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Is a gridlocked federal government (and an uninformed Senate Majority Leader) reason enough to abandon Iraq?

November 11, 2007

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stepped up to the microphone on Thursday to publicly deny that the significant military progress made in Iraq this year has actually taken place at all. “Every place you go you hear about no progress being made in Iraq,” the AP quoted the Nevada Democrat – who has clearly taken great care to avoid going to “every place” where people who actually know something about the reality on the ground in Iraq – as saying. “The government is stalemated today, as it was six months ago, as it was two years ago,” said Reid, whom the AP reported as “warning US soldiers were caught in the middle of a civil war.”

“It is not getting better, it is getting worse,” Reid said, as he spoke of the Democrats’ plan to provide an emergency war-funding bill that would require troop withdrawals from Iraq to begin within 30 days and to be complete by December of 2008.

The progress made in Iraq since the advent of General David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy is very real, and has been acknowledged (either triumphantly or begrudgingly, depending on political orientation) by all who have been paying attention. Violent attacks and civilian and US servicemember deaths are down across the board, al Qaeda and others are being stymied, Iraq’s infrastructure is slowly but surely being rebuilt (by Iraqis), and Iraqi Security Forces are growing in numbers and in effectiveness – all clear signs that the ‘surge’ and the new strategy that it accompanied have been successful by nearly any metric.

However, while it is more than a bit rich for the current head of the Senate Democrats to decry any government for gridlock and failure to compromise (he clearly hasn't watched much C-SPAN lately), if there is one valid point in this tack taken by Congressional Democrats in arguing against the US effort in Iraq, it is the fact that the fledgling, democratically-elected federal government has thus far failed to make progress commensurate with the rapidly stabilizing security situation there.

Myriad problems have plagued the Iraqi government, whose Shi’a majority has been hamstrung by its own attempts at unilateral policymaking as well as also by a Sunni minority party which has refused to accept its new post-Saddam status. Already tasked with the thankless (and possibly doomed) undertaking of pulling together, representing, and ultimately presiding over a population of 27 million people, most of whom have little personal sense of being part of (or having a vested interest in) anything larger than their own family, tribe, sect, clan, or city, those serving in Iraq’s federal government have garnered a great deal of attention for their many factions’ inability to reach any meaningful policy compromises. As a result, the government put in place by the free elections that the coalition invasion and occupation made possible has been under increasing fire for appearing to be no more ready to secure and govern its own country than it was two or three years ago.

If the security situation in Iraq continues its trend of steady improvement, more pressure will be placed on the members of the federal government to rise above their differences and to work together for the good of a country that is desperately in need of domestic leadership. However, given the depth of division between those involved, it is not a foregone conclusion that a productive working relationship will ever be established. On the contrary: it is entirely possible that those involved, who by their nature understand the language of power over any other (thereby making compromise very unlikely), and think of themselves as representative of their own tribes, sects, and clans rather than as part of a single unified country in whose success they have a vested interest, will never see eye to eye politically, and thus will never be able to generate the pragmatic working relationship necessary to govern effectively.

Should this latter possibility become reality, maintaining a US presence in Iraq will become more, not less, important, despite Senator Reid’s apparent conviction that the removal of US forces from anywhere in the world is a measure that can solve nearly every problem. While US forces must remain in Iraq to guarantee security, the first and most obvious step on the part of the coalition will have to be to once again revise its goals in Iraq, as well as its definition of ‘victory’ itself. Where ‘victory’ in Iraq once meant leaving behind a country that was ‘at peace with its neighbors, with a representative government that respects the human rights of all Iraqis, and an ally in the war on terror,’ a new standard would have to be set, and new priorities established. Foremost among the unpleasant decisions to be made would be choosing between the prospect of working exhaustively to make what would at that point be a failed system of democratic government work, or placing the coalition’s entire focus on establishment security and ensuring a firm alliance with the West.

Should the situation in Iraq deteriorate to such a degree that these decisions must be made, the direction the coalition must choose is clear.

Due to the devastating consequences that would result from leaving a failed state in this part of the world, the emphasis that some would have the coalition put on trying to prop up a non-functional government must instead be placed on creating a secure territory which poses no threat to Israel or to the West.

One major concern is the fact that, should the government of Iraq fail, the resulting vacuum in the region would lead to far greater regional hegemony on the part of the Persian state to its immediate east, whose leaders have made very clear that Iraq would only be the first stop on their bloody march to the Mediterranean, and perhaps beyond. Iran is already fighting a proxy war on several fronts, both against Israel and, in Iraq, against the United States, and has repeatedly called for – and promised to bring about – the destruction of the former. Between the need to contain Iran and the fact that a failed Iraq would serve as an unregulated safe haven for the thousands of terrorists who have flocked (and are still flocking) there to fight against the coalition, the twofold mission in that country – should the government fail to function on its own – must be to maintain a significant coalition military presence, and to ensure the existence of an effective pro-Western government which can hold Iraq together while keeping out those who wish to subsume it into their spheres of influence.

While the coalition’s current course is working militarily, Iraq is still a terribly broken country, with a great deal of instability, unrest, and upheaval. Were the U.S. to leave at any point in the near future, the vacuum that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke of in the very recent past (which his imperialistic Iran longs to fill) would become a reality. While social, governmental, and security services are being developed and improved, at this point the coalition is still the glue holding the nation together.

Successful and stable nation building is a very difficult and time-consuming undertaking. There is still a chance (perhaps a very good one) that Iraq can, in time, become an autonomous, pro-Western democratic state; that is certainly the best and most preferable of all possible outcomes.

One key point must be made when discussing this issue: democracy, in the form of free and fair elections, and representative government, has already succeeded in Iraq; look no further than the purple-finger votes of 2004 on for evidence of this. Further, governmental progress in Iraq is not currently stagnant; while the federal government remains deadlocked, local and provincial democratic governments are being established and developed to provide governance to the nation in the absence of effective leadership from Baghdad, and to set the conditions for federalist governance should the national government ever break its gridlock.

However, implementing a democracy and implementing a successful government are not necessarily the same thing. Further, in a region like the middle east, where an electoral result like that in the Palestinian territories in 2006 (when Hamas was democratically voted into power), the question always exists of whether the West really wants to export and establish true democracy. Given these facts, when evaluating priorities with regard to Iraq, security, alliance with the west, respect for human rights, and refusal to harbor terrorists are far more important than democratic government. If the government in Iraq is unable to perform, then the need to have a stable state in the region dictates that it be replaced with a system that allows it to fulfill these most important of requirements.

Following the uninformed demands of Harry Reid and co., though, will accomplish none of these goals. Rather, while "success" is not guaranteed by any means, pulling out the glue that is holding Iraq together, providing security, and giving the ancillary governments a chance to succeed while the federal government is pushed to overcome its problems, is the one course which has a guaranteed result: failure, in every sense of the word.

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At 2:17 AM, Blogger BrianFH said...

Yoiks. Re-reread and edit a bit before hitting the "Go" button, Jeff. Lots of confusing stuff, like this duplicate sentence: "if there is one valid point in this tack taken by Congressional Democrats in arguing against the US effort in Iraq, it is the fact that the fledgling, democratically-elected federal government has thus far failed to make progress commensurate with the rapidly stabilizing security situation there. if there is one valid point in this tack taken by Congressional Democrats in arguing against the US effort there, it is the fact that Iraq’s fledgling, democratically-elected federal government has thus far failed to make similar progress." And this missing(?) word: "If the security situation in Iraq continues its trend of steady, more pressure ..."

I saw a clip recently of Talibani and Hamedi requesting new elections with a riding basis rather than the list system. If it could be done, it would kill much of the battle between hand-picked groups of insiders which the list system produces. My own suggestion, if the lists stay, is for any or all parties to announce that they will assign seats from their allocations on the basis of ranked % of vote in specific areas from which named candidates come. Any party doing this would provide powerful incentives for those in such "ridings" to vote for "their man".


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