downhill.
 
The more I think about it, the more I'm amazed at how ignorant this Taylor Owen is.

Did he not know that the ACTUAL Maliki plan differed significantly from the leaks of purported Maliki plans??? That was FRONT PAGE NEWS back when the plan was actually proposed by Maliki... TWO WEEKS AGO.

If Taylor Owen had bothered to do the least bit of research on the question - or even if he had read a newspaper over the past couple of weeks - he would have known that his post was debunked two weeks ago! See, for example, this article in the WaPo when the plan ACTUALLY CAME OUT three days AFTER the date of the article Tayor Owen is discussing: link.

I expect much better from Oxblog.
 
Patrick and I have tremendous confidence in Taylor. I haven't had time yet to take a closer look at this post, but even if Taylor made a clear mistake, I believe it would be best to extend a measure of courtesy to our guest.
 
I agree with David. back off, Joe.
 
I generally believe its better to say things politely.

I do notice from looking at Mr Taylor's own blog, he can be fairly harsh with others. Tom Friedman, for ex. Who was in fact RIGHT each time he said the next 6 months are crucial.

I have seen Joe Gandelmans "A Moderate Voice" go from being a moderate blog, to one where theres a cacophony of voices, some right wing, some left wing (oh, pardon me, "realist"), and only a few centrist. Perhaps thats the inevitable path of moderate blogs.
 
"whatever (friendly) fire he may draw from our forensic readers"

OK. Friendly fire. Got it. Although someone with "thick skin and a broad back" should be able to hack my little debunking. And someone who "was recently appointed to a prestigious scholarship" should have done a little more research before his initial post here.

More on how the post hadn't kept up with the news:

"Under intense pressure from leaders of the Shia-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki offered a greatly softened national reconciliation plan when his National Assembly met Sunday. The UIA, which includes Maliki's own Dawa Party, met in an emergency session late Saturday night to hammer out the changes, removing any explicit mention of amnesty for insurgents, or of a timetable for withdrawal of coalition forces.

Four key clauses were taken out, including one that insisted on distinguishing between "national resistance" forces and "terrorists", and another one that would reverse the dismissals of many former Baathist party officials under the country's deBaathfication program. Explicit language about controlling party militias and "death squads" was missing as well from the final draft."

link
 
As I will describe in an update to the post, having now read later pieces on the later version of the plan, I believe that all of the principle points of the post remain valid. I have to run into a meeting now, but will post the update within the next two hours.
 
Joe,

your post went beyond constructive criticism or a 'little debunking.' its bruising and dismissive tone was unwarranted ('disingenuous', 'ignorant', a fall in 'standards') and it made me less interested in reading your substantive points.

it was the kind of comment that makes blogging less constructive and, frankly, less worthwhile. no doubt we have all done it, but my point still stands.

I expect better from our readers, most of whom are a pleasure to discuss things with.
 
Ok, let me deal with this point by point.

"Does this not run almost completely contrary to US policy over the past 2 years?"

No,

" Are they not suggesting a reversal of the majority of US policy and tactics?"

No. It should be pointed out that US policy has evolved. It should also be pointed out that what makes sense as part of deal is not the same as what makes sense in the absence of a deal.

" Are they not making the distinction between different types of terrorists, a distinction this administration is absolutist against?"

They are making such a distinction, but the admin has been doing so in public for at least the last year. And Iraq "hawks" have been making the distinction longer.

"Imagine if a Democratic Senator were to propose such a deal."

If he were to do so, it would be stepping on the toes of the Iraqi govt, whose job it is to negotiate the future of Iraq. It would be idle speculation, anyway. What has been most vociferously attacked is when some Dem Senators (not most) have called for a timetable without respect to a deal, or to any conditions on the ground, but on the notion that things will get better just cause we leave, or alternatively, that its all doomed whatever we do.


"Even more poignant is the call for a timeline for withdrawal. "

I dont find it poignant.


"This coming from all involved in the negotiations, including Khalilzad, the US Ambassador. On timelines, the document states:


We must agree on a timed schedule to pull out the troops from Iraq, while at the same time building up the Iraqi forces that will guarantee Iraqi security and this must be supported by a United Nations Security Council decision."

This is in the non-offer offer, I take it. In any serious offer, some allowance will have to be made on the situation on the ground. Unless the number of insurgent groups is so all encompassing that the govt of Iraq can be confident of the situation on the ground. BTW, wouldnt you see this as confirmation of the progress made in train and equip?



"This is in marked contrast to the current debate in the US congress, where any discussion of timelines is ridiculed."

For the obvious reason that the debate in congress has been made in terms of unilateral US withdrawl, since 535 people obviously cant conduct negotiations.


Since you make no distinction between a unilateral offer, and a deal, Id really love to buy a house from you.

Marsh: Lets give liberal hawk our house.
Mrs Marsh: thats insane.
Mr Marsh: if we do, he will like us, and give us $200,000 dollars.
Mrs Marsh: thats insane.

Next day:
Mrs Marsh: I SOLD our house to Liberalhawk, for $200,000. I have the certified check in hand.
Marsh: I find this poignant, and a reversal of all your policies. When I said the same things, I was subject to ridicule.

back to your post:

"The disconnect between the US domestic debate, and the negotiations IN IRAQ could not be more poignant."

Whats poignant is that some folks want to give away something (a timetable) that the other side is willing to pay for.

"One has to wonder if the former, in an election year, will limit the success of the latter?"

indeed, the prospect that the insurgents can get a US withdrawl WITHOUT giving up their insurgency, makes it harder for the Maliki govt to get a good deal. And may well make it less likely that the Shia will give up their militias, if they dont have the assurance the US will be there until such time as there will be a genuine peace by the insurgents.

" Will the administration agree to a deal that goes against the bulk of its Iraq policy"

You have yet to indicate any aspect of the deal thats actually on the table that goes against the admin Iraq policy.


" makes a deal with elements of an insurgency it has refused to nuance"

How exactly does one "nuance" an insurgency. The US military, and the US dept of State, are quite aware of the different parts of the insurgency. I suspect even Cheney is aware, even if he finds it convenient to conflate them.

" and sets a firm timeline for complete withdrawal"

A firm deadline contingent on the insurgents stopping their attacks. Which is hardly whats been under discussion at home.

" (including the 12 permanent military bases)"

ah, the permanent bases myth. We will turn the bases over to the Iraqi army, as was always the intent to do, eventually.

" all of this in an election year? "

If the Maliki govt gets a good deal, and the war ends, that will probably save the GOP this fall. It will probably help Lieberman, Clinton, and everyone else whose been attacked for being hawkish. The dovish side only wins if theres A. A quagmire or B. A collapse



There I hope that was polite enough.


Since you are vouched for by the esteemed proprietors of this site, I trust youre future posts will be more insightful
 
im sorry, youre taylor owen, not taylor marsh.


I mean im sorry that i got you confused - not suggesting you SHOULD be Taylor Marsh ;)

Since i made such a silly mistake, I will forgive you for "nuancing the insurgents"
 
This is in fact a very inadequately researched post. The actual proposal of al-Maliki was a huge climb-down from the draft that the Times reported upon, with nearly all the most important proposed concessions to Sunnis withdrawn before the plan was unveiled. As for the Sunni reception, it was very mixed. A coalition of Sunni insurgent groups torpedoed the plan even before it was unveiled.

I haven't written about the al-Maliki plan in nearly two weeks, largely because it appears to be going nowhere fast. But even then my commentary, at my own blog (Inconvenient News) and at Daily Kos, was significantly more up to date than this post manages to be.

The questions being asked here are worthwhile questions. But the research on display is wholly inadequate.
 
Mr. Owen,

In fact, the US Administration has been making a distinction, both publically and in asides, between the former regime agents and Sunni Arabs fearing the Shi'ite domination and the al-Qaeda in Iraq faction for quite some time. Your claim that the administration is "absolutist" against making such a distinction is utterly untrue.

It is true, however, than some Senators (primarily Democrats looking to score points, actually) are quite upset at the idea of amnesty for Sunni Arab groups.

And certainly there's a difference between a halt to operations against all strongholds, and a halt to operations against groups which also lay down their arms. The US policy has never favored the deplorable Shi'ite death squads, although certainly overthrowing the Sunni Arab tyranny led to their growth. De-Baathifaction had to eventually end, though it also had to be done... but a US Administration which backed former Baathists like Allawi could hardly be said to be implacably opposed to ending de-Baathification as well.
 
While we can of course debate where this pressure really came from, it's pretty safe to say that this answers one of my questions regarding how the US would react to such a deal.

I don't think it does answer your question, unless we assume the pressure came from the US - which as you say is debatable; Newsweek says it's the UIA, which is hardly a mouthpiece for the US.

You seem to ascribe significance to the last-minute nature of the changes, but that sounds like Iraqi politics as usual to me.

I'm not sure which points are reversals of US policy. Are you one of those who would put ending human rights violations or compensation for attack victims in that category?
 
Taylor,
Welcome to Oxblog, I'm looking forward to your postings.
BTW, check in with David and let him know how you've avoided his nemesis commenter "anonymous". Snarky "heh"!
Mike
 
"While we can of course debate where this pressure really came from, it's pretty safe to say that this answers one of my questions regarding how the US would react to such a deal"

Hmm?

Its almost certain that the pushback on baathism came from the Shiites themselves, as theyve been pushing that pretty hard, and Khalilzad seems to pushing the other way.

On the others its not clear, but certainly your question has not been answered.
 
It doesn't contradict US policy at all to not unilaterally declare a pullout timeline, while at the same time being willing to go along with a timeline the Iraqi govt negotiates. For us to unilaterally set a withdrawal plan is to strip the elected Iraqi govt of its main bargaining chip and play into the hands of insurgents who refuse to recognize or deal with the elected Iraqi governments. By contrast, allowing the Iraqi govt to negotiate one so bolsters its authority, making it easier for a pullout to actually work. I'm continually bewildered by pullout proponents here who don't see this. Even beyond this, its their country: they have a right to either invite us to stay or ask us to leave. Since at least the January 2005 elections, the Bush administration has always maintained that coalition forces stay only at the will of the elected government.
 
Part of the problem is that the insurgents don't recognize the Iraqi government, so they see no reason to negotiate with the Iraqi government. They've never accepted the government as legitimate, even though it was elected. And with the Iraqi government's inbability to establish security in the country - over the insurgents and the Shi'ite militias - the insurgents see the Iraqi government as even less legitimate. If there will be a peace deal, it will come directly between the insurgents and the US forces. Unless, of course, the Iraqi insurgents have a sudden change of heart and accept the government they've been fighting as illegitimate. This whole exercise in peace and reconciliation plans may be useful as a future benchmark. But it will have little bearing on the actual security situation inside Iraq for the near future.
 
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