Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Micromanaging the war in Iraq

President Bush has accused Congress of trying to micromanage the war in Iraq but, to quote Rosa Brooks, “Someone’s gotta micromanage that war!”

The current stage of this conflict is a result of the administration’s lack of management – micro or otherwise -- in Iraq from the beginning: the absence of enough troops from the beginning, the failure to secure borders, the failure to provide internal security, the embarrassing dismal failure of the Coalition Provisional Authority under the leadership of Paul Bremer, the botched "de-Ba'athification" program, the lack of progress in reconstruction, billions of dollars of reconstruction aid that disappeared, the failure of this administration to hold the inept Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld accountable for his failed leadership, etc,

The administration expects General David Petraeus to lead the U.S. to victory. However, Petraeus and other military leaders have been clear that military action is only one component of what needs to be done. The so-called surge is not meant to win a war but to buy time so the political work can be done to wind the conflict down and stabilize the country. Military operations alone win nothing in the long run.

The problem, again, is the Bush administration in Washington and the Maliki government in Iraq are not doing their part while soldiers and civilians die.

Fareed Zakaria in the April 2nd issues of Newsweek offers this assessment:
To speak of victory in Iraq might sound like a cruel joke. This is a nation that is now devastated, where 2 million people have fled, another 2 million are internal refugees, militias run large parts of the country and the government sanctions religious repression, ethnic cleansing and vigilante violence. What does "victory" mean in such circumstances?

It would seem reasonable … to measure progress not just by neighborhoods secured and militants killed, but in political terms as well. And as it happens we have a series of benchmarks that have been set out at various points by the Bush administration and the Iraqi government.

Just before the referendum on Iraq's Constitution in October 2005, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad brokered a deal that secured Sunni participation in exchange for the Iraqi government's promising to set up a committee to amend the Constitution to incorporate Sunni concerns later. This was to have been done four months after the formation of Iraq's elected government—in other words, by September 2006. Nothing has happened. When he took office, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced plans for an ambitious program of national reconciliation. Nothing has happened.

In January, after persistent inquiries from Sen. Carl Levin, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote to Levin setting out the benchmarks and timeline that the Iraqi government had signed off on. They included new election laws, the scheduling of provincial elections, laws on investment and oil-revenue sharing, the disbanding of militias, the reversal of de-Baathification and the granting of amnesty. In supporting the surge, Sen. John McCain also listed these goals as crucial to progress. But none of them has taken place. The revenue-sharing law has passed the cabinet but not yet moved through Parliament. The Los Angeles Times reported in February that Baghdad had abandoned plans to reverse de-Baathification. It quoted a U.S. official who said that the reform, far from advancing as promised, was "moving backward" and was "almost dead in the water." The amnesty law also appears moribund.

These two measures have historically proved crucial in almost any political process that has ended a civil war. Without some kind of amnesty and prospect for rehabilitation, there is little incentive for insurgents to lay down their arms and join the political process. Last week the Sunni vice president of Iraq urged his own government to begin talks with the insurgents, a position that General Petraeus has also taken.

There are less formal benchmarks that are also not being met. Maliki was to have reshuffled his cabinet to remove members who actively fomented civil war. That has not happened. The government was to finally start spending money in Sunni areas. That has not happened. Militias were to be demobilized. Instead, one of their most notorious leaders has been released from prison and publicly embraced by Maliki.
If George Bush really wanted to “support the troops” then he would get off his rear end and get to work. But if this administration is not willing to do the work necessary to pressure the Maliki government to take the political steps to end the civil war, open diplomatic channels to Iraq’s neighbors (i.e., Syria and Iraq) to secure Iraq’s borders, and provide resources for Iraq’s reconstruction that will make a difference in the lives of Iraqis rather than put billions of dollars in the pockets of American contractors, then the Congress needs to take over the (micro)management of this war. It is just too important to be allowed to continue to drift without direction as it has for the past few years.

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