The Trouble With Proxies

Joe Klein wonders why American blood and treasure is being expended over which Shiite group controls which town in Iraq: “Perhaps it is that Sadr’s Mahdi Army is the most potent force opposed to long-term U.S. bases in Iraq — and that a permanent presence has been the Bush Administration’s true goal in this war. I suspect the central question in Iraq now is not whether things will get better but whether the drive for a long-term, neocolonialist presence will make the situation irretrievably worse.”

One shouldn’t, however, underplay the extent to which the Bush administration may have no real motive at all. When you’re establishing an indirect rule relationship with a local proxy like Maliki and his regime, you risk circumstances in which the tail wags the dog. We like Maliki because we have “influence” over him. To retain that influence, we need to be useful to him. He wanted to fight Sadr, but couldn’t take him down alone, so our troops had to fight, too. His fights are now our fights, even if his fights don’t really have anything to do with our interests.

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DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Samuel Bendet, U.S. Air Force