Monday, November 03, 2008

Red Lines

The Washington Times for November 3 has an article by Nicholas Kralev (“U.S. weighs U.N. option to stay in Iraq”) detailing the latest moves by Washington and Baghdad over the status of forces agreement (SOFA) for U.S. troops in Iraq after December 31, 2008.

The Bush administration has been in discussions with the Iraqi regime headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki since March. Ostensibly, what the White House presented to the Iraqi’s was an amendable “draft” agreement specifying what the U.S. expected a “grateful” Iraqi people, through “their” representatives, to endorse.

Whether Iraqis have been “grateful” I leave to others. But they have refused to play permanent second fiddle as Washington tries to orchestrate a full-fledged U.S. military presence in the Gulf’s future, a presence that largely ignores Iraq’s sovereignty. Had al-Maliki simply accepted the main White House demands – the right to launch attacks from Iraq against Iraq’s neighbors; to conduct operations within Iraq without preapproval by Iraqi authorities, to detain without a warrant any Iraqi encountered during a U.S. operation, and to exclude all U.S. persons in Iraq from compliance with the Iraqi justice system –Iraq would have been little more than a medieval vassal state.

What I find of almost equal interest as the continuing rejection by the Iraqis of Washington’s demands are the comments by right-wing pundits that Baghdad is in danger of overplaying its hand, that in fact the U.S. has the option – regardless of who wins tomorrow’s election – of withdrawing troops and leaving al-Maliki “twisting slowly slowly in the wind.” If the government in Baghdad is that vulnerable, then one has to question the veracity of the reports from field commanders about the proficiency of the Iraqi army and police.

As time runs out on the December 31, 2008 dead line, there is a sense of growing indecision in the White House as to what course to pursue. And as time begins to run out, the rhetoric becomes more strident. There are “red lines” the U.S. has drawn that the Iraqis cannot step over without dire consequences – e.g., the Americans can simply pick up their troops and leave al-Maliki and Iraq to their fates. (One can appreciate why the White House was not amused when one version of the draft sent to the U.S. side carried the title “Agreement on Complete U.S. Withdrawal from Iraq.”)

The lesson for the world as it watches this process play out is that they no longer have t0 meekly assume the role that “assigns” to others, often with little thought except for U.S. goals and U.S. “red lines.” “Lines in the sand” are notorious for disappearing, either obliterated by the throngs that pass through or by the next high tide. Either way, with all traces gone, there is no direction, no order, no process. Better to put up a red stop sign, as the Iraqis are doing, and challenge the future that someone else has projected before it arrives, leaving little choice but a great deal of chaos.


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