I’ve been posting for a while now on the odd situation in which the US military has been waging war in Iraq against forces loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, whose movement also includes members of the cabinet of Iraq’s allegedly sovereign government. Well, the inherent tension of that idea seems to have come to a head recently as the US constructed a series of roadblocks in order to blockade Sadr City only to have Prime Minister Maliki tell us today that we need to lift the seige.
And so it goes. The situation is an intractable conceptual and practical muddle. Political power grows from the barrel of a gun, and the most effective military forces in Iraq are the US military and the smaller British detatchment. But American troops are under the command of Don Rumsfeld and George W. Bush and ultimately answerable to the dictates of the American political system. The British troops answer to Tony Blair and the British political system. But the supreme political authority in Iraq is Maliki and his government, which has to respond to its own imperatives. It doesn’t make sense to bend the disposition of the bulk of the United States Army to what Maliki feels he needs or wants to do, but it also doesn’t make sense for Maliki’s policies to be bent according to the dictates of US Central Command. Which is just to say that the continuation of a gigantic and open-ended American military presence in Iraq doesn’t make sense.
I agree with Kevin Drum that the generals who are learning to love timetables and deadlines are tragically late to the party. Throughout 2004, Iraq was under a state of formal military occupation. 2005, meanwhile, was a year of political transition in Iraq — elections held, constitutions written, assemblies, referenda, etc. The time for announcing a timetable was late ’04 or early ’05 with the actual timetable pegged to the political events of 2005 so that withdrawal was part-and-parcel of the emergence of a new political order in Iraq. That might have contributed to Iraqi stability, and if it didn’t work out would have at least been a face-saving measure. Now, basically, it’s just fucked and there’s really nothing to do but get out of Iraq and start working on diplomacy and so forth aimed at containing the fallout from the subsequent mess.