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Tilting at Windmills

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November 5, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

MALIKI: I'VE DONE ENOUGH....Marc Lynch listened to a speech an interview on al-Arabiya with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Friday and came away discouraged. Apparently Maliki announced that there was no civil war in Iraq — or even any real sectarian conflict — and therefore no need for the Shiite majority to waste time making any further concessions to the Sunni minority. The process of political reconciliation is dead because, as far as Maliki is concerned, it's already happened:

Leave aside the various dubious claims which he makes....Focus intead on the political implications of what he's saying: this amounts to a public declaration by Maliki that there will be no further efforts to achieve political reconciliation. Don't expect any more national reconciliation in the form of "legislation" or "benchmarks", Maliki is signaling. The "achievements" of the various tribal awakenings absolve the national government of any further responsibility — and, pace the Weekly Standard — are more important than mere legislative agreements anyway.

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.

So what happens now? It's becoming plainer and plainer over time that Maliki and the major Shiite parties aren't going to allow Sunnis any real political power. Even Ryan Crocker seems to admit as much. But the Sunnis are gaining military and police power, and it's inevitable that at some point either Maliki is going to stop cooperating with the various "awakenings" that are empowering the Sunni tribes or else that the awakened Sunnis are going to get tired of being marginalized and go after Maliki. Either option leads in the same direction: a reignited civil war.

There is very little the United States can do about this. Right now we're effectively arming both sides in a civil war, which is most likely buying us temporary peace in return for a bigger, more deadly civil war sometime down the road. That's what our next president has to look forward to.

Kevin Drum 1:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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Comments

Well, he does have a point. The main conflict at the moment lies between the U.S. armed forces and their associated mercenaries, and the people of Iraq.

If that's a civil war, then so was the French Resistance.

Posted by: Jimbo on November 5, 2007 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

Its like the French were giving away machetes in Ruwanda.

Posted by: jimmy on November 5, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Where's Chalabi when we need him..., wait, I see him standing in the corner there!! Bring him in before he leaves, after all--he's our man.

Posted by: Nela on November 5, 2007 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

I wnat everyone to notice what tactics Kevin is employing here. BAsically downplay and denigrate the acheivements at the local level, which any military COIN expert will tell you are the most crucial to victory, and instead moan and wail about the "lack" of progress at the Federal level.

Success at the local level will drive success at the higher levle. Victory depends on this organic development. Kevin, instead, prefers the heavy, top to bottom, command control, unorganic method, true to liberal form. THat's how he can clam no success while indicators of success are hitting him from every vantage point.

Remember, pro-war advocates understand the need for organic processes, while the liberal defeatists cling to a non-organist worldview which does not bear out in the real world.

Posted by: egbert on November 5, 2007 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Maliki and the major Shiite parties aren't going to allow Sunnis any real political power.

I hope Democrats are taking notes. After the 2008 elections, Democrats should not allow Repubicans any real political power. But you know they will.

Posted by: Brojo on November 5, 2007 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

Case in point.

Right now, I could walk down any neighborhood in the middle of Anbar and buy a loaf of bread from a booming nearby bakery, without having to fear stepping on any ieds laid by the local AQ operative. That's because that AQ op has been snuffed out and killed by the local people, who cream for democracy.

I only tremble at the prospect of future administrations cowering before opinion polls and giving up all these hard fought gains. THose poor Iraqi children deserve better.

Posted by: egbert on November 5, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, egbert, I think the cowering will occur before the bankrupt Treasury and the thoroughly broken military -- unless, of course, you're advocating sharply higher taxes AND a draft...

And as to current US actions, remember that the Carlyle Group and its ilk are doing very well, thank you. Loyalty, after all, is THE watchword in the House of Bush.

Posted by: bleh on November 5, 2007 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, I'd be willing to put that to the test. Send egbert to Iraq with a few dinars to pick up a loaf of bread and some eggs.

Posted by: Neal on November 5, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

There is very little the United States can do about this.

Looks like I picked the wrong week to sell off my shares of General Dynamics and Lockheed.

Posted by: jerry on November 5, 2007 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

More violence = good.
Less violence = good.
Purple fingers = good.
No political progress = good.

Nice universe you've got, Eggy!

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on November 5, 2007 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

For one thing, Lynch could link to an all-Arabic web page and tell folks it is the recipe for the most delicious cookies in the world and we'd be in no better position to assess it. It would, in other words, be nice to see a translation of the speech.

Secondly, according to Lynch's own summary of the speech, Maliki did not say "The process of political reconciliation is dead because, as far as Maliki is concerned, it's already happened." What he did say was that NATIONAL reconciliation had taken place and that therefore the push for POLITICAL reconciliation is more about what he calls "minor political parties" seeking attention. As Maliki puts it, "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."

Now Lynch some reasonable questions about Maliki's claims and asserts that this means Maliki will no longer seek any more national reconciliation in the form of "legislation" or "benchmarks." But without reading Maliki's actual speech it is impossible to tell how true this is.

In any event, I think Kevin's dire conclusion was quite premature, particularly since we aren't even able to read the speech that allegedly makes this all clear. And Lynch's dismissal of the importance of the Shite and Sunni tribal awakening does not do much to bolster his credibility as far as I am concerned. You can have all the legislative agreement you wish for but without reconciliation among local powers, that national legislation will be meaningless.

Posted by: Hacksaw on November 5, 2007 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

The Shia want their religious mini-state fueled with the oil they are sitting on more than anything else. We were temporarily useful to them by dismantling the Sunni Baathist apparatus and protecting them (using our soldiers as cannon fodder as well). This bought them time to cleanse Baghdad and parts of Diyala province. They want us out of there now before we reverse their advantage by re-arming the Sunni Arabs. I don't even think the Kurdish-Shia alliance will be substantive anymore. The Shia will just tell the Kurds YOYO! with regards to Turkey. I don't think the Shia will even care if Anbar, Salahuddin, and Ninewah provinces are ungovernable-there isn't much oil there.

As far as what our next president has to look forward to... Don't underestimate the lame duck status of GWB serving as a huge accelerant to this whole process. He (GWB) isn't going to be able to play "run out the clock". The clock is fixing to run out...

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on November 5, 2007 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Hacksaw: Marc Lynch isn't the only one in the world who can read Arabic; if he were to severely misrepresent the content of an Arabic-language web page, he would be called on it. Further, if you don't believe him because you want to see a translation, it implies that you would trust the translator.

Posted by: Joe Buck on November 5, 2007 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK


I only tremble at the prospect of future administrations cowering before opinion polls and giving up all these hard fought gains.

I am hopeful at the prospect of a future administration dealing more honestly with the American people, and using war as a last resort, and only when it advances the interest of the American people, instead of pursuing irresponsible military adventures. I am hopeful that future administrations will provide American children with the medical care they need, at a fraction of the cost of waging unnecessary wars. Those poor American children deserve better.

Posted by: Andy on November 5, 2007 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Joe,

My complaint isn't with the accuracy of Lynch's translation but with the absence of it. Here is the entirety of the actual quotes he provided from the speech:

"strong and stable and not fragile"
"some"
"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."
"you can go into the street and meet with a Sunni in Shia areas or with a Shia in Sunni areas, where they live together once again."
"minor political parties"

Not exactly a critical mass of excerpts that would help any reader independently assess the content, context, and tone of his speech. I wanted to see a translation of the entire speech, not in order to take issue with Lynch's specific quotations, but simply in order to read the whole speech and then determine if Lynch's synopsis of it was fair and his conclusions reasonable.

Posted by: Hacksaw on November 5, 2007 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

The simple issue is what we think will happen down the road. If a cold peace ensues and remains, then the lack of a formalized national reconciliation is a case of the perfect being the enemy of the good. It might undermine our transformation argument, but all in all it's a "good", a "victory", a success of strategy, albeit one with limited goals.

OTOH, if you believe as Kevin does,(and I do) that the lack of a national power sharing agreement will necessarily lead to bloody civil war in the near future, then plainly the strategy failed. Because civil war = failure.

I suspect that what Al-Maliki means is that the Sunnis have been armed, and that further political accomodation only accentuates with soft power what is their current hard power, and that, pace Mao, their political power will flow from the barrel of a gun. As such, the will be largely left alone because their power demands it. Hence, no need to "reconcile."

Posted by: rkf on November 5, 2007 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

Brojo. Do you just go up and down the threads posting non-sequiters that you imagine are profound? Is English a second languague for you?

Posted by: Steve on November 5, 2007 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter Hack: Lalalalala I can't hear you!

Posted by: Gregory on November 5, 2007 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

My comments are non sequiturs to DLC goons.

Posted by: Brojo on November 5, 2007 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

It is time to consider whether it is American policy to maintain the civil war in order to maintain the need for American forces in Iraq, in order to get the desired permanent bases. If any stable, vaguely representative government, comes into power, then the US will be asked to leave.

Posted by: jayackroyd on November 5, 2007 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin's concern about America funding both sides in a future civil war is overstated, though his implication that we are drifting at the moment without much of a strategy is correct.

The proximate cause of Iraqi Shiite hostility toward Sunni Arabs is the deliberate targeting of Shiite Arab policemen, government workers, clerics and civilians by the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency over the last four years. The most likely spark for a new civil conflagration is a renewal of mass-casualty attacks against Shiite civilians (the second most likely is a renewal of large-scale Shiite death squad activity directed against Sunni Arabs). American tactics since the beginning of this year have sought to direct local tribes as well as Iraqi government forces against the groups -- al-Qaeda types, but also Shiite death squad leaders with ties to government officials and Shiite political factions -- most likely to do the things that could lead to a renewal of full-scale civil war.

The American forces in Iraq today are not following a strategy for victory. They are simply bailing as fast as they can, and recently they've gotten more water out of the Iraqi boat than has been leaking in. Now, the question we have got to ask ourselves is whether it is worth it to us to keep the army in Iraq, trying to keep Sunnis from killing Shiites and Shiites from killing Sunnis, indefinitely -- because that is effectively what the Bush administraton policy is right now.

Posted by: Zathras on November 5, 2007 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

Two other things block national reconciliation. One is that the Shiite extremists are not interested in it. For a whole variety of reasons they want to just wipe the Sunnis out, or at least run them out of country , and they think they are succeeding. On the other side, the Sunnis are under the delusion that they are the majority in Iraq and should be the rulers.

Posted by: bobo the chimp on November 5, 2007 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

egbert: Success at the local level will drive success at the higher levle.

So you are making a prediction. Would you care to say how long it will take before national political reconcilation takes place?

And, pardon me for asking this, but how have your predictions been in the past? For instance, before the Iraq war, how did you predict things would go after we had defeated Saddam? And, say, a year in, when it was clear we were confronting an insurgency, how long did you predict it would take to defeat it?

Posted by: bobo the chimp on November 5, 2007 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans are constantly being suckered by ordinary street tactics and frauds like Chalabi, Curveball and Maliki. It's all been predictable and predicted.

First, we put ourselves in a position where we are forced to take sides (Shia); it does not work. Then we start arming both sides. You are right Kevin, it won't work, it will backfire soon enough, probably already has.

I laughed about this a long time ago. That's why I call myself little ole jim, a nobody with no special brain power who can still think better than idiots like the Bushies.

Posted by: little ole jim from red state on November 5, 2007 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin and his liberal friends always look for the dark cloud (at least when it can be pinned on the Republicans).

None of us know how Iraq will turn out. It is better today than it has been for 40 years. I don't think it is anywhere near "inevitable" that there will be a "reignited civil war" (deftly assuming there was one in the first place - if there was one as Kevin and liberal media declared, how and when did it end?). I also don't think there is much factual basis to argue that we are significantly "arming both sides."

Why don't liberals consider the possibility that Iraqis have seen the horror of sectarian and terrorist violence and will work for another path? The dismissal of that as a possibility by Kevin and other liberals is a condescending attitude toward Iraqis - almost as bad as what they were saying a year ago about a deteriorating civil war and a worsening and hopeless situation. Today, they simply forget what they said a year ago and come up with a new prediction of an "inevitable" bad future.

Posted by: brian on November 5, 2007 at 8:15 PM | PERMALINK

http://fiservsw.portalvault.com/Default.aspx?pageMode=control&pageModeType=NewsArticleControl&pageModeParam=&storyId=111802379

Told that the reconciliation that occurred -and which led to the improvement in security -is fragile and could be aborted at any moment with matters becoming worse than what they were, Al-Maliki says he does not want to reply and say that reconciliation is strong and solid, but he will compare the present situation to that in the past when people harboured hatred towards each other and killed each other, so that the country was on the brink of sectarian war. He says people today shun sectarianism and meet with each other. He says he's not talking about reconciliation with a political party governed by a particular ideology, but about reconciliation within the framework of the homeland which begins by people mixing with one another again, and the return of the atmosphere of amity and good relations that historically existed among the components of the Iraqi people. He tells Nakuzi he can go out and see for himself how Sunnis and Shi'is are living together in their areas.

Posted by: majarosh on November 5, 2007 at 9:16 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks majarosh for finding a more comprehensive article on Maliki's observations. The part you quoted certainly has a different feel than what Lynch quoted and what Lynch asserted the quotes meant.

Posted by: Hacksaw on November 5, 2007 at 9:55 PM | PERMALINK

Brojo: Not only are you bizarre, posting nonsensical comments up and down the threads, and a miserable writer, you are shockingly uninformed and show it with every post. The DLC? In your feeble imagination, the DLC is some organization that exercises power in Washington DC? And not only that, they have "goons" who are out to silence brave liberal posters like you? If there are 40 people in Congress who pay attention to / know who the hell the DLC is, I'll eat my hat. The ACLU has more power. The freaking Humane Society has more sway. Seek help, you delusional fuckwit. And take a writing course.

Posted by: Steve on November 6, 2007 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

You'll eat Gore's cock.

Posted by: Brojo on November 6, 2007 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

I strongly suggest we all atop the damn bomb throwing at each other for a change. I think all of us can agree there is a lot of BS being thrown on the blogs from both sides of the arguments over Iraq. What I want to know is what is actually going on over there, & in Afghanistan, so I can make informed choices on what I think our country's actions ought to be.

I was one of those against the surge from the beginning, but I am beginning to realize it may have done some good, along with a change in our strategies & tactics on the ground there. I still think Petraues' address to Congress was a lot of evasion. However, that does not change the fact that of all the commanders there from the start, his people were more effective with the local populations than most of the rest of them. Now he is in charge & his methods are being used country wide. At the local level, they appear to be working. (Maliki says the same) . Troop & Iraqi civilian deaths are down significantly for the past 2 months. AQI appears to be persona non grata among the population, due mostly to their actions against the local populations.

Our level of military is just starting to decline, & will continue to do so for at least the next 8 months because we have run out of replacements. Who knows what the situation will be in April? Right now there is a glimmer of hope that the relative peace will continue, but we don't know. Refugees are starting to trickle back home, the markets are re opening, the streets are safer in most of the country, & Shia, Sunni, & Americans are working side by side to maintain & increase stability in the provinces that were absolutely lost at the beginning of the year.

I frankly don't give a damn whether or not Iraq ends up with a strong central government, nor do I care about the oil sharing/theft agreement. As far as the US maintaining some kind of a long term deployment there, I seriously doubt that Iraq will allow it to happen. TS.

About 2 weeks ago, I clicked a link to Michael Yon's Online Digest. Since then I have been reading his dispatches from Iraq & Afghanistan - I am roughly back to January 2007 so far. He seems to be very honest in his reporting, with a noticeable slant toward military people in general & the need to finish the job in both countries. But he does not follow any other political agenda; this guy is not the usual wingnut (as opposed to netroot, just to keep my comments balanced.) While he appears both on Fox & CNN, he is paid by neither, being supported in his work solely by his readers. Perhaps others might want to check him out. Just Google MIchael Yon. Happy reading.

Posted by: bob in fla on November 6, 2007 at 11:49 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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