Friday, December 5, 2008

One for the Bush Legacy

Milestone in Baghdad
By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, December 5, 2008; A25

The barbarism in Mumbai and the economic crisis at home have largely overshadowed an otherwise singular event: the ratification of military and strategic cooperation agreements between Iraq and the United States.

They must not pass unnoted. They were certainly noted by Iran, which fought fiercely to undermine the agreements. Tehran understood how a formal U.S.-Iraqi alliance endorsed by a broad Iraqi consensus expressed in a freely elected parliament changes the strategic balance in the region.

For the United States, this represents the single most important geopolitical advance in the region since Henry Kissinger turned Egypt from a Soviet client into an American ally. If we don't blow it with too hasty a withdrawal from Iraq, we will have turned a chronically destabilizing enemy state at the epicenter of the Arab Middle East into an ally.

Also largely overlooked at home was the sheer wonder of the procedure that produced Iraq's consent: classic legislative maneuvering with no more than a tussle or two -- tame by international standards (see YouTube: "Best Taiwanese Parliament Fights of All Time!") -- over the most fundamental issues of national identity and direction.

The only significant opposition bloc was the Sadrists, a mere 30 seats out of 275. The ostensibly pro-Iranian religious Shiite parties resisted Tehran's pressure and championed the agreement. As did the Kurds. The Sunnis put up the greatest fight. But their concern was that America would be withdrawing too soon, leaving them subject to overbearing and perhaps even vengeful Shiite dominance.

The Sunnis, who only a few years ago had boycotted provincial elections, bargained with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, trying to exploit his personal stake in agreements he himself had negotiated. They did not achieve their maximum objectives. But they did get formal legislative commitments for future consideration of their grievances, from amnesty to further relaxation of the de-Baathification laws.

That any of this democratic give-and-take should be happening in a peaceful parliament just two years after Iraq's descent into sectarian hell is in itself astonishing. Nor is the setting of a withdrawal date terribly troubling. The deadline is almost entirely symbolic. U.S. troops must be out by Dec. 31, 2011 -- the weekend before the Iowa caucuses, which, because God is merciful, will arrive again only in the very fullness of time. Moreover, that date is not just distant but flexible. By treaty, it can be amended. If conditions on the ground warrant, it will be.

True, the war is not over. As Gen. David Petraeus repeatedly insists, our (belated) successes in Iraq are still fragile. There has already been an uptick in terror bombings, which will undoubtedly continue as what's left of al-Qaeda, the Sadrist militias and the Iranian-controlled "special groups" try to disrupt January's provincial elections.

The more long-term danger is that Iraq's reborn central government becomes too strong and, by military or parliamentary coup, the current democratic arrangements are dismantled by a renewed dictatorship that abrogates the alliance with the United States.

Such disasters are possible. But if our drawdown is conducted with the same acumen as was the surge, not probable. A self-sustaining, democratic and pro-American Iraq is within our reach. It would have two hugely important effects in the region.

First, it would constitute a major defeat for Tehran, the putative winner of the Iraq war, according to the smart set. Iran's client, Moqtada al-Sadr, still hiding in Iran, was visibly marginalized in parliament -- after being militarily humiliated in Basra and Baghdad by the new Iraqi security forces. Moreover, the major religious Shiite parties were the ones that negotiated, promoted and assured passage of the strategic alliance with the United States, against the most determined Iranian opposition.

Second is the regional effect of the new political entity on display in Baghdad -- a flawed yet functioning democratic polity with unprecedented free speech, free elections and freely competing parliamentary factions. For this to happen in the most important Arab country besides Egypt can, over time (over generational time, the time scale of the war on terror), alter the evolution of Arab society. It constitutes our best hope for the kind of fundamental political-cultural change in the Arab sphere that alone will bring about the defeat of Islamic extremism. After all, newly sovereign Iraq is today more engaged in the fight against Arab radicalism than any country on earth, save the United States -- with which, mirabile dictu, it has now thrown in its lot.


Mike West said...

My man Charlie K gets it right again.
His most important point - ""if we don't blow it with too hasty a withdrawal."

vwatt said...

If Bush had listened to this General, he might have had a legacy! But that would have required him to do some homework and come to his own conclusions-not the ones Rove And Cheney provided him. The chickens are coming back to roost-it's just getting better and better.....

CHICAGO — President-elect Barack Obama has chosen retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki to be secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, elevating the former Army chief of staff, who was vilified by the Bush administration on the eve of the Iraq war for his warning that far more troops would be needed than the Pentagon had committed.
In his choice of General Shinseki, which Mr. Obama will announce here on Sunday, the president-elect would bring to his cabinet someone who symbolizes the break Mr. Obama seeks with the Bush era on national security. The selection was confirmed by two Democratic officials.

General Shinseki, testifying before Congress in February 2003, a month before the United States invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime, said “several hundred thousand soldiers” would be needed to stabilize Iraq after an invasion. In words that came to be vindicated by events, the general anticipated “ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems,” adding, “and so it takes a significant ground force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment.”

The testimony angered Donald H. Rumsfeld, the defense secretary at the time, whose war plans called for far fewer troops. Mr. Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, publicly rebuked General Shinseki’s comments as “wildly off the mark,” in part because Iraqis would welcome the Americans as liberators.

With the subsequent years in which Americans battled ethnic insurgents, and after President Bush agreed in January 2007 to a “surge” strategy of more troops, General Shinseki was effectively vindicated, and military officials, as well as activists and politicians, publicly saluted him. By then, however, General Shinseki had been marginalized on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and quietly retired from the Army.

When asked about General Shinseki’s early troop estimates in an interview to be broadcast Sunday on “Meet the Press” on NBC, Mr. Obama said, “He was right.”

At the same time, General Shinseki drew criticism for not having pressed more aggressively for more troops before the war. In an interview in Newsweek in early 2007, he said of the critiques, with characteristic brevity: “Probably that’s fair. Not my style.” In the past, he would say to his associates, “I do not want to criticize while my soldiers are still bleeding and dying in Iraq.”

When other retired officers publicly called on Mr. Rumsfeld to resign, General Shinseki did not.

The controversy made General Shinseki popular with soldiers in Iraq and veterans of the conflict who resented what they saw as inadequate troop strength. In taking over the Veterans Affairs Department, he would inherit an agency struggling with increasing numbers of veterans with physical and mental wounds from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the many aging veterans of past conflicts.

General Shinseki, 66, who was the highest-ranking Asian-American in the military, also commanded the NATO peacekeeping force in Bosnia. Like Mr. Obama, the general is a native of Hawaii. He is a veteran of the Vietnam War, where he suffered serious wounds and lost much of a foot.

Brodad Unkabuddy said...

I just love it when you liberals quote the Reverend Wright. I suppose the next part of the "coming home to roost" quote will be coming soon. For the record, NO ONE, I REPEAT, NO ONE! was faulting Bush or Rumsfeld on how the war was being fought initially. Everyone was on board. It was the Kosovo mindset. Lean, mean and few casualties. However, as soon as there were problems (like there are in every conflict), the Dems used it as an opportunity to try and regain power and to hell with unity. Well, now the shoe is on the other foot. We're still waiting for some sort of change. Still looks a lot like a continuation of the Bush policies on all fronts so far. Better start raising those taxes, appointing some "Bill Ayers" types, and surrendering ASAP or the MoveOn.orgs are going to be all over Obama.

Brodad Unkabuddy said...

One other thing - in the Spring of '03 the thought of huge numbers of troops in Iraq was extremely unpopular on both sides of the aisle and in the public sector. That's why Shineski was vilified. He disagreed with his boss with an unpopular viewpoint AT THE TIME. Of course, Bush gets no credit for adjusting or having any flexibility, therefore no legacy. Geez, if Eisenhower or Roosevelt were as vilified as Bush has been for the mistakes they made in WWII, they would have been lynched. In fact, Roosevelt gets credit for the pulling us out of the Depression despite the fact his Obama-like economic policies were deepening the financial crisis. It was the war and the subsequent boost to the manufacturing sector that pulled this country out of the Depression. But of course Roosevelt was a Democrat, wasn't he?