Saturday, December 17, 2005

"...the Iraqi Election: A 'Trigger,' Not a 'Turning Point'"

That's the assessment of Anthony Cordesman.
Interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman for CFR his take on the outcome of this latest election in Iraq is very much worth a look.

I'm getting the idea that the more we speculate, the more we don't know...
Nobody can say what the outcome will be in Iraq, or even advance any assurances that the place will not devolve into a civil war before next summer. As a patriot, as an American I want everything to end with some kind of political balance that can bring about an end to the killing. But as a student of politics and history I am still looking for some kind of reassurance for that outcome.

Get a load of this:

The great uncertainty is that most Iraqis are voting ethnically or by sect or for vaguely defined goals of nationalism. None of the people are voting for candidates they know, or who have a proven track record. On the day the results are final, all of the various factions that have run in this election will have to form a government and make the nation work. Even when we have all the election results, we have no way to predict how the process of forming the government [will go]; and then having the new government deal with the issues Iraq faces is going to come out.
...Once that government is formed, you then have a four-month period in which to complete the constitution, and [during] which you can amend it by a simple majority. That is going to force Iraq's political structure to deal with virtually every major issue in some form. Key issues are federation, control of money and revenues, the future of oil, the role of religion in the state, and how the legal code is really going to be interpreted and managed. You can go down the list and look at issues like who controls taxation, how does oil exploration progress, what do human rights really mean, and ask to what extent will you have secular versus Islamic interpretations. Because all of these are not only immediate issues, but issues involved in clarifying the constitution. It's going to be a very demanding is necessary to make it clear to both sides, Sunni and Shiite, that the new military, security, and police forces are going to be used to fight the insurgency. They're not going to be a means through which the Shiites basically attack the Sunnis or get revenge.

Folks, that's a tall order. The air is filled with bubbles and sparkles now that the Sunnis have showed up in large numbers to participate in the election. Before we get too excited it would be wise to listen to this man who points out that participating in an election does not preclude fighting.

...there is a great illusion here that because Sunnis went out and voted to try to use the government to counter Shiite and Kurdish power, somehow Sunnis are not going to support the insurgency. You can both vote and hold a rifle. And there have been plenty of past insurgencies where this happened. We just don't know as yet how many of the Sunnis who voted or participated in this process are really committed to a peaceful political process.

This point is also made by Patrick Cockburn in the piece I am in the process of reading now.

...The Sunni will no doubt go to the polls in December, but it will be much like Sinn Fein and the Provisionals in Northern Ireland--the gun and the ballot box. This is perfectly realistic. The resistance knows that the reason why the us ambassador spent so much time over the summer trying to cultivate Sunni leaders and bring them into the constitutional process, and even at the last minute had the--basically us-drafted--document modified to lessen Sunni anger at it, was that the Americans are frightened of the insurgency. So the Sunni community, like the Catholics in Northern Ireland, relies at some level on the armed resistance for its political weight. Sunni standing in the elections check with all the different elements of the resistance in their area that it’s all right for them to do so, as they obviously want to stay alive. All sorts, including the Zarqawi element, said ‘Go ahead’. The election itself is really just the opening of another front from their point of view. They will fight and talk at the same time.

Cordesman continues...

I'm not optimistic because of turnouts. I think turnouts are irrelevant until you find out what people have turned out for--and basically most of them are going to have to vote for an ethnic or sectarian ballot, where they may know the leader but they have very little idea of what he really will do, and they in general know very little about most of the candidates.

What I'm optimistic about is that the elections have taken place, and Iraqi leaders have emerged who are inclusive, who believe in the country, and who are willing to compromise. Iraqi security forces are becoming stronger and more effective and there is a process here that can work. But if you ask me if the odds are strongly in favor of success, I'd have to say no. Are they strongly in favor of failure? The answer has to be no as well.

Well that's about as clear as it can get...No and No.

The lines that jumped out at me, inspiring this post, are smack in the middle of the interview. Cordesman speaks directly to the importance and lack of information driving US public opinion regarding troop withdrawal.

I think the real problem is we've ended up with a polarized debate between "better-enders" and the "bugger-outers," and what we really need to consider is, Can we find ways of reducing U.S. troops and then getting them out of the direct day-to-day interface with Iraqis and day-to-day combat? Part of the goal is certainly to reduce casualties and costs, but it also is to have Iraqi forces take over. Iraqi forces are seen as far more legitimate than we are. About 80 percent of Iraqis, at least in the areas you can poll, accept them. The goal here is not to get out. It is to phase down at a rate where the Iraqi forces can take over while there is still a stable structure in which the political evolution is backed by security.

One thing we have to bear in mind is that when we look at today's polls in this debate in the United States--if we were talking about 70,000 Americans at the end of 2006, most of whom aren't in day-to-day combat and with a strong Iraqi force in place, and an Iraqi political process--would any of today's debate really be relevant? On the other hand, if Iraq should devolve into civil war, or the Iraqi forces should fail in the next six months or so, would today's debate in any way reflect the polarization of the Congress and the American people? I think frankly what we have is a badly defined, highly polarized debate between extremes that really doesn't serve our interests or the Iraqi interests, or reflect either the pace of the calendar or the facts on the ground.

A badly defined, highly polarized debate between extremes. Nothing could be plainer. How can this simple message get out when everywhere I look I see nothing but arguments between ignorant people who take sides, not because of what they know, but because they enter the discussion with political agendas more important than the principles they claim to support.

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