Monday, January 08, 2007

Mistake to Think Bush Can Sort Out Iraq

When it comes to Iraq, the Bush Administration has been wrong about so much that it's ridiculous to believe that as Iraq descends deeper into chaos and as all the complexities of Iraq's ethnic groups, religious groups and tribal groups come to the fore that Bush and Cheney and their top advisers are suddenly going to sort out the mess with an escalation of military force and overcome their usual clumsiness in other areas. Juan Cole of Informed Comment has a post that clarifie a point about the militias:
Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno is quoted as saying that 80% of Iraq's militiamen are probably OK and could be put into the Iraqi security forces, while the other 20% may have to be "captured or killed."

This comment seems to me a welcome evidence of realism, much better than the conviction that the Sadr Movement can be defeated militarily. But I fear that the "more extreme" militiamen are the cousins of the ones who are OK, and if you kill the cousin of an Iraqi, he has to kill you to restore clan honor. So if you kill the 20%, you turn the "moderate" militiamen into your deadly enemies. Americans are so individualistic, they can't seem to get their minds around clans and clan feuds. This failure of understanding or imagination has underpinned a lot of the failure in Iraq. What you do is to make a deal with the clan leaders and make them responsible for reining in the extremists, setting things up so that they are denied financial rewards if they fail to do so. Of course this plan depends on your ability to guarantee the safety of the clan leaders, which at the moment the US military cannot do.

We need to pull back, not escalate for the third or fourth time. We need to wind down the war, not let it drag out into the next presidency. We can deal with very specific and very clear military situations and we can do far more with internal and regional negotiations, but behaving like a colonial power at this late stage simply ignores why colonialism went the way of horse and buggies. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney do not have the answers. The Iraqis are going to have to find the answers largely on their own. Increasingly, nothing is more important than keeping our incompetent president from dragging us into a larger conflict.

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