Monday, October 16, 2006

Accepting Reality

Dennis Ross is someone with a lot of expertise in peace talks, and I admire him. My first reaction to his Plan for Iraq was negative, but after reading it again, I think that his formulation of the Iraq problem, as "just getting each side to adjust to reality" makes a lot of sense. We have decimated Al Qaeda, but we ought to recognize that resolving the Sunni-Shiite split is not something we can tackle.
The starting point is to recognize that Iraq is not going to be a democratic, unified country that serves as a model for the region. The violence and the Sunni-Shiite division have already ruled that out. Instead, Iraq could, in the best case, evolve into a country that has the following: a central government with limited powers; provincial governments with extensive autonomy; sharing of oil revenue; and, at the local level, some rough form of representation and tolerance for minorities. In those circumstances Iraq might eventually achieve stability.
He next makes a point that I agree with:
Such an outcome won't materialize on its own. To be sure, it could emerge after a prolonged civil war, which is the path we are heading down. Three interconnected initiatives might create a more acceptable path for managing either this outcome or at least our own disengagement from Iraq.
America has grappled with its heritage of slavery of Africans for 3 or 4 centuries, and we still haven't gotten to Dr. King's dream. The divide between Shiites and Sunnis is much older and just as deep, if not more so, than our racial ones, because cruelty and suppression of Shiites has been remembered in religious processions expressing grief over the earliest martyrs of Shiism. The Sunnis have been killing Shiites as apostates and not real Muslims for more than a millennium. By overthrowing Saddam, we have interrupted the latest brutal suppression of Shiite religious practices, and given Shiites the hope of being empowered in a republic in which they are the majority. Most of Iraq's Shiites consider themselves Arabs, but their roots are Persian. They have been massively oppressed and they deserve justice.

Ross proposes three initiatives: a national reconciliation conference "not be disbanded until agreement is reached on amendments to the constitution" assuring Sunnis that their legimate interests be protected; a regional conference with all of Iraq's neighbors, which sounds pretty risky but may be necessary if we are not to get stuck; and lastly:
Third, President Bush should inform Maliki that we will not impose a deadline for withdrawal but we are going to negotiate with his government a timetable for our departure. The difference between a deadline and an agreed timetable is the difference between leaving the Iraqis in the lurch and informing them they have to assume responsibilities.
I think that Condoleeza Rice served notice on Malaki in her latest visit, so that may be what Bush is heading toward doing. Read the whole thing. After learning more about the Shi'ite/Sunni issues, I think that we may not be able to actually have a peaceful end to this, but I do think that our policy has been right so far, but that creating a fully free liberal democracy in Iraq may be a bridge too far. We should acknowledge that, but continue to furnish aid to the new regime.

Another advantage of adopting the Ross plan is that it would allow Republicans to focus on its successes while proving that they are pragmatic about this, as well. We have limited means and the war has limited support at home. We have done a lot of good, but we may need our troops available for other missions dealing with the remaining Axis of Evil. The more I think about this and learn about the history, the more I think that a shakeup in that region might be a good thing.

A blind emphasis on stability isn't necessarily the way to establish justice. Our own civil rights struggle in the 1950s and 1960s proves that. It's 50 years on, and we have shown that we are capable of working our problems out. I think that Muslims can do the same if they have to. Will this struggle distract terrorists from targeting the U.S. and other Western societies? Who knows?

Will this be a victory for Democrats? They will claim so, but it will be less credible if Bush follows Ross's advice. I'm willing to admit that I was wrong about the feasibility of establishing a Western style democracy, but I have learned more about Islamic history, and I understand the situation better. I don't feel that we will have failed or that leaving the solution to the Iraqis and their fellow Muslims to work out is a defeat. It is probably all that we could have hoped for.

North Korea and Iran are other problems we have to deal with, but which don't leave us any good options. I believe that we can continue as a superpower as long as we don't expect our military to do more than it was designed for. We had a treaty obligation to help South Vietnam, and we failed that ally. We have no such obligation to Iraq. We have shown adequately that tyrants like Saddam play a dangerous game trying to get around us.

I really think that the book, The Shia Revival, is very important for conservatives to read, and it hasn't received the attention it deserves.


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