Friday, November 17, 2006

A Last Desperate Gambit to 'Save' Iraq War?

Yesterday Laura Rozen wrote in the LA Times that the Bush administration was considering a tilt toward the Iraqi Shiites. Today the same newspaper reports that the Shiite-dominated al Maliki government has issued a warrant for the arrest of a popular and prominent Sunni cleric, Shaikh Harith al-Dhari, the leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars. Juan Cole today wrote: “This arrest warrant, coming after the attack by Interior Ministry Special Police Commandos on the Sunni-led Ministry of Higher Education and recent kidnappings by the Sunni Arab guerrilla groups of Shiites-- all this activity points to a war among Iraq's major parties, many of whom have parts of the government under their control.”

Let us speculate by connecting some dots: 1) the election has placed great pressure on the administration to change its Iraqi policy; 2) Bush is very stubborn and may make a last stab at ‘saving’ his Iraq war policy; 3) Laura Rozen reported: “This past Veterans Day weekend, according to my sources, almost the entire Bush national security team gathered for an unpublicized two-day meeting. The topic: Iraq. The purpose of the meeting was to come up with a consensus position on a new path forward”; 4) today the al Maliki government issues an arrest warrant for a prominent Sunni opponent.

Virtually all of the Bush administration’s policies in the Middle East have been extremely risky and ill-advised. Laura Rozen wrote: “A U.S. tilt toward the Shiites is a risky strategy, one that could further alienate Iraq's Sunni neighbors and that could backfire by driving its Sunni population into common cause with foreign jihadists and Al Qaeda cells.” Recall that al Qaeda is a Sunni group. Although Bush’s favored ‘reason’ we can’t withdraw is that there would be “chaos” and “civil war” if we left, siding with the Shiites against the Sunnis would be likely to further enflame civil and sectarian war. We must never be surprised by such apparent contradictions. Most of the public pronouncements of the Bush administration are propaganda aimed to emotionally manipulate public opinion, not sincere revelations of their true motives. (Recall that Karl Rove's favorite book is Machiavelli's "The Prince".) What they say about their ‘reasons’ almost never accurately reflects their true thinking. That’s why Bush could say he was keeping Rumsfeld a couple of days before the election and fire him the day after. He blithely assumes that public statements can be false if he deems it necessary to influence the public.

I believe this again underlines why we must end our occupation of Iraq and only do those things we are called upon to do by the Iraqi authorities. (See my How to Get Out of Iraq.) We must stop trying to influence their affairs and only function as a helpful resource. If we engage in risky strategies to influence Iraq then we put ourselves in position to be blamed for any bad outcome and put ourselves at further risk of blowback.

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