A Realist Manifesto

Posted by Cutler on December 07, 2006
Iraq, Right Arabists

The Iraq Study Group Report has been released. I’m not at all convinced that it represents the advent of a Realist (Right Arabist) coup in Washington, as initially predicted. There seems to be plenty of “push back” against it from some quarters within the Bush administration.

Even if none of it fails to become official policy, the Report does represent what Washington Post reporters Glenn Kessler and Thomas Ricks call “The Realist Manifesto” and so deserves to be read and archived for what it reveals about Right Arabist positions on US policy in the Gulf.

There are a few key sections that represent key consitutive elements of Right Arabist views on the proper domestic contours of Iraqi politics. There is no “Shiite Option” or “80 Percent Solution” in this report.

National reconciliation is essential to reduce further violence and maintain the unity of Iraq.

U.S. forces can help provide stability for a time to enable Iraqi leaders to negotiate political solutions, but they cannot stop the violence—or even contain it—if there is no underlying political agreement among Iraqis about the future of their country.

The Iraqi government must send a clear signal to Sunnis that there is a place for them in national life. The government needs to act now, to give a signal of hope. Unless Sunnis believe they can get a fair deal in Iraq through the political process, there is no prospect that the insurgency will end.

To strike this fair deal, the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people must address several issues that are critical to the success of national reconciliation and thus to the future of Iraq.

Steps for Iraq to Take on Behalf of National Reconciliation

RECOMMENDATION 26: Constitution review. Review of the constitution is essential to national reconciliation and should be pursued on an urgent basis. The United Nations has expertise in this field, and should play a role in this process.

RECOMMENDATION 27: De-Baathification. Political reconciliation requires the reintegration of Baathists and Arab nationalists into national life, with the leading figures of Saddam Hussein’s regime excluded. The United States should encourage the return of qualified Iraqi professionals—Sunni or Shia, nationalist or ex-Baathist, Kurd or Turkmen or Christian or Arab—into the government.

The report provides some detailed discussion of oil politics in Iraqi “national reconciliation.” As I indicated in a previous post, Right Arabists favor Iraqi unity and centralized control over new oil field development.

Here is a section entitled, “The Politics of Oil,” that lays out the specific political link between sectarian tensions and the domestic battle for future control of Iraqi oil.

The politics of oil has the potential to further damage the country’s already fragile efforts to create a unified central government.

The Iraqi Constitution leaves the door open for regions to take the lead in developing new oil resources. Article 108 states that “oil and gas are the ownership of all the peoples of Iraq in all the regions and governorates,” while Article 109 tasks the federal government with “the management of oil and gas extracted from current fields.”

This language has led to contention over what constitutes a “new” or an “existing” resource, a question that has profound ramifications for the ultimate control of future oil revenue. Senior members of Iraq’s oil industry argue that a national oil company could reduce political tensions by centralizing revenues and reducing regional or local claims to a percentage of the revenue derived from production.

However, regional leaders are suspicious and resist this proposal, affirming the rights of local communities to have direct access to the inflow of oil revenue. Kurdish leaders have been particularly aggressive in asserting independent control of their oil assets, signing and implementing investment deals with foreign oil companies in northern Iraq. Shia politicians are also reported to be negotiating oil investment contracts with foreign companies.

On this issue, the Iraq Study Group has taken a clear stand:

RECOMMENDATION 28: Oil revenue sharing. Oil revenues should accrue to the central government and be shared on the basis of population. No formula that gives control over revenues from future fields to the regions or gives control of oil fields to the regions is compatible with national reconciliation.

Headlines about the Report tend to be focused on the call for international diplomacy. But all of this international efforts are, in essence, geared toward achieving the domestic “reconciliation” goals articulated above. Because these goals are meant to curb Shiite and Kurdish ambitions, relative to the Sunni population, the international diplomatic proposals have already met with considerable opposition from Shiite and Kurdish political leaders, even as they have been welcomed by Sunnis and ex-Baathists.

In many respects, this manifesto could have been written before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. There is nothing particularly new about the Right Arabist line adopted in the Report. The “news” would have been that this line was now uncontested official policy.

On that front, it was–at best–a slow news day.

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