I put Middle Earth Journal in hiatus in May of 2008 and moved to Newshoggers.
I temporarily reopened Middle Earth Journal when Newshoggers shut it's doors but I was invited to Participate at The Moderate Voice so Middle Earth Journal is once again in hiatus.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The neocons - they still don't get it

Yes we have a couple of examples of when it comes to Iraq the neocons still don't get it. While they admit that Iraq is a chaotic mess and that the mistakes of Rumsfeld and the Bush administration are at least in part responsible they still refuse to admit it was the ideology that was flawed. Example number one is the King of denial, Charles Krauthammer. In his commentary, Why Iraq Is Crumbling, he joins the blame the Iraqis club. Of course the major flaw here is that there are very few "Iraqis" and lots of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. Krauthammer speaks:
We have given the Iraqis a republic, and they do not appear able to keep it.

Americans flatter themselves that they are the root of all planetary evil. Nukes in North Korea? Poverty in Bolivia? Sectarian violence in Iraq? Breasts are beaten and fingers pointed as we try to somehow locate the root cause in America.

Our discourse on Iraq has followed the same pattern. Where did we go wrong? Too few troops? Too arrogant an occupation? Or too soft? Take your pick.

I have my own theories. In retrospect, I think we made several serious mistakes -- not shooting looters, not installing an Iraqi exile government right away, and not taking out Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army in its infancy in 2004 -- that greatly compromised the occupation. Nonetheless, the root problem lies with Iraqis and their political culture.
That last sentence is pretty accurate except that as we stated above there are no Iraqis. There were a great many people who were familiar with the area that realized this before the invasion but they were ignored. I really don't believe the Bush/Cheney administration had Democracy in mind when they invaded Iraq but intended to install a new US friendly tyrant. That didn't work out.

Krauthammer actually gets it right here:
The problem is not, as we endlessly argue about, the number of American troops. Or of Iraqi troops. The problem is the allegiance of the Iraqi troops. Some serve the abstraction called Iraq. But many swear fealty to political parties, religious sects or militia leaders.
But he then returns to Fantasy Land:
There is a glimmer of hope in this breakdown of the Shiite front. The unitary Shiite government having been proved such a failure, we should be encouraging the full breakup of the Shiite front in pursuit of a new coalition based on cross-sectarian alliances: the more moderate Shiite elements (secular and religious but excluding the poisonous Sadr), the Kurds and those Sunnis who recognize their minority status but are willing to accept an important, generously offered place at the table.

Such a coalition was almost created after the latest Iraqi elections. It needs to be attempted again. One can tinker with American tactics or troop levels from today until doomsday. But unless the Iraqis can put together a government of unitary purpose and resolute action, the simple objective of this war -- to leave behind a self-sustaining democratic government -- is not attainable.

Next we Fareed Zakaria's Rethinking Iraq: The Way Forward in Newsweek. He begins by advocating a Korean War type draw - not a win but not a loss.
Something like the close of the Korean War is, frankly, the best we can hope for in Iraq now. One could easily imagine worse outcomes—a bloodbath, political fragmentation, a tumultuous flood of refugees and a surge in global terrorist attacks. But with planning, intelligence, execution and luck, it is possible that the American intervention in Iraq could have a gray ending—one that is unsatisfying to all, but that prevents the worst scenarios from unfolding, secures some real achievements and allows the United States to regain its energies and strategic compass for its broader leadership role in the world.

But in order for that to happen, we have to see Iraq as it is now. Not as it once was. Not as it could have been. Not as we hope it will become, but as it is today. There will be ample time to assign blame and debate "what if"s. The urgent task now is ahead of us.
He then continues and for one brief moment actually makes some sense.
"We're winning," President Bush said last week, and then explained his reasoning: "My view is that the only way we lose in Iraq is if we leave before the job is done." That circular definition of success resembles so much of the administration's Iraq policy, one that seems almost determined not to look at the country itself. Iraq, in this view, is a state of mind. If we lose faith, we lose. But there is a real country out there. And it is one in which events are increasingly moving beyond our control.

In point of fact—and it is a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless—America is not winning in Iraq, which means that it is losing. Iraq has fallen apart both as a nation and as a state. Its capital and lands containing almost 50 percent of the population remain deeply insecure and plagued by rising internal divisions. Much of the south, which is somewhat stable, is subject to gangsterish, theocratic and thoroughly corrupt local governments. To recognize this reality does not mean that there is no hope for the years to come. There is—but hope is not a policy.

Journalists have a weakness for declaring this moment or that one as "critical." But today, more than three years into the American-led invasion of Iraq, there is little question that we stand at, well, a critical moment. The policy we are pursuing—maintaining 144,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and hoping that things improve—is not sustainable either in Iraq or in America. President Bush has three tools at his disposal that he can (theoretically) apply to the mission at hand—more troops, money and time. At this point, none of these will make much difference.

Is the real problem unemployment?
The most revealing statistic about Iraq is not the spiraling death toll but the unemployment rate, which is conservatively estimated to be around 30 to 40 percent, and has not moved much in the past two years. Given that conditions are almost normal in the Kurdish north, that means the rest of the country has an unemployment rate closer to 50 percent. Whatever we have been doing in Iraq, it is not translating into peace, normalcy and jobs. In parts of the Sunni Triangle, reports suggest that unemployment is more than 70 percent. If you think that Iraq's tumult is a product of its culture, religion and history, ask yourself what the United States would look like after three years of 50 percent unemployment. Would there not be civil strife in Manhattan, Detroit, Los Angeles and New Orleans?

And sectarian violence:
The most significant new reality in Iraq—in fact, the country's defining feature—is sectarian violence. By any reasonable definition, Iraq is mired in a low-grade civil war between its Sunni and Shia communities. Communal tensions are high, and rising—everywhere. Violence has been mounting in all areas where these communities are mixed. Ethnic cleansing, either forced or voluntary, is increasing rapidly, with 365,000 people having fled or been forced from their homes since last February's bombing of a Shia mosque in Samarra. In Baghdad alone more than 2,600 Iraqis died in September, most of them as a result of communal attacks.

Virtually everything about Iraq today must now be seen through this sectarian prism. President Bush says that we are building an Iraqi Army and police force and that as their troops stand up, America's will be able to stand down. In fact, we are building a largely Kurdish and Shia force. As its ranks have swelled, Sunnis have felt more threatened, not less, and as a consequence have fought harder. Shia militias, many of whose members are now enlisted in the Army and especially the national police, feel empowered. They have routinely rounded up groups of Sunni men and slaughtered them in gruesome fashion. Even the country's much-lauded elections have not proved an unmitigated good in this context. Last December's vote empowered religious parties with their own militias, such as Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, and, as a result, made it more difficult to disband them.
At this point Zakaria begins to lose touch with reality.
Iraqi leaders must above all decide whether they want America there. Perhaps the most urgent need is for them to help build political support for the continued deployment of U.S. forces. Right now the massive U.S. presence is allowing Iraq's leaders a free ride. With the exception of the Kurds, many of them play a nasty game. They publicly denounce the actions of U.S. soldiers to win popularity, and then, more quietly, assent to America's continued involvement. As a result, the proportion of Iraqis who now support attacks on U.S. troops has risen to a breathtaking 61 percent. The Iraqi people's frustration with the occupation is largely the result of its ineffectiveness, the lack of security and jobs, and abuses like Abu Ghraib. But those past errors cannot be undone. Iraqis must also realize that we are where we are, and that they can have either a country with U.S. troops or greater chaos without.

Iraq's Parliament should thus publicly ask American troops to stay. Its leaders should explain to their constituents why the country needs U.S. forces. Without such a public affirmation, the American presence will become politically untenable in both Iraq and the United States.

Next, Iraqis must forge a national compact. The government needs to make swift and high-profile efforts to bring the sectarian tensions to a close and defang the militias, particularly the Mahdi Army. The longer Iraqi leaders wait, the more difficult it will be for all sides to compromise. There are many paths to help Iraq return to normalcy; jobs need to be created, electricity supplied regularly, more oil produced and exported. But none of that is possible without a secure environment, which in turn cannot be achieved without a political solution to Iraq's sectarian strife.
Of course there is virtually no possibility that any of this will happen. Any attempt by the Iraqi parliament to encourage the US to stay at this point will result in increased turmoil. The Iraqi leaders depend on the very militias we want them to "defang" for what little power they have. Zakaria touches on reality again here.
There is one shift that the United States itself needs to make: we must talk to Iraq's neighbors about their common interest in security and stability in Iraq. None of these countries—not even Syria and Iran—would benefit from the breakup of Iraq, which could produce a flood of refugees and stir up their own restive minority populations. Our regional gambit might well lead to nothing. But not trying it, in the face of so few options, reflects a bizarrely insular and ideological obstinacy.
Without Iran and even Syria's participation nothing will improve in Iraq. Iran has no problem with a US tied down in Iraq and will not be inclined to cooperate unless the US announces a timetable to leave. Once that announcement is made Iran will see that a chaotic Iraq is not in their best interest. The Cheney/Bush administration will not announce a timetable and will not talk to Iran. For this reason we cannot expect to see any change in the region for the next two years.

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