Monday, March 25, 2013

Been There. Done That

Even a number of Iraq War supporters express disdain for Maliki and his failure to practice democracy with peace time standards. I don't. We've made that mistake before.

I don't like this line of thinking, even used in defense of the Iraq War:

The story in Iraq isn’t over. It didn’t end with our departure, and what we do still matters. The Obama abdication in Iraq, though, has continued. We should be using every remaining financial and diplomatic lever we have to try to force Maliki to give up his campaign against the Sunnis and to maintain some distance from Iran. Instead, the administration is content to take Maliki as it finds him, even as he allows Tehran to funnel aid to the Assad regime in Syria, which we want to see fall.

Maliki is not our problem in Iraq.

Our problem is that Iran has enough power to intimidate Iraq and we aren't on the ground to balance that power. That imbalance will last for many years until Iraq's conventional military is rebuilt.

Our problem is that factions within the Shia community would welcome Iranian dominance.

Our problem is that al Qaeda has not been wiped out. But we weren't there to help hunt them down (until a recent decision to send the CIA reinforcements to help Iraq) and now they are opening up a franchise in Syria.

Our problem is that too many Sunni Arabs think they should rule Iraq. Some don't even think Sunni Arabs are a small minority of Iraqis. Way too many Sunni Arabs inside and outside the government provide support to Baathists and jihadis out of either conviction that the Sunni Arabs should run Iraq or from fear of what the thugs will do to them if they don't support the Sunni thugs and terrorists. It may be active or passive support (by looking the other way), but Maliki has a reason to be suspicious of Iraq's Sunni Arabs.

Perhaps if we were still there in strength, we'd have the ability to keep Maliki's attempts to fight enemies within the Sunni Arab community focused; and maybe if we were there the Sunni Arabs would trust that we were keeping the Shias and Kurds from persecuting all Sunni Arabs rather than just going after terrorists.

And one huge problem is that we assume one man represents all our problems in Iraq. We made that mistake before:

I don't blame Maliki for trying to root out Baathists. Too many aren't really former Baathists and believe Sunni Arabs should rule Iraq as they have for centuries. Iraq is at war and I can't forget that Americans kept pressing South Vietnamese President Diem to be more inclusive despite being at war. We got rid of him thinking Diem was the problem and too late realized that he was actually winning the war until we supported his removal in a coup. Let's not make the mistake of thinking one man is the difference between victory or defeat--or if it is that we know who that one man is. Focus on strengthening rule of law in Iraq. I hope one day we'll see a peaceful transfer of power from the losing incumbent to the winning opponent and it won't seem strange at all. Our continued troop presence would have helped that goal along a great deal, I think.

I've accepted that Americans chose President Obama to be our leader. Let's accept who Iraqis chose and work with him. And work with the system that selected Maliki to make it better.

And most important, remember that Maliki is a leader waging a war against jihadis, Baathists, Sunni Arab superiority complex, Shia death squads, Iranian meddling, Kurdish separatists, Shias who want revenge on the Sunni Arabs for decades of oppression and an awareness of centuries of oppression before that, and old fashioned corruption. So no, he isn't going to govern like Iraq is at peace. He can't. I just wish we were there to limit Maliki's actions to avoid bending democracy beyond the breaking point and doing it only enough to tackle the problems and only long enough to get past the worst.