Blaming Everyone Else For Iraq

iraq attacksIn an op-ed in yesterday’s LA Times, Max Boot takes up the current favorite neocon talking point that, through either disinterest, incompetence or a simple lack of sufficiently steely will, Barack Obama is in danger of squandering George W. Bush’s wonderful success in Iraq. “Since the success of the 2007 surge in Iraq,” wrote Boot, “violent attacks have fallen more than 90% and Iraqis have been making steady progress toward stability and democracy. That momentum is now threatened by the actions of Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri Maliki, and by the inaction of the Obama administration.”

Maliki, a sectarian Shiite, won’t accept the possibility that [Iyad] Allawi, a secular Shiite who enjoys overwhelming support among Sunnis, could displace him as prime minister. To prevent this from happening, Maliki is making common cause with the Iraqi National Alliance, a group of religious Shiites close to Iran that includes his archenemies, the followers of Muqtada Sadr. […]

A victory for Maliki (or a Shiite ally) that is achieved through post-election manipulations would make it extremely difficult for the new government to reach out to Sunnis either in Iraq or in the broader region. It might even reignite civil war if Sunnis feel that they are being disenfranchised.

A number of progressive analysts — among them Brian Katulis, Marc Lynch and Peter Juul, Michael Cohen, and myself — have consistently argued that, while the surge (along with a number other important factors) did result in a decline in violence in Iraq, it failed to achieve its stated goal of political reconciliation among Iraq’s competing factions, or do much resolve the tensions that continue to bedevil and separate Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic communities.

As Katulis, Lynch and Juul wrote in September 2008, “The increased security achieved over the last two years has been purchased through a number of choices that have worked against achieving meaningful political reconciliation. The reductions in violence in 2007 and 2008 have, in fact, made true political accommodation in Iraq more elusive, contrary to the central theory of the surge.”

Rather than advancing Iraq’s political transition and facilitating power-sharing deals among Iraq’s factions, the surge has produced an oil revenue-fueled, Shia-dominated national government with close ties to Iran. This national government shows few signs of seeking to compromise and share meaningful power with other frustrated political factions. The surge has set up a political house of cards.

Steven Simon, a colleague of Boot’s at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a May 2008 Foreign Affairs article that the surge strategy was “not linked to any sustainable plan for building a viable Iraqi state,” and that “the recent short-term gains have come at the expense of the long-term goal of a stable, unitary Iraq.” Simon defended his argument in this exchange with Boot, who basically told Simon not to worry about all that because the surge was awesome.

True to form, having been proved wrong (again) on Iraq, the neocon reflex is to blame someone else for their various grandiose theories not panning out. Criticizing President Obama’s “overriding objective… to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq,” Boot sniffs that “It would be a tragedy if, after having spent hundreds of billions of dollars and sacrificed thousands of lives, the U.S. were to lose the endgame in Iraq.”

But it should be obvious that the idea that we can “win” the Iraq endgame, rather than simply manage it as responsibly as possible, is a dangerous illusion. As is the idea that those hundreds of billions of dollars and [tens of] thousands of sacrificed lives can somehow be redeemed by the U.S. staying in Iraq longer.