Former Secretary of State and all around foreign policy eminence Henry Kissinger argues in this morning’s Washington Post that previous calls for a timeline for US withdrawal from Iraq have been “overtaken by events.” In other words, things are going so much better, now we have to stay!
Almost all objective observers agree that major progress has been made on all three fronts of the Iraq war: Al-Qaeda, the Sunni jihadist force recruited largely from outside the country, seems on the run in Iraq; the indigenous Sunni insurrection attempting to restore Sunni predominance has largely died down; and the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad has, at least temporarily, mastered the Shiite militias that were challenging its authority. After years of disappointment, we face the need to shift gears mentally to consider emerging prospects of success.
Though Kissinger identifies himself as a friend and occasional adviser to John McCain, I’ve argued previously that the foreign policies that McCain has outlined bear little resemblance to the realpolitik of Kissinger, but rather reveal McCain’s strong commitment to a neoconservative ideology and agenda. Kissinger’s op-ed, however, indicates that Kissinger and McCain share the same mistaken assumptions about effect of US withdrawal on Iraqi politics.
The main problem with Dr. K’s prescription for Iraq is that he doesn’t recognize the US presence itself as a provocation, or how the open-ended and condition-less US commitment to Iraq acts as roadblock to genuine political accommodation. Kissinger suggests some negative consequences of setting a deadline (“largely defeated internal groups to go underground”), but doesn’t acknowledge that these have come to pass in the absence of a deadline. Kissinger also bizarrely claims that a deadline “will give Iran an incentive to strengthen its supporters in the Shiite community for the period after the American withdrawal.” I don’t know where Kissinger’s been, but Iran has been doing this since March 2003, and continues to enjoy very good relations with the same Iraqi Shia political elites currently supported by the US.
As I wrote last week, no government which derives its authority from a foreign military occupation, or even appears to, will ever be seen as legitimate in the eyes of its own people, and thus the Iraqi government will not be able to truly stand on its own until there is a firm US commitment to withdraw. Acknowledging and honoring the strong Iraqi consensus in favor of a US withdrawal is an essential step toward breaking through the current impasse between Iraq’s political factions, which was, after all, the stated goal of the surge in the first place.