Friday, July 14, 2006

Almost Everything

Richard Haass recently observed: "Almost everything said and written about Iraq is true." Haass was trying to convey the fact that nothing in Iraq has been all one way - as some critics and proponents would have it. Said Haass, "There is evidence of stability and unrest, economic recovery and ruin, political progress and alienation."

Despite Haass's wide-cast, and forgiving, net of passable truth, somehow Joe Lieberman managed to slip through the sieve. As recounted by Time Magazine's Baghdad Bureau Chief, Michael Ware, some months back:

I and some other journalists had lunch with Senator Joe Lieberman the other day and we listened to him talking about Iraq. Either Senator Lieberman is so divorced from reality that he's completely lost the plot or he knows he's spinning a line. Because one of my colleagues turned to me in the middle of this lunch and said he's not talking about any country I've ever been to and yet he was talking about Iraq, the very country where we were sitting.
Contra-Lieberman, I recently previously praised Zalmay Khalilzad for his surprising tendency for straight talk (surprising relative to those he works with/for - more soft bigotry I know). So it was with some interest that I read through the text of his presentation on the situation in Iraq given before the Center for Strategic & International Studies earlier this week. I wanted to see where his speech fell along the Haass-Lieberman spectrum of astute observation.

Most of Zal's speech fairly accurately described the problems facing our mission, and the proposed solutions he outlined seem reasonable enough - with the enormous and overarching caveat that they all fell in the much easier said than done category and the odds of accomplishing any - let alone most - appear very slim. But he was at least saying the right things.

As to be expected, there was also some rosy talk framing his presentation. Zal is, after all, responsible for putting on a brave face, and I don't begrudge him the necessity of this task. Nevertheless, one of his statements made for an interesting juxtaposition with other events in the news. Particularly, this portion of the text, via Wretchard (who I would place closer to the Lieberman end of the spectrum on far too many occasions)[emphasis mine throughout]:
I will give my bottom line up front. I believe Americans, while remaining tactically patient about Iraq, should be strategically optimistic. Most important, a major change - a tectonic shift - has taken place in the political orientation of the Sunni Arab community. A year ago, Sunni Arabs were outside of the political process and hostile to the United States....Today, Sunni Arabs are full participants in the political process, with their representation in the national assembly now proportional to their share of the population. [...]

[There have been] fundamental and positive changes. Together, they have made possible the inauguration of Iraq's first ever government of national unity - with non-sectarian security ministers, agreements on rules for decision making on critical issues and on the structure of institutions of the executive branch, and a broadly agreed upon program.
Again, it's not that I fault Zal for touting these political developments, it's just that against the backdrop of the violent and chaotic life outside the Green Zone, they just seem like so much window dressing. Nice in theory, but painfully ineffectual in practice. Swopa, in a post aptly titled, "Don't Look At Us, We Just Work Here," drives home this point:

Iraqi lawmakers scrambled Thursday to maintain their relevancy, calling for a series of meetings between leaders of rival Shiite and Sunni Arab groups whose gunmen hold sway over the streets.

The elected officials want religious leaders of the main Sunni political groups and militiamen loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr to settle their differences. Sadr's militia has been blamed for a series of revenge attacks against Sunni civilians, often after Sunni insurgent bombings of Shiite religious sites.

Lawmakers inside the heavily fortified Green Zone also held a closed session of parliament Thursday, grilling the defense and interior ministers, who said they were hamstrung by poor intelligence, inferior equipment and communication problems when trying to halt attacks such as the execution-style slayings Sunday of about three dozen Sunnis, allegedly by Shiite militiamen in the Jihad neighborhood here.

...Lawmakers called on the religious and political leaders among Sunnis and Sadr's followers to discuss their differences.
To which Swopa commented:

Wait a second, I thought you guys in the parliament were supposed to be the political... oh, never mind.
It certainly does raise the question: what good is a national unity government whose constituents extend only to the boundaries of the Green Zone? When the officially recognized politicians must make pleas to the actual, effectual political leaders it does raise doubts about the "tectonic" shifting developments occurring within that official political body. But one can still be impressed by their Bush administration-like acumen in the famed "pass the buck of responsibility" maneuver. Now that's an impressive development

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