Thursday, September 16, 2004

Dem's Fightin' Words

Every Democrat's favorite neoconservative, Francis Fukuyama, has issued yet another honest and objective critique of the Bush administration's foreign policy mismanagement in Iraq. Predictably, Fukuyama also has some harsh words for the positions thus far espoused by John Kerry during the current campaign season (what did you expect, he is a conservative after all). Nevertheless, the biggest jabs were reserved for Bush and company.

Below is the full article as it appears in the
Financial Times (via The Road to Surfdom - one of my favorite sites for all things political) :

A peculiar feature of this year's presidential campaign has been the absence of serious debate, until recently, between George W. Bush and his challenger John Kerry over Iraq. Mr Kerry voted earlier to authorise the war and recently stated, bizarrely, that he still would have voted for the war despite what has transpired. Only in the face of rapidly declining poll numbers after the Republican national convention did Mr Kerry seek at long last to distance himself, criticising the president's handling of Iraq's insurgency and suggesting the US might be able to withdraw in four years. This was foolish: setting a deadline for withdrawal sends the wrong signal to US friends and foes alike, and makes Mr Kerry look vacillating. His suggestion that US forces might one day be replaced by international ones is similarly a non-starter.

In fact, the Bush administration's failure to plan adequately for Iraq's postwar reconstruction was a big failure of policy, one that will greatly limit future US policy choices. The recent escalation in violence, with US deaths passing the 1,000 mark, underlines just how insecure the country is. But the real debate should not focus on assigning blame for this mess, but on concrete strategies to help the US recover from it. This is among the greatest challenges for the next US president.

The long-term plan laid out by the Bush administration since the June handover of sovereignty in Iraq is straightforward. The interim government of Iyad Allawi is to be strengthened through a continuing build-up of army, civil defence corps and police so it can take over security from US and British forces. Elections will be held next January for delegates to a constituent assembly, who will draft a constitution under which regular elections will take place by December 2005. At that point, Iraq will theoreticallyhave a fully democratic and legitimategovernment and the coalition can begin winding down its presence.

Anyone who thinks this scenario will materialise is living in fantasyland. The first and foremost obstacle is the security situation. Mr Allawi's government faces dual insurgencies, the most visible being that of Moqtada al-Sadr, the young Shia cleric, and his Mahdi army. But more serious in the long run is the situation in Fallujah and other cities in the increasingly violent Sunni triangle. Fallujah, now a base for religious extremists, seems but one of a number of areas where coalition forces cannot go. The US has, in other words, permitted the establishment of a new terrorist haven in central Iraq, one that will have to be subdued militarily at great cost. It is impossible to see how elections will be held in the Sunni parts of Iraq a mere five months from now. No elections in central Iraq mean there will be no legitimate Sunni political actors to participate in a political process.

Equally serious is the lack of state capacity on the part of the new government. The essence of a state is its monopoly of legitimate force, and the US has been seeking to persuade the various militias - not just Mr Sadr's Mahdi army - gradually to integrate their forces with those of the central government. But there is a serious chicken-and-egg problem: no party will disarm its militia unless it is confident its interests will be protected; yet a strong central state cannot emerge without militia support. The insurgents have been clever in attacking those who volunteer to serve in the government's forces.

If elections are postponed, leaving de facto power in the hands of militias, the next US president will face a critical choice: continue pressing for a unified Iraqi state, or seek a power-sharing arrangement based on agreement by the Kurdish and Shia communities, in which stability rather than democracy is the goal.

There has been loose talk about breaking up Iraq into three separate countries, Kurdish, Shia and Sunni. No one should counsel this, except as a measure of desperation: the intermingling of the populations means any break-up will lead to a bloody mess like the partition of India. The break-up scenario also glosses over potential reactions from interested neighbours such as Turkey and Iran. Alternatively, the coalition could conceivably decide to bolster parts of the country capable of some form of democratic self-government and wall off the infection festering in the Sunni triangle. The Kurds and the Shia, after all, sit on oil-rich parts of Iraq. The Sunnis could be offered the following deal: a power-sharing arrangement in which you get oil revenues proportional to your part of the population, in return for peaceful coexistence with the Kurdish and Shia parts of the country that will be moving ahead with or without you. But even this would be difficult to arrange. It leaves unresolved the status of Baghdad, where Sunni and Shia populations are highly interspersed. It will require the final suppression of Mr Sadr and his militia; it will require elections wherever it is possible to hold them in Iraq; and it will necessitate shifting the balance of power in cities such as Fallujah away from foreign terrorists and towards the traditional tribal sheikhs or former Ba'athists. It implies the US give up on the idea of a unified Iraqi state, and concentrate on strengthening the ability of more moderate political actors to defend themselves from a Sunni resurgence and foreign jihadists.

Behind this lies the issue of the role of US and other coalition forces.Mr Kerry's proposal of a withdrawal deadline for the roughly 140,000 US troops there is a harbinger of stronger demands to come. Heavy fighting and more casualties lie ahead, and US force posture in other troublespots such as Korea is under strain. Washington can maintain current US troop levels in Iraq only through a covert draft of National Guard and reserve forces, the very people whose families formMr Bush's political base. It is inevitable then that the next president will start considering an exit strategy from Iraq, even if it means lowering America's sights.

The Republican convention outrageously lumped the September 11 terrorist attacks and the Iraq war into a single, seamless war on terrorism - as if the soldiers fighting Mr Sadr were avenging the destroyers of the twin towers. This has, in fact, become true, but only because mismanagement of the war has created a new Afghanistan inside Iraq. Eliminating this new terrorist haven is an urgent priority if it is not to metastasize to other parts of the world. The Bush administration has made any number of foreign policy errors, particularly over Iraq. If re-elected, it must honestly review what went wrong and consider how best to proceed. But, if Mr Bush is returned with a large mandate in November, the administration will have got away a Big Lie about the war on terrorism and will have little incentive to engage in serious review. If Mr Kerry wins, he needs to get past silly campaign improvisations and elucidate a serious strategy for Iraq. [emphasis added]

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