Monday, November 05, 2007
Well If You Insist, then Mission Accomplished
Last week Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki mocked Iraqis calling for national reconciliation and dismissing them as self-interested conspirators. On Friday, he elaborated on his views of the current Iraqi political scene in a very intriguing, and frankly troubling, interview with al-Arabiya...The interview did not break any particularly new ground, but it did make one thing very clear: do not expect Maliki to pursue seriously any moves towards national reconciliation, defined in terms of legislation at the national level or agreements with Sunni political parties. The deadlock at the national political level, so clear at the time of the Petraeus-Crocker hearings in September, will not end any time soon. What that means for US strategy is something which I consider well worth publicly debating.
Maliki argued on al-Arabiya that Iraqi national reconciliation has not only already been achieved, it is "strong and stable and not fragile". There is no civil war in Iraq, or even any real sectarian conflict anymore - the sectarian hatreds incited by "some" in the past have been overcome. He made clear that he does not equate national reconciliation with political progress at the national level: "I think that national reconciliation will come about not as some understand it, as a reconciliation with this political party governed by an ideology or a specific mentality." Real national reconciliation, to Maliki, takes place at the local level...That, he suggests, has happened. The various Sunni awakenings demonstrate reconciliation at the local level, and their support for his national government. [...]
In other words, Maliki is gleefully hoisting the United States on its own bottom-up reconciliation petard. In order to sell the surge to Congress, the Bush team decided to focus on positive developments at the local level and downgrade the significance of the deadlocked national political process. Evidently, Maliki took notes. It's ironic, in a way which nobody could possibly have seen coming.
As Lynch notes, it's as if Maliki ripped a page from the premier periodical of Iraq war boosterism - The Weekly Standard - and decided to tailor his rhetoric, and make policy proposals, based on the veracity of the pollyannish narratives contained therein. At least Maliki realizes that by tracking the Bush team's rosy appraisal of events, they won't be in a position to contradict him when he has the audacity to act as if they're right.
Further, he seems to be aware of the Bush strategy of playing out the clock, and thus sees little incentive to offer any share of the pie with the Sunni population at this juncture (if that was ever, or will ever, be on the table, regardless). One of the big problems with Maliki's intransigence coupled with the Anbar awakenings, is that our current policy of arming, training and equipping the Sunni population in exchange for a reduction in attacks on US forces will likely result in a more robust civil war down the road (when both the Sunni and Shiite sides realize the US is going to phase out its presence, and that neither side is going to budge on its core prerogatives regardless of whether or not Anbar's leading insurgent forces have kicked out al-Qaeda and reached a temporary and contingent detente with US forces):
Yeah, I'd say the only thing Maliki's declaration of victory needs is some pageantry. Does Iraq have any aircraft carriers?
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, if Maliki refuses to make further concessions and the national political level remains stalled, then it seems likely that Sunnis will become increasingly frustrated and rethink their political strategy. At least that's what would be predicted by, say, Petraeus's counterinsurgency manual, most political science analysis and most Sunni political leaders. There's nothing inevitable about any of this - Iraq is complex and fluid and rapidly changing, and it's not like Maliki's unwillingness to move on national reconciliation is anything new - but it certainly doesn't look promising.
It would be nice if the US could do something about this, but frankly at this point I don't think it can or will. The Petraeus-Crocker team, like the Bush administration and its public supporters, is now fully invested in the theory of a bottom-up reconciliation process. When Maliki claims that this bottom-up reconciliation absolves him of any need to pursue higher-level political reconciliation, the American team is hardly in a position to call him on it. Maybe they even agree with him. The Bush administration seems to really believe that things are now going swimmingly in Iraq, and is unlikely to change course. Even if it wanted to, it clearly has very little leverage over Maliki - can't escalate, won't threaten to withdraw, and can't come up with any alternative to Maliki's rule. If all those Bush phone calls and the deadline of the September Congressional hearings couldn't move him, why would he be more movable now? And most cynically, if the problems don't manifest for another, say, 12 months does the Bush administration even care?