Monday, June 12, 2006

Maliki or Bush -- Who is in charge?

First there was the flurry and the restrained self-satisfaction in the White House over the air strike that killed Abu Masab al-Zarqawi.

President Bush at Camp David with the visiting Danish Foreign Minister said to reporters: ”I’ve told the American people I’d like to get our troops out as soon as possible. But the definition of ‘as soon as possible,’ is depending upon victory in Iraq ... and victory in Iraq is a country that can sustain itself, govern itself and defend itself. “I do not want the American people to think that a war is won with the death of one person.”

Not necessarily the case. One very important instance occurred on October 14, 1066 when, at the Battle of Hastings, the English (Anglo-Saxons) army opposing the Normans disintegrated when King Harold was killed on the battlefield.

Regardless, one wonders whether Bush’s “as soon as possible” bears any resemblance to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s. The Prime Minister has expressed confidence that Iraqi forces can take over security in 16 of Iraq’s 18 provinces (Baghdad and Anbar excepted) by the end of this year and in all of Iraq by the end of 2007.

Bush’s formula fails because it continues to conflate military victory with a political resolution. As long as coalition military forces remain in Iraq, the Iraqi government will not be truly sovereign and self-governing. The departure of coalition troops first from the cities to the borders and then from the country will also advance the prospects for reintegrating those Iraqis engaged in “nationalistic” anti-occupation fighting. In turn, improved security can only reinforce the prospects for positive discussions on amending the constitution – again a political, not a military – outcome.

Taken together, these two avenues, advanced on the timetable described by Maliki, ought to provide enough assurance that donor countries will finally begin to honor their pledges of economic support, which – in a cascading effect – should give more confidence to private investors, triggering the economic growth by which Iraq can sustain itself.

There are many conditionals – shoulds, mights, oughts – in this scenario. But for the U.S. to retain 10,000-20,000 troops in Iraq for the next ten years, as some in the administration are suggesting, would transmute these positive possibilities into costly and negative actualities.

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