The great problem with the Bush administration in Iraq is not that the “decider” is motivated by a singular, narrow, myopic ideology.
No, the real crisis is that there is no decider at all; nobody to resolve the internal factional fighting that plague the administration and its entire military misadventure in Iraq.
I do not mean to downplay the difficulty of fighting a guerilla war against the determined resistance of a popular insurgency. After all, the war in Vietnam lasted more than eight years.
But one of the two mutually contradictory tracks of US policy in Iraq has been to not fight a guerilla war against the Sunni Arab insurgency.
Right Arabists in Washington never wanted to topple the ruling Sunni Arab minority and they have been fighting to restore Sunni Arab political and military dominance since Paul Bremer’s 2003 de-Baathification orders.
Today, the Right Arabist track of US policy moves rapidly toward military reconciliation with the Sunni Arab insurgency.
In his most recent press conference, President Bush welcomed progress made along this track as an affirmation of “political reconciliation from the bottom up.”
Right Arabists always favored this line of policy–toppling Saddam but without undermining Sunni Arab political and military dominance–and can plausibly argue that there never would have been a Sunni Arab insurgency if George W. Bush had remained true to the Right Arabist aspirations of his father’s administration: Saddamism without Saddam.
New York Times reporter Richard A. Oppel, Jr. offers a profile of the military reconciliation between US forces and the Sunni Arab insurgency–“Mistrust as Iraqi Troops Encounter New U.S. Allies“–and suggests that some American soldiers think of this reconciliation as a ticket home.
First Lt. Tom Cherepko said: “We fully understand that maybe a few months ago they were attacking us. We don’t trust them, but we’ll work with them. That’s my way of not having to come back for a third rotation, getting them to stand up for themselves.”
And yet, George W. Bush has always also pursued another very different–indeed, contradictory–track that emphasizes the “young democracy” of Shiite majority rule in Iraq.
It is this track that originally sparked the Sunni Arab insurgency and–as one Sunni militant explained to the Washington Post–continues to inflame the insurgency.
Over the course of a 90-minute interview, a leader of an armed Sunni group in western Baghdad described his hatred for Iran and the current Iraqi government…
Abu Sarhan, as the 37-year-old insurgent wished to be known, said Iraq’s Sunnis are deep into an entrenched and irresolvable civil war against Iranian-backed Shiites. He said the premise of the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency strategy — deploying thousands of soldiers in small outposts in violent neighborhoods — only inflames the insurgency and prompts attacks against the Americans…
Abu Sarhan said that the leading Shiite parties in the government, including the Dawa party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, along with the Supreme Council and prominent Shiite militias, are beholden to Iran. The Iranians appeared to be of such grave concern to him not just because of the bloody history of war between the two countries, but also because of Iran’s perceived intolerance toward Sunnis in general. He said his long-term political goal was to recapture the prominence that Sunnis had enjoyed under Hussein’s government.
“The problem is that the Americans have a relationship with the slaves: Dawa, Badr Organization, the Mahdi Army are slaves to Iran,” he said.
The Financial Times suggests that today there is almost as much anti-Maliki sentiment within the US political establishment as there is among Sunni Arab insurgents like Abu Sarhan.
“I don’t think there’s any debate in the Senate about disappointment with the Iraqi government. It’s pretty uniform,” Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, told CNN.
Right Zionists like Reuel Marc Gerecht, however, argue that victory in Iraq requires strengthening the US alliance with Iraqi Shiites and suggests that nothing has slowed progress in Iraq so much as the US reluctance to finish what it started.
Critics of the surge often underscore the absence of a clearly defined post-surge political strategy. Echoing Rumsfeld and Abizaid, these critics believe that only a “political solution”–that is, Shiite and Kurdish concessions to the once-dominant Sunni minority–can solve Iraq’s trauma. The Bush administration has largely been in agreement with this view, following a strategy since 2004 of trying to placate the Sunnis.
It hasn’t worked. In all probability, it could not. Certainly an approach that centers on de-de-Baathification is destined to fail since the vast majority of Iraq’s Shiites, and probably Kurds, too, oppose any deal that would allow the Sunni Baathist elite back into government. And de-de-Baathification is not about letting Sunni Arab teachers, engineers, and nurses back into the government job market. It’s about the Baathist Sunni elite getting the power and prestige of senior positions, especially in the military and security services. If we really want Iraq to succeed in the long term, we will stop pushing this idea. Onetime totalitarian societies that more thoroughly purge despotic party members have done much better than those that allow the old guard to stay on (think Russia). Grand Ayatollah Sistani is right about this; the State Department and the CIA are wrong.
The Sunni insurgency will likely cease when the Sunnis, who have been addicted to power and the perception of the Shiites as a God-ordained underclass, know in their hearts that they cannot win against the Shiites, that continued fighting will only make their situation worse. Thanks in part to the ferocity of vengeful Shiite militias, we are getting there.
To date, the Bush administration continues to support the Shiite-led government in Iraq, even as it also pursues military reconciliation with the enemies of that government.
But suppose the “Decider” did actually settle on full reconciliation with the Sunni insurgency. Wouldn’t soldiers like First Lt. Tom Cherepko avoid a third rotation?
Only if Iraqi Shiites relinquish power without a fight.
US military reconciliation with the Sunni insurgency could easily lead to confrontation with Iraqi Shiite power.
Richard Oppel’s New York Times article hints at the ways in which the contradictions of US policy might create new problems in Iraq.
Abu Azzam says the 2,300 men in his movement include members of fierce Sunni groups like the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade and the Mujahedeen Army that have fought the American occupation. Now his men patrol alongside the Americans, who want to turn them into a security force that can bring peace to this stretch between Baghdad and Falluja.
A few miles away, in the town of Abu Ghraib, Brig. Gen. Nassir al-Hiti and his brigade of Iraqi Army soldiers also have the support of the American military. But they have a different ambition, some American commanders here say: doing everything they can to undermine Abu Azzam’s men…
If General Nassir’s unit, the Muthanna Brigade, is any indication, the outlook is not promising, said Lt. Col. Kurt Pinkerton, a 41-year-old California native who has spent the past months cultivating his relationship with Abu Azzam…
About a month ago, the Iraqi brigade, which is predominantly Shiite, was assigned a new area and instructed to stay away from Nasr Wa Salam, Colonel Pinkerton said. But he said he believed that the Iraqi soldiers remain intent on preventing Sunni Arabs, a majority here, from controlling the area…
Recently, and without warning, Colonel Pinkerton said, 80 Iraqi soldiers in armored vehicles charged out of their sector toward Nasr Wa Salam but were blocked by an American platoon. The Iraqis refused to say where they were going and threatened to drive right through the American soldiers, whom they greatly outnumbered.
Eventually, with Apache helicopter gunships circling overhead and American gunners aiming their weapons at them, the Iraqi soldiers retreated. “It hasn’t come to firing bullets yet,” Colonel Pinkerton said.
But there are clearly elements of the US military and the Sunni Arab insurgency who favor the US-Sunni alliance and fear the Shia of Iraq and Iran. Oppel reports:
Colonel Pinkerton’s experiences here, he said, have inverted the usual American instincts born of years of hard fighting against Sunni insurgents.
“I could stand among 1,800 Sunnis in Abu Ghraib,” he said, “and feel more comfortable than standing in a formation of [Shiite] Iraqi soldiers.”
Pinkerton’s Sunni Arab ally agrees:
The Americans will someday leave, [Abu Azzam] said, and the far bigger threat is a permanent Iranian occupation. He fears the Muthanna Brigade is a harbinger of that, because he says it is infiltrated by Iranian-sympathizing militiamen who abuse Sunnis.
Will the Decider ever embrace a decisive policy in Iraq?
Maybe the Bush administration will join with the Sunni insurgency and launch a direct confrontation with the Shia of Iraq (against the advice of Right Zionists like Reuel Marc Gerecht.)
Or maybe the Bush administration will break with the “Anbar Model,” adopt the “Shiite Option,” and launch a direct confrontation with the Sunni insurgency.
Or maybe President Bush doesn’t understand what it means to decide.
In the meanwhile, soldiers like First Lt. Tom Cherepko of Elizabeth Township Pennsylvania stand in the crosshairs of the Bush administration’s contradictory policies.