Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Hold Off on the Designated Fall Guy Theory

It seems like it is all the rage on both the left and right to blame Prime Minister Maliki for Iraq's fissures and the current crisis. Is Iraq failing because Maliki has been too sectarian?

One, Maliki in spring 2008 did prove he would work against pro-Iranian Shia militias. His Charge of the Knights operation in Basra was sloppy but in the end effective. He showed promise in rising above sectarian focus.

Yes, since we left Iraq, Maliki did go after Sunni Arab politicians and refused to deal with the Kurds to resolve differences.

But remember that a number of Sunni politicians out of fear of jihadis, fear of Shias, and/or a desire to return to power either worked with Sunni terrorists or looked the other way while terrorists worked against the Iraqi state. Maliki was reacting to real threats.

Why did Sunni Arabs hedge their bets and why did Maliki fall back on safer sectarian allies? Why is the security of sectarian policies so attractive to Iraqis?

Because we left Iraq at the end of 2011.

Sunni Arabs made the Awakening deal with us, and without us to enforce it didn't fully trust the Shia-dominated government.

Maliki, for his part, without American troops and influence inside Iraq, feared both the Sunni Arabs who had ruled Shias in Iraq for centuries. and who believed Allah had ordained to rule the lesser Shias; and feared powerful and ruthless Iran next door. Remember, Iran had been active inside Iraq long before we overthrew Saddam. One of Saddam's reasons for invading Iran in 1980 was the disruption that Iranians were inflicting on Iraq by stirring up Shia resentment inside Iraq. (Yet Saddam even feared his largely Shia conscripts would not fight for Iraq very hard when he invaded Iran.)

So our significant presence after 2011 would have been a safety net for both Shias, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds (who are mostly Sunni but not Arabs) to resist acting on their fears of each other and of Iran.

That confidence in acting a bit more in Iraq's interests could have made Iraq strong enough to resist even the rise of jihadis in Syria. This is why I did not claim Iraq was doomed when we did not stay. I simply said the odds of things working out fine were being needlessly reduced.

But I hoped for the best. Perhaps Maliki could be good enough with a benign enough environment to succeed without our presence to allow him (and pressure him) to be better.

But we did not revisit our decision to leave Iraq prematurely since 2011. And we watched while Syria burned and the fire spread to Iraq. And we failed to treat Iran as the enemy they are and as Iran has acted.

Sadly, Maliki is no community organizer, it seems.

So now we have to expend a greater effort--if we will--just to undo the damage that has been needlessly inflicted on Iraq in the last 30 months.

But who knew this would happen? President Obama told the Iraqis that if they like their new democracy, they could keep their new democracy. Period.

Oh well. Glitches, I'm sure. We can patch this with a little Iranian programming.