Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Note to Mr. President: Shut Up... and Go Ride Your Bicycle
from today's New York Times...
As everyone with a television is aware, Lebanon has just suffered through a terrible month, with more than 1,000 people killed, most of them innocent civilians. But Iraq has suffered through an even worse month. Since June, more than 3,000 Iraqis have been killed each month, and the rate continues to rise. While Lebanon is now trying to pick up the pieces, Iraq is falling apart at an accelerating pace.
As Americans debate where to go from here on Iraq, one thing should be clear. Staying the course until President Bush leaves office 29 months from now is not an option. It is no longer even clear just what course America is on. Most of what Washington now claims to be doing cannot withstand the most elementary reality test.
Just this week, Mr. Bush defined America’s purpose as supporting an inclusive national unity government. Every day, it becomes increasingly clear that there is no such unity government, that there never has been and that the various branches of the Iraqi leadership are not trying to create one.
Iraq’s elected government is dominated by two Iranian-backed Shiite fundamentalist parties. They are backed on the streets of Baghdad and in the Shiite south by two Hezbollah-like armed militias. In Parliament, their power is reinforced by two Kurdish separatist parties, also with their own militias, which have been allowed to run the Kurdish northeast like an independent state within a state.
Washington doesn’t complain too loudly about these militias, because without them, the Iraqi government would be even weaker than it is now. But so long as they are allowed to enforce their murderous brand of vigilante justice, it is ludicrous to claim that Iraqis enjoy democracy or the rule of law.
Some Sunni parties also participate in the government, but without any real policy-making power. This week, the Sunni speaker of Parliament considered quitting to protest his isolation.
Outside Shiite and Kurdish areas, the authority of Iraq’s government is barely felt. There, Sunni insurgents fight and kill American troops. That insurgency did not die down after Saddam Hussein was captured, as Mr. Bush once hoped it would. Nor did it die down when elections were held, when the constitution was ratified, when the government was formed or when the local leader of Al Qaeda, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed. The insurgency rages on, and no one knows when, how or if it might end.
The other key element of Mr. Bush’s policy is his promise that as Iraqi forces stand up, American forces will stand down. Even on the rare occasions that Iraqi forces have stood up, they have often been unreliable and ineffective. In June, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki announced a drive by Iraqi and American troops to secure Baghdad. Baghdad became even less secure, and more American troops had to be called in to do a job they were supposed to be phasing out of. More Iraqis were killed in July than in any other month of the war.
And the mayhem in Baghdad continues unabated. Local policing is, in fact, a job that only Iraqis can do successfully. But almost three and a half years after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, there is still no Iraqi force capable of taking this on. And it is hard to see how the present Iraqi government will ever field such a force, so long as its power depends on armed sectarian militias that fuel the Baghdad violence.
Things in Iraq are not going to get better by themselves. The answer is not blind perseverance in staying a course that has demonstrably failed.