Monday, July 2, 2007

Time to Take the Bull by the Horns

Guest Editorial by Rajeev Pillay

The US is in danger of digging a deeper hole in Iraq. Just when you thought that this Administration’s policy in Iraq could not possibly get more screwed up than it already is, first it announces the building of walls around select neighbourhoods in Baghdad and then it begins to arm Sunni insurgents to fight Al Qaeda! All this comes on the heels of all the other bad decisions of monumental proportions: disbanding the army; purging all civil servants who were members of the Ba’ath party; redefining the new democratic institutions along sectarian lines; eliminating tariffs at the border; underestimating troop requirements, etc. etc. The litany of errors goes on and on.

It goes to show what sort of a bubble the US is operating in. Doesn’t General Petraeus with his much touted strategic expertise realise that together these policies confirm all of the very worst suspicions held by the average Iraqi? The average Iraqi looks at the concrete walls and says, “Where have I seen these before? Why, in Israel and the West Bank of course!!” So, he concludes, the US is trying to do to us what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians. Sure enough, far from protecting residents hemmed in by the walls, these concrete barriers both make them sitting ducks for sectarian cleansing and hampers their access to schools, shops, hospitals and the requirements of daily life. In the minds of the hemmed in Iraqis, the wall is there to target them and control them and not to protect them.

Arming the Ba’athists may in the very short term help against the relatively small percentage of insurgents with Al Qaeda affiliation, but in the long term is bound to fuel the conflict between the Sunnis and Shi’a. No doubt among the Shi’a community, this move is a sign that the US now favours the Sunnis. Bombing of the Askariya shrine will surely be seen in this light and viewed in a country prone to conspiracy theories, as a sign that the US and the Sunnis are in cahoots. Already prominent Shi’a leaders are saying that the US, and not the Iraqi Government, was responsible for security around the Shrine, and are making it very clear that from their point of view failure to protect it is very difficult to understand.

As each day goes by, we are digging a deeper hole in the Middle East. The war in Iraq has already begun to spawn instability in the wider region. Lebanon is becoming a dangerous tinderbox. Turkey is slipping toward military involvement in “Kurdistan”, and the West Bank and Gaza are close to total anarchy. Insurgent technologies, battle tested in Iraq, are now showing up in other countries such as Afghanistan. Al Qaeda, which never had a foothold in Iraq under Saddam Hussein is now definitely ideologically influential in that country if not actually present. Worse still, Iraq is viewed as a symbol of Western oppression and is gaining sympathizers in Europe, sympathizers who have already taken action with disastrous consequences. Far from spreading democracy, the fanciful “reverse domino theory’ rescued and dusted off from the Cold War playbook and espoused by Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz is spreading instability, alienation and radicalization.

It really is time to pull out and reassess. The Republicans keep saying that you cannot pull out without having a solution. Well, when a bull goes into a China shop, there is no graceful solution. There is not much that can be done but to get the bull out. The shop owner is is going to have to be left to pick up the pieces and move on. It is not going to endear the US to the Iraqis, nor indeed to the rest of the world, but the damage is already done and frankly, there is no other solution.

Attention now needs to shift to holding back the forces unleashed in Iraq from spreading more widely. US credibility is now very limited in the region. We need to think in multilateral terms. We need to think in political and not military terms. We need to launch a political initiative along with the European Union in support of a political process led by the moderate countries of the region to do the necessary to halt the spreading cancer and to stabilise Iraq.

Rajeev Pillay is a founding partner of Abacus International Management L.L.C., a consulting firm that works on governance and democratization.
Mr. Pillay has been extensively involved in the development of reforms and the management of change at UNDP and the United Nations.


William RAISER said...

Do you have additional information on the current status of wall-building in Baghdad? Several months ago that was an on-again-off-again issue. Then it died in the news. I don't know if it continues of not.

I agree that the US ought to pull out of Iraq, totally. Problems will follow, but plenty of problems exist now. Only the Iraqis, and those in the region, can build for the future.

However, the US does not intend to leave. It has built four +/- "permanent" bases in Iraq and has every intention of staying.

The US needs to own up to its imperial aspirations and operations globally, and the American people have to decide to support this policy or to stop it.

The US can try to rule the world or become one, among many, nations attempting to work together to build a future based on mutual respect.

nels said...

Isn't it possible (aren't there others out there who ratiocinate similarly?) that the U.S. with all its horrible 'faux pas's is doing exactly what is intended - destruction, disintegration and failed state status, dividing up the spoils?

Christiane said...

Worse still, Iraq is viewed as a symbol of Western oppression
Well, what else could be an American invasion ? it is seen for what it is. I'd just add that most public opinion in the EU saw it for what it is and were against that war right from the start. The biggest anti-war demonstration in 202/2003 were in the countries who joined the US invasion aka in Spain and Italy.

Christiane said...

The shop owner is is going to have to be left to pick up the pieces and move on. It is not going to endear the US to the Iraqis, nor indeed to the rest of the world, but the damage is already done and frankly, there is no other solution.

How easy.. the US harms a whole nation, but the only thing she can dot is getting out. A complete withdrawal is indispensable but it is only the first step. The US then has to pay due compensation to the Iraqis. The evaluation of the due amount, the distribution of the funds and their use have to be controlled by the Iraqis (and perhaps some neutral gremium), but they must imperatively stay out of control of the US. Then the US/UK leaders who decided to commit these war crimes have to be tried and punished by a life sentence (I'm against death penalty) and their fortune has to be added to the compensation funds paying for the war damages.
That's the only way to restore justice to the Iraqis.

Fred in Vermont said...

The Republicans keep saying that you cannot pull out without having a solution. Well, when a bull goes into a China shop, there is no graceful solution.
Well but then the question is who gets blamed for all the damage that happens pulling the bull out.  The Rove game plan is that we stay in over the election and hope that we get lucky with some big terror attacks that will somehow tilt things back to the GOP "daddy" party. 
If they are not so "lucky" then it will be up to the Democrats to take the blame for pulling the bull out.  The hope then is that over the years the Republicans will be able to rewrite history and make people think of this as a failure by the Democrats rather than the Republicans.
This is a high risk strategy for elected Republicans as Senator Lugar's recent statements make clear.  The problem is such Republicans don't have the ear of the Cheney/Bush administration so it looks like they will resist any effort by GOP moderates to prevent the '08 election from being about Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Pillay,

Thank you for your considered opinion.
Your analysis contributes to the overall discussion. But your recommendation is impractical:

“It really is time to pull out and reassess. … when a bull goes into a China shop, … not much [] can be done but to get the bull out. … there is no other solution.”

As long as George Bush is President, pulling out is not an option he will consider voluntarily. Now, if you are advocating that the American people, or their elected representatives in Congress, somehow force the President to withdraw from Iraq, and if you naively believe that is possible, then the recommendation makes sense, but it is still not practical.

Any “solution” to the current mess in Iraq must be something that the President can be convinced will produce a better outcome than staying the course. He remains “the Decider.” So a real solution with a snowball’s chance of being implemented must allow the President to save face. It will have to appear to build on the four years of sacrifices by soldiers on the ground. It will have to cast Iraq’s future leaders in a role requiring at least some begrudging acknowledgment that the invasion made Iraq better than it was under Saddam. It will have to persuade the President now that, ten years from now, he will be treated by historians as foresighted. In my opinion, it is less important to President Bush that the solution help the Congressional Republicans who are now abandoning him get reelected in 2008.

This is an extremely tall order. I repeat: President Bush eagerly awaits the day when the Iraqi Parliament passes a resolution thanking him for invading. You may dismiss this as delusional. But it is hard to come up with a practical solution acceptable to the one who ultimately decides if you ignore the basic constraints like this one.

This brings me back to my standard refrain: the only way forward that advances US interests is the “Model Communities” approach. It also is the best option for Iraqis of all stripes, and for the region.

An Avid Student

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