Talisman Gate

Monday, November 06, 2006

Something Is Changing

November 6, 2006 Edition > Section: Opinion >

Something Is Changing


November 6, 2006
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/42946

Lately, I've been hearing worrisome things about the Iraq Study Group. James Baker, the co-chairman of this congressionally mandated bipartisan body, reportedly is going to recommend some radical strategic changes in America's Iraq policy. But my worries were laid to rest last week when President Bush made it very clear that he is indeed staying the course, even though he put some rhetorical distance between himself and the loaded catchphrase.

According to multiple sources, the Baker report, to be released late November, will counsel burying the "democracy as stability" doctrine for the Middle East and also recommend opening lines of communication with Iraqi insurgents and their cheerleaders in Iran and Syria. Furthermore, the Saudis will be brought in to "fix" Iraq — just as they were asked to step in and fix Lebanon in the early 1990s.

The report, arriving at a politically melodramatic moment for Mr. Bush's political opponents at home, will likely find favor among foreign opponents to Mr. Bush's vision for the Middle East. But Mr. Bush, whose instincts are commonsensical, is likely to send the report back with some pertinent questions scribbled in the margins:

Jim, prove to me that abandoning democracy will result in stability. And how does one go about actually abandoning Iraq's democracy?

Theoretically, there is the "strong man option": An American-backed candidate would replace current Prime Minister al-Maliki by forming an emergency "national unity government." The favored "strong man" is Ayad Allawi, the darling of Mr. Baker's friends in the Persian Gulf oil sheikdoms and in the Central Intelligence Agency. They hoped that Mr. Allawi would succeed through the ballot box, and to this end, the rulers of Abu Dhabi subsidized a portion of his election campaign. Yet Mr. Allawi — whose previous tenure as prime minister was marred by massive corruption and terrorist infiltration into the security arms of the state — failed to pick up enough votes. Since then, Mr. Allawi has attended only a handful of parliamentary sessions, preferring to stay in London where it is said that he is in ailing health.

Then there is the related option of a military coup. The only problem is that no coup can be pulled off without the American military being directly complicit. No Iraqi officer can move a tank 100 meters in any direction without the go-ahead of an American counterpart. Unless, of course, the Americans turn a blind eye to what's happening. But what if the moderates such as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani rally regular folk, the same ones who heroically voted twice last year, against a coup? Will the American military fire upon crowds upholding the constitution? Again, this is not a realistic option: There are too many powerful political and societal forces that would fight against a return to one-man rule.

Jim, if we start negotiating with the insurgents and offer them a general amnesty, can they deliver a cease-fire?

The two most dynamic forces behind the insurgency, those Baathists still bound to Saddam Hussein and the hard-core jihadists such as Al Qaeda, will never sit at the table with the Americans. It is they who are conducting the most spectacular and painful of all the violent incidents. Yet they are utterly detached from reality by the fantasy of total victory — they will keep going no matter what. On the contrary, they will interpret America's change of heart as a sign that total victory is near. The Saddamists are dreaming of a return to power, and the jihadists are working toward a caliphate. They rightly believe that America will not bargain on either count, so why should they work toward reaching a compromise when their hoped-for outcomes are perceived as inevitable?

Jim, you've spoken to your Saudi friends, and taken into account what the Jordanians, the Egyptians, the Qataris, and others have been saying. But really, why should their opinion matter?

There are four current and emerging power players in the Middle East: Israel, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. Others matter foremost in Washington, but they are not significant leaders in the Middle East. Egypt, once a flashy leader, is today a rotting carcass of a state. Jordan, Qatar, and Bahrain are too small; they are leaves in the wind. Even the Saudis, with all their money and near-total control over the Arabic media, are failing to prop up their acolytes in tiny Lebanon and save their long-term project there. The same could be said about Syria and its failure to keep Beirut in its orbit. Turkey, Israel, and Iran carry real cultural, economic, and military heft.

Overall, the agendas of most of these countries, both the ones that matter and the ones that don't, are closer to the insurgents than to the Bush administration. They fear a democratic and strong Iraq that is morally allied with America's new vision for the region. They have done much, each in its own way, to undermine this vision. Why would their self-serving advice be valuable in safeguarding America's interests? And do they have what it takes to "fix" Iraq, when they can't fix themselves and defuse their own ticking time bombs?

Jim, if I follow your recommendations, will my political opponents here at home get off my back?

Yeah, right. Backing an oppressive military junta in Baghdad will go down really well with the Bush haters. Their personal antipathy toward the president prevented them from getting on board with the lofty goal of bringing freedom to the Middle East, for heaven's sake! Right now, credible press reports indicate that someone in the American government is negotiating with an insurgent group called the Islamic Army in Iraq, which recently released a jubilant snuff video depicting 27 American soldiers getting shot by a sniper. They go on to claim that they've killed 668 American soldiers during the last year alone. Will the American public stomach negotiations with insurgents who openly gloat that they have American blood on their hands?

But Jim, there is one thing I'd like to know and that is why did Lieutenant Mohammad Hikmet al-Badrani, a young Iraqi Sunni from Mosul, keep firing his weapon when attacked by the insurgents two weeks ago, and why did he give up his life for a new Iraq?

It is easy for journalists to ride the "Iraq is failing" wave and churn out the safe stories that tell us that all is bad. It is much harder for them to make sense of why so many Iraqi policemen and soldiers are fighting back when attacked rather than dropping their weapons and cowering for safety. Something is changing in Iraq, and it is happening despite the serial bungling of Mr. Maliki's government or the incessant predictions of an American withdrawal. It is happening because more and more Iraqis understand what is at stake should those murderous insurgents win.

Would Lieutenant Badrani have cut and run had he been aware of Mr. Baker's wobbly recommendations? I don't think so. And I don't think that Mr. Bush's resolve on this long course ahead will fail either.

Mr. Kazimi can be reached at nibraska@yahoo.com

November 6, 2006 Edition > Section: Opinion >