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August 01, 2007

O'Hanlon and Pollack
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I know I’m a little late to the game, but had to add my two cents on this Pollack/O’hanlon piece.

First of all, I have to disagree with Suzanne when she writes that the piece “has special credibility coming from two longstanding critics of the war.”  At best they have been lukewarm advocates/critics of the war.  The blogosphere is full of positive statements they have made about a war that they both supported.  And the fact that O’hanlon and Pollack mislabel themselves as consistent critics of the war is actually the most irritating thing about the whole op-ed.

Second, I completely agree with Michael.  The entire point of the surge was to increase security so that we can facilitate political reconciliation.  Unfortunately, Iraq’s politics have been going in the opposite direction.  Over at NSN we have been tracking the various benchmarks on a weekly basis and you cannot help conclude that the political situation has completely deteriorated.

How bad is it?  The Sunnis, who are the entire key to political reconciliation, have been boycotting the government for about a month (they came back for one week in the middle) because they have have no say in governing the country.  Today they left Maliki’s government.  This is problematic since they are the entire key to political reconciliation.

The situation gets even more absurd when you look at some of the reasons they have chosen to boycott.  For example, they were previously protesting a warrant out for one of their cabinet ministers for the role he played in an attempted assassination in 2005.  Meanwhile, there was a major confrontation when the Sunni speaker of parliament who has had his body guards rough up a number of other parliamentarians and has condoned killing American troops was forced out.  The Shi’a and Sunni Vice Presidents have also threatened to resign numerous times in frustration.  Oh, and of course the Parliament isn’t even close on any of the political benchmarks.  It can’t even get a quorum let alone an oil law.  And yes, they just started their one month vacation, which according to some parliamentarians is their “constitutional right.”

Meanwhile, much of the progress on security has come on the backs of questionable alliances with forces who aren’t necessarily friendly to the United States.  The enemy of my enemy is my friend has historically proven to be a dubious proposition.  Working with Sunni tribes that have previously attacked American troops doesn’t seem like too much progress.  Especially since it has caused Prime Minister Maliki to threaten to further arm Shi’a militias.  Why?  Because Maliki understands that while Sunni tribes might be useful in fighting Al Qaeda, what we are essentially doing is arming the Sunnis against the Shi’a for the inevitable outbreak of more sectarian hostilities.  This whole concept was tried in Afghanistan in the 1980s.  Didn’t work out too well….

Sectarian killings in Baghdad aren’t really down.  Baghdad is now getting 1-2 hours of electricity per day.  This is also causing the water purification systems to shut down, which is a major humanitarian problem. 

In short, the O’Hanlon Pollack piece is full of anecdotal evidence that we have heard too many times before.  The big problems on politics and sectarian violence persist and show no signs of improving.

I have great respect for Mike O’hanlon when he writes about military issues and the defense budget.  Ken Pollack is a serious Middle East expert who has published a great deal of interesting material about the Middle East.  Unfortunately, on Iraq they have both been consistently and tragically wrong. 


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