Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Chatham Report is a Sadrist Screed

And that's okay by me! I'm down with that!!

What has provoked this sudden impulse for reviewing my thinking is actually having sat down and reading the much-ballyhooed Chatham House Report on Iraq-Nam. At once I recognized the inchoate thoughts which had been causing me to sleep-walk through too many posts in these pages.

The following observations are intended only as my personal spin on the Chatham Report. Readers are invited to follow the above link to check me for misrepresenting the thrust of this white paper.

It's extremely important how well both houses of Congress, Republicans (hopefully) and Democrats, succeed in reining in the most recklessly militaristic administration in our history. But our ineffectual occupation of Iraq will not be directly influenced by tight-fisted congressional micro-managing. If this occupation is materially and adversely effected in the next 18 months, it will be because of developments on the ground in Iraq - and not so much by surging troops as by insurgent politics.

The current trend in Iraq is that civilian deaths in Baghdad are down; civilian deaths elsewhere are on the rise; American casualties are on the rise; Shia militias have gone underground.

Strategic thinking in the White House, Congress, the Pentagon, and the Military Central Command is watching, analyzing and scoring the wrong game in the Iraqi bowl. This multiple disconnect is forcing failure upon American efforts because it encourages us to work at cross purposes.

1. This is an occupation that the American Military machine has been assigned, and not a war. The adversary is not a foreign power but an array of violent, restless, native, and nationalist forces. The Anglo-American coalition long ago established that it wields the dominant armed force throughout Iraq; but it has been equally well-established that our occupation force is insufficient. Iraqi insurgents can strike at coalition forces only tangentially, through car bombs, improvised explosive devices, snipers, ambushes, and occasion mortars. But, Iraqis (separately and together) have devised a way of reducing the credibility of the occupation - through a proxy civil war(s) of terrorism. Not strong enough to uproot our coalition forces, armed sectarian elements, defined by their overlapping religious, klan, or militia loyalties, have demonstrated the inefficacy of the occupation by massive bloodletting and destruction of infra-structure. As long as their mutual self-destruction continues, Iraqis can prove that we Americans have failed to attain the most rudimentary goal of any occupation: to establish and maintain order. Without order, no facade of legitimacy can be attained. Not only that, but it only gets worse. Each Iraqi fatality (1) recruits additional fighters from the victim's klan and (2) deflects a large part of the blame upon the occupation forces for either permitting or encouraging the violence.

2. With no hope of legitimacy or adequate force, our mis-leaders are delusional if they imagine being afforded the luxury of pursuing their goals which originally motivated them to invade Iraq.
  1. The construction of an open society governed by a parliamentary system of government (Malicki is the seed?).
  2. Grabbing the Iraqi's oil (80% to international corporations for 30 years?).
  3. Using Iraq as a nation-sized bivouac to replace Saudi Arabia (a jumping-off place against Iran?).
Iraq is no longer greater than the sum of its three parts.

Another box is needed in which Iraqi complexities can be organized. Here, I think, the Chatham Report is extremely instructive:
The governments of the US and the UK, and the wider international community, continue to struggle with their analysis of Iraq, in particular of the country's political and social structures. This analytical failing has led to the pursuit of strategies that suit ideal depictions of how Iraq should look, but are often unrepresentative of the current situation. Different strategies are required which build upon an understanding of the . . . realities:
Chatham says those realities are:
  • Regional powers have a greater capacity than either the US or the UK to influence events in Iraq. This arises from a historical legacy of social interaction and religious association that exists irrespective of modern international state boundaries.
  • The social fabric of Iraq has been torn apart.
  • There is not 'one' civil war, nor 'one' insurgency, but several civil wars and insurgencies between different communities and organizations; there is also a range of actors seeking to undermine, overthrow or take control of the Iraqi government.
  • Iraqi nationalisms exist, but one distinct 'Iraqi' nationalism does not. Iraq has fractured into regions dominated by sectarian, ethnic or tribal political groupings that have gained further strength from their control of informal local economies.
  • Al-Qaeda has a very real presence in Iraq that has spread to the major cities of the centre and north of the country . . . .
  • Regional powers have a greater capacity than either the US or the UK to influence events in Iraq. This arises from a historical legacy of social interaction and religious association that exists irrespective of modern international state boundaries.
  • The Iraqi government is not able to exert authority evenly or effectively over the country. Across huge swathes of territory, it is largely irrelevant in terms of ordering social, economic, and political life. At best, it is merely one of several 'state-like actors' that now exist in Iraq.
  • The Iraqi government is not able to exert authority evenly or effectively over the country. Across huge swathes of territory, it is largely irrelevant in terms of ordering social, economic, and political life. At best, it is merely one of several 'state-like actors' that now exist in Iraq.
In the face of these multi-tier complexities, consider the cross-purposes with which Bush and Cheney have taxed our brave and professional armed forces:
  • Ending sectarian, political and criminal violence.
  • Winning even temporary acceptance and legitimacy of the occupation forces.
  • Establishing a parliamentary government in Baghdad.
  • Getting the Baghdad government to rule over all of Iraq.
  • Educating Iraqis in the rudimentary principles of federalism.
  • Rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure so that its economy can be restored and basic needs of nutrition, shelter, utilities, transportation and employment are attainable for Iraqis.
  • Getting the Oil out of (from) Iraq.
  • Keeping Iran from getting its grubby hands on our Iraq.
  • Using Iraq as flypaper with which to draw al Qaeda jihadists from other targets, so that Iraq can become/remain the central front in a war on terror.
These goals are laudable but require efforts which are mutually incompatible. Even the first of these - establishing order - appears insurmountable. A key observation from Chatham:
While it is clear that Iraq is racked by conflicts, there remains considerable confusion regarding the causes and who is involved. . . . In some ways, trying to determine the causes of these conflicts is now merely an academic exercise. A more practical view is to recognize that these conflicts represent a struggle for political power, being waged in different places between a range of actors and at a variety of levels. . . . The existence of so many cross-cutting conflicts - some of which involve state forces - makes it exceptionally difficult to promote some form of security normalization without becoming implicated in one or more of the conflicts.
In view of the catastrophic costs and risks of our continued muddling and mucking around in Iraq-mire, I submit that a severe restructuring of our operational goals is mandated, as follows:
The main goal and only indispensable goal is to separate al Qaeda elements from all Iraqi political forces, all of which are hostile to us.

The way to do this is to:
  • Acknowledge that the "elected" government in Baghdad has limited reach and functionality and will always be limited in terms of legitimacy, due to its identification with our Occupation; as such, this puppet government is only one political element in Iraq.
  • Acknowledge that there are other promising indigenous political forces opposed to the Malicki government and our occupation.
  • Acknowledge that these nationalist elements hostile to us need survive, and prevail; instead of suppressing them, we should be accommodating and nourishing them.
  • Acknowledge that the most conspicuous among them is Muqtada al-Sadr and his Jaish al-Mahdi army.
  • Acknowledge that what Iraq needs most is order, and that authoritarian rule has historically proven more expeditious in pacification than democratic government.
  • Acknowledge that the only way for us to establish a working relationship with these future Iraq re-building blocks of power - which are hostile to us and which we label as 'insurgents' - is to convince them the occupation is only temporary.
  • Acknowledge that the only way to so convince them of our intention to quit Iraq is to announce a measurable time-table for withdrawal and to stick to it.
Muqtada al-Sadr is back in down! He's inviting us to leave Iraq-Nam. We should accept his invitation.

Moqtada Sadr's Back in Town!

We should be relieved, but without showing it!

Moqtada Sadr, resurfaced in Iraq for the first time in months at Friday prayers, and said his followers would co-operate with Sunnis against US occupation.

Iraq's vice-president, Tarek al-Hashemi, described Mr Sadr as the "number one... the most influential leader" and said he would welcome a new approach to Sunni-Shia relations.

Speaking in the city of Kufa, Sadr blamed foreign troops for Iraq's problems, and said Sunnis and Shias alike should oppose their continued presence in the country. In a characteristically fiery sermon in Kufa, Mr Sadr led the 6,000 worshippers in the mosque in chanting:
No, no for Satan. No, no for America. No, no for the occupation. No, no for Israel.

I say to our Sunni brothers in Iraq that we are brothers and the occupier divided us in order to weaken the Iraqi people.

In unity is strength, and in division weakness. We say to them, welcome at any time.

I am ready to cooperate with them at all levels. This is my hand I stretch out to them - in so doing, I seek only God's satisfaction.

We want a united and democratic Iraq that does not follow the occupation's agenda.

We signed with them a pledge charter which we hope will be the nucleus of future agreements with other brothers, whether Sunni, Kurdish or otherwise.
This thug, a demagogue in our eyes, is a demigod in the eyes of the Shiia. But he can't be less credible than our own demagogue-in-chief. He's a genuine Iraqi re-building block. Not the answer but part of the answer. Let's be sure we aren't the ones who kill this would-be golden goose!