May 17, 2004
You have to keep the political transition on track. ... the solution to this is ultimately political and Iraqi. ... It is clearly time for the occupation to end, it is clearly time for the Iraqis to be in control of their own political future.
- Condoleezza Rice
Yes. But, as "they" say, God (or the devil) is in the details.
Perhaps I am being overly optimistic, but I suggest, even now, even after the assassinations of so many key governmental persons, Iraqi and United Nations alike (to the best of my knowledge no Americans in political positions have yet been killed, although I wish to overlook neither the daily American military deaths and cripplings nor the daily Iraqi civilian deaths and cripplings): that reasonably short-term peace in Iraq is not beyond the scope of hope. In the interests of resolving rather than laying judgement, I leave aside completely here the question of how we got here, and focus on a condensed road map outlining what can still be done to salvage anything of peace. Not one of these suggestions will be easy to swallow -- and yet I think they are all necessary, if something is to be retrieved before too many more people die in the name of an unachieveable ideal.
I offer the following suggestions as some quick notes as to a possible way "out", so that any June 30 transfer of power can have value beyond the paper it is written on.
- Set civilian day-to-day safety as a higher priority than military security.
At this point, the Iraqi citizenry is less than happy with the "American occupiers". Here and now, if peace is to be approached, the American military must regain, if not respect, at least tolerance among the common citizenry. (Again, I lay aside the question of relative before-and-after freedoms, to focus on the entirely reasonable wish of every human being to live, and that in reasonable security.) To this end, I suggest that new priorities be set for the American military: especially the safeguarding of everyday security -- basic policing -- in those places which are under current and active American control. Until the American military can regain the respect of the populace by actively serving the populace in this manner -- and thus demonstrating to that populace, in the only way that has meaning, that a civilian's life in this place which has been so disrupted by the American military is seen to remain more important than an American soldier's -- no amount of attempted Iraqi-based law enforcement can possibly succeed. (How could they have been seen as other than collaborators with a hated invader ... and thus equally targets?)
- Let the United Nations help with rebuilding infrastructure and assisting with civil security in areas outside direct American control, and cede power accordingly.
Such a shift of priorities will almost invariably mean urgent negotiation over transfer of civilian security powers and probably American military pull-out from much or all of the Kurd- and Shi'ite-dominated sectors. (It might be that what results in the short term might well be even more brutal than the marginal anarchy which exists now: but the existing structure has been collapsed from outside and a new one must be evolved, not from without but from within. Otherwise, the cost will be even higher.) Quite simply, the United States has not the forces and equipment and budget to establish basic street security across all Iraq, while simultaneously attempting to consolidate its hold over Iraq (without any active assistance and indeed passive resistance from much of the citizenry), while still continuing to pursue its current and active military engagements elsewhere in the world. At this point, the existing available American resources are beyond overstretched - and the specific Iraqi situation is continuing to gradually become increasingly untenable.
The United Nations can fill this civil security gap. Whatever else, it uniquely still carries an image seen by many as closer to approximating justice than any other feasible possibility (with the possible exception, in this specific context, of the League of Islamic Nations). Additionally, other United Nations bodies can assist with other basic necessities of life often joined loosely under "infrastructure": ranging from sophisticated communications to reliable electricity and shelter. These functions may be the single most effective use of this approximation of a world governing body. Give the United Nations the mandate and support to fulfill it.
- Accept political fragmentation.
Iraq is not unified. Like the former Yugoslavia, it never really was unified, barring a strong dictatorship to impose a centralised leadership. In its absence, political fragmentation into three parts will occur, the only question being to what degree and how many months or years it will take to manifest. The proposed system of a weak, rotating presidency, if implemented, will last precisely as long as the near-autonomous region which is about to lose the presidency does not feel it has the power to attempt to take over the whole, or to separate completely. If a political system requires constant military "supervision" to remain stable: how free can it be?
Accept that the three regions are de facto independent political units, and allow them each to choose their own government. If necessary, bring in United Nations peacekeepers -- not American troops -- to maintain variants on the Cyprus "green line" between them, for as long as it takes. (It is a matter of some debate whether such peacekeeping actually allows existing hostilities to fester: yet whatever else, it might allow a crucial generation to pass without direct memory of cause for hatred.)
- When elections happen, accept whatever government is democratically chosen in each sector.
At least in one and maybe more of those autonomous sectors, that elected government may not be -- probably won't be! -- what the United States might desire. So be it. The true test of a democracy is to accept the will of the people choosing their own government, even where the type of government chosen by the people may be unpalatable to the United States.
Smile of the day:
Sorry for sending this letter without a stamp. Unfortunately, I only realised it after the postman had already picked up the mail.