Response to Reihan Re: Iraq

Andrew Sullivan highlights this (concluding) graf from Reihan’s new Current piece on Iraq:

Advocates of a continued American presence have much to answer for as well. Why is it that Maliki hasn’t made the necessary concessions? What can the U.S. do to encourage reconciliation that hasn’t been done? Has the economic strategy of the Iraqi government been adequate to the task of rebuilding the country? It was fair and reasonable to neglect these considerations during the struggle to bring Iraq back from the brink. But that neglect has proved very costly indeed.

Let’s go one at a time on this:

1)Why hasn’t Maliki made the necessary concessions?

–Because in his world, there are no concessions to be made.  The notion that he has to make “necessary concessions” is predicated on a certain view dictated by the United States as to what Iraq should look like.  This is the central flaw of the entire war, surge or no surge.  Maliki spent years in hiding from Saddam’s assassination forces and by all accounts is a quasi-paranoid individual (as would be normal under those circumstances I imagine).  He is a member of the Dawa Party who sees it role as defending the Shia in Iraq.  That is his job.  And he is doing it.  In Maliki’s world, either the Shia will run Iraq or the Sunni will take back over and return the Shia to the position of the powerless.

2)What can the US do to encourage reconciliation?

–Nothing. Neither staying (Salam) nor half-drawing down (Colin Kahl).  Nothing in my opinion.  See #1.  There is no encouragement because there is no desire for a deal.  If the US abandons the Shia in Iraq, they know Iran will have their back and Iran isn’t supporting some mass integration of the Sunni militias into the Iraqi security forces.

3)Has the economic strategy been adequate to the task of rebuilding the country?

–Again this assumes our understanding of what the country should be.  The economic policy, such as it is, has been correctly predicated on lining the pockets of the Shia elites to buy leverage so they can control power.  Because the Tribesmen want to fight the Shia gov’t.  The Shia mass underclass tends more to support Sadr.  In other words, they aren’t thinking about rebuilding the country.  They are thinking about ruling what’s left of it.

Reihan almost answers his own questions here, but I think backs away from the edge at the last second:

The trouble with Maliki’s vision is that it leaves no room for the Sunni Awakening. One increasingly gets the sense that Maliki sees the Sons of Iraq, one of many names for the various Sunni militias that have turned against the insurgency, as a threat. Which is entirely understandable — a proper state possesses a monopoly on legitimate force, and it makes perfect sense that he would eventually disband irregular militias. But the Sons of Iraq have no confidence that there will be adequate representation of Sunni interests in the new Iraqi state, and Maliki hasn’t exactly helped in this regard.

I don’t think it’s correct to say the Sons of Iraq turned against the insurgency.  They are the insurgency.  This has big implications.  Because what happened of course then was the US paid off these guys to stop fighting us and paid them to kill some jihadis, mostly foreign.  This necessary act undermined however the goal and strategy of the entire operation:  namely the creation of a centralized pan-ethnic government.  The fact that they were paid off by the US (against Maliki’s wishes) means that underneath they are still the insurgency against the Shia.  Against the government.  Just waiting for their moment.

Maliki knows this and that is why he is trying to preemptively neuter them.

While it’s true as Reihan states that Maliki distrusts the Sons of Iraq because any legitimate state in a Weberian sense wants a monopoly on force. But Reihan is missing a key point here.  The specific reason he distrusts this specific non-state militia is that leaders within the movement have professed that once they finish off al-Qaeda their next target is the Shia government.

In sum, the only (given the history, culture, ethno-religious makeup) way Iraq stays together with a strong central government is under a dictatorship–see Maliki’s recent heavy handedness not only with the Sunni but now with the Kurds.  The notion of a national reconciliation/strong central gov’t, constitutional democracy is not in the cards.  And still too many are thinking in terms of the US imposing its will–either through force or persuasion.  It ain’t happenin’.  It hasn’t happened in nigh on six years.  And it ain’t startin’ anytime soon.

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Published in: on September 11, 2008 at 9:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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