Republican silverback Virginia Senator John Warner has the same problem that practically every other American politician does in thinking about the Maliki government in Iraq:
Sen. John W. Warner, one of the most influential Republican voices in Congress on national security, called on President Bush yesterday to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq in time for Christmas as a new intelligence report concluded that political leaders in Baghdad are “unable to govern effectively.”
Warner’s declaration — after the Virginia senator’s recent four-day trip to the Middle East — roiled the political environment ahead of a much-anticipated progress report to be delivered Sept. 11 by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Although Warner had already broken with Bush’s strategy, this was the first time he endorsed pulling troops out by a specific date.
At his Capitol Hill news conference, Warner, a former Navy secretary and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, threw Bush’s own words back at him by noting that the president has said the U.S. commitment in Iraq must not be “open-ended.” Warner said it is time for the president to come up with an “orderly and carefully planned withdrawal,” suggesting that Bush “send a sharp and clear message” to the Iraqis by announcing a pullout plan by Sept. 15 — one that would involve at least a symbolic fraction of the 160,000 troops coming home by the holidays.
“I can think of no clearer form of that than if the president were to announce on the 15th that, in consultation with our senior military commanders, he’s decided to initiate the first step in a withdrawal of armed forces,” Warner said. “I say to the president respectfully, ‘Pick whatever number you wish.’ . . . Say, 5,000 could begin to redeploy and be home to their families and loved ones no later than Christmas of this year. That’s the first step.”
Senator Warner makes the error of thinking that the Maliki government hasn’t taken the steps necessary to stabilize Iraq because he’s being stubborn. Why else send a message?
Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Iraqi government is behaving the way it is because it can, because it must, and because that’s what the incentives the players have direct them to do.
Maliki’s government aren’t the representatives of the people—they’re the representatives of the militias. Reduced U. S. presence gives them a freer hand, freer to ethnically cleanse Baghdad and drive Sunni Arabs into the western provinces or out of the country, freer to battle among themselves for control of the oil-rich south. Reducing U. S. presence does change the incentives but not in the direction of stabilizing the country nor in a way that’s favorable to American interests.
Maliki knows that his real job is to ensure that the Shia Arabs will be the “overdogs.” In his mind he is the defender of Shia rights in Iraq. Someone else would merely be the defender of some other group. There are a few, like Allawi, who think of themselves PRIMARILY as Iraqi, but we saw how well he did at election time. What a disappointment that must have been.
We keep “screwing up” in places like Vietnam and Iraq because we (as a people) do not accept the relevance of history and cultural difference. We insists on believing people are all pretty much the same and that they will behave as we think we would behave. Nonsense. We and another set of peoples have paid the price for that cultural blindness once again.
“Swapping” Maliki for someone else would be pointless. The groups will not share power and wealth amicably. In their minds that is simply arming and equipping one’s enemies.
We are doing the right thing now in Anbar and Diyala. In those places we are balancing real forces not constitutional fantasies. Let us get on with that process and start working toward real accommodation with the neighboring states.