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November 23, 2007

That Wacky, Wacky Krauthammer
Posted by Michael Cohen

In today's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer has written another piece in his multi-year fantasy series "See the World as I Do, Not As It Really Is." His topic today, a familiar one, the extraordinary success of the surge in Iraq and the disloyal and partisan Democrats (in particular Nancy Pelosi) who are living in a "state of denial"  and want to pull the plug.

When I read Charles Krauthammer use the words "state of denial" I feel the need to introduce him to the "kettle" and the "pot." And I feel like a bit of a broken record on this point, but it's important to once again go back and remind ourselves of the rationale for the surge in Iraq.  It was never intended as a military solution to the challenges facing Iraq - it's success was always predicated on political reconciliation, which of course has not occurred. Faced with this nasty piece of reality, Krauthammer has bravely not tried to ignore it (as many on the right are prone to do) he simply says it doesn't matter:

We would all love to have the leaders of the various factions -- Kurd, Shiite and Sunni -- sign nice pieces of paper tying up all the knotty questions of federalism, de-Baathification and oil revenue. . .  But it is not going to happen for the same reason it has not already happened: The Maliki government is too sectarian and paralyzed to be able to end the war in a stroke of reconciliation.

But does the absence of this deus ex machina invalidate our hard-won gains? Why does this mean that we cannot achieve success by other means?

Talk about moving the goalposts. So what does this "success by other means" look like: local provincial and tribal autonomy. In fact Krauthammer lauds the "genius" of General Petraeus for genius for adapting "American strategy to capitalize on that development, encouraging the emergence of and allying ourselves with tribal and provincial leaders."

Yet, as Podesta, Korb and Katulis pointed out last week in the Washington Post (maybe Krauthammer should occasionally read his own op-ed page) "the progress being made at the local level often undermines the stated goal of creating a unified, stable, democratic Iraq." Creating pockets of political and military power divorced from the central government is hardly a long-term plan for success, its a path toward creating another Afghanistan - a warlord state. Moreover, Maliki is using these local "success stories" to argue that there is no need to move forward on national reconciliation (a concept he recently mocked). How long do you think the Sunnis will put up with that? How long do you think they will accept being shut out of the country's oil revenues? Yeah me neither.

As Thomas Ricks pointed out a week ago:


All the U.S. military officials interviewed said their most pressing concern is that Sunnis will sour if the Iraqi government doesn't begin to reciprocate their peace overtures. "The Sunnis have shown great patience," said Campbell. "You don't want the Sunnis that are working with you . . . to go back to the dark side."
The Army officer who requested anonymity said that if the Iraqi government doesn't reach out, then for former Sunni insurgents "it's game on -- they're back to attacking again."  

Obviously it's a great thing that violence is down and there seems to be some normalcy returning to Baghdad - but to latch on to these events and laud them as successes all the while ignoring the many clear signs of political fragility in Iraq is an exercise of extraordinary obfuscation and denial.  Ultimately, Iraq's only hope for long-term reconciliation is . . . reconciliation. Yet, there is no evidence that even with this recent window of decreased violence  the Maliki government is taking advantage of the opportunity.  Why the same folks on the right who blasted welfare as creating a 'culture of dependency' can't see that the same phenomenon is occurring in Iraq (namely the Maliki government relying on the presence of American troops and American-supplied security to avoid taking genuine steps toward politial reconciliation) is beyond me. For all the fragile signs of progress in Iraq that we might be seeing now, we have yet to come up with a long-term strategy for success. Trumpeting  positive developments while ignoring the larger challenges (the Bush Administration strategy of the past nearly five years) represents the true "state of denial" on Iraq.


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The media spin: Baghdad is quiet due to sectarian cleansing and all we need now is reconciliation between the Iraqi 'government' and the Sunnis.

The reality: Iraq is unstable in many ways.

US v.Iraqi: Police said insurgents fired 10 mortar bombs at Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone just before dusk on Thanksgiving. A Reuters witness said he saw what appeared to be a body hanging from a damaged minibus in the zone, which houses the U.S. embassy and many government ministries. Police said there were casualties, but had no details. . . . “I thought I was going to die.” said Kalenits, 23, who was seriously wounded in an Nov. 9 ambush in the Nuristan province. “I don’t know how any of us made it out of there alive.” Six U.S. soldiers were killed in the attack and eight — including Kalenits were wounded. A bullet shattered Kalenits’ pelvis.

Sunni v. Shia: The sniping is incessant, the skirmishes bruising. For months, the verbal warfare between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, and his Sunni vice-president, Tariq al-Hashemi, has been escalating. Now Iraqi politicians and American diplomats and analysts fear that the very public feuding between two of Iraq's most influential leaders will doom even the minimal hopes that exist for progress on a host of key benchmarks — such as holding provincial elections and equitably sharing oil revenues.

Sunni v. Sunni (AQI): Sunni insurgents dressed as Iraqi Army troops stormed a Sunni village southeast of Baghdad at dawn on Thursday, witnesses said, killing at least 11 people during a three hour firefight before U.S. and Iraqi soldiers drove them off. More may have been killed. A hospital worker counted 11 dead, including three Iraqi soldiers, but a local sheik said 20 corpses remained scattered throughout the village. The village, Howr Rajab, has been the site of fierce struggles between two rival Sunni groups, the homegrown Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which the U.S. authorities say is foreign-led, and members of Sunni Awakening, who are allied with the American forces here.

Shia v. Shia: Increasing conflict and finger pointing between leading Shi'ite political blocs are heightening instability in war-torn Iraq. The Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq (SICI) led by Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim, and The Sadr Movement led by anti-occupation cleric Muqtada Al- Sadr are accusing each other of committing serious crimes against humanity in the southern parts of Iraq. In early September, clashes between Sadr's Mehdi Army militia and the Badr Organisation militia of SIIC erupted in the holy city of Kerbala, 100 kilometres southwest of Baghdad.

Arab v. Kurd: A large camp in northern Iraq has been surrounded by Iraqi army. Iraqi soldiers set up check points in front of the Mahmur camp in which people ran away from Turkey in 1990's are living, and do not let foreign people, including the members of the outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) to enter into the camp. Turkey has claimed that the Mahmur camp was under control of the PKK and was logistics source for the PKK.

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