30 jul. 2008

We have Seen the Enemy and He Is Us


Last train from Baghdad
Improbably, an opportunity has arisen in Iraq for the United States to attain two of its most important goals, namely obtaining some legitimacy for the "government" of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and getting American troops out of his country at the same time.
This could be the last international express leaving Baghdad Central Station, and the United States and its armed forces should be on it.
The opportunity arises from a breakdown in negotiations to draw up a status of forces agreement and a so-called security framework, which is an unequal alliance in all but name.
Washington should be dancing in the streets. There could at this point be no better way for American troops to exit Iraq than in response to a request from the Iraqi "government." Contrary to the neocon's promises, the Iraqis did not welcome American troops with flowers, but they might be willing to toss a few in front of U.S. forces as they pull out.
The United States could then withdraw from a failed enterprise with flags flying and drums rolling, maintaining a halfway credible pretense that the American nation did not lose the war in Iraq. American policymakers are not likely to do better than that.
At the same time, the Maliki "government" in Baghdad has a heaven-sent opportunity to acquire what it needs most, namely some legitimacy. So long as it is propped up by American troops, it will remain in the eyes of almost all Iraqis as acquiescing in a foreign and non-Muslim occupation of a Muslim country, a 21st century equivalent of the Vichy regime in France that collaborated with the Nazi occupation forces during World War II.
But if the Maliki government ordered the Americans out, it would suddenly begin to look like a real Iraqi government. That is far from enough to restore a state in Iraq, but it would be a step in the right direction.
There is little doubt that if a referendum were held in Iraq on sending the Americans home, it would win in a landslide. Iraqi politicians know where their public is on this issue, and like politicians everywhere they want to swim with the tide.
Moreover, some seem to sense that the Americans' time in Iraq is ending if not over. As usual, the Desert Fox, Moqtada Sadr, is making all the right moves. He is positioning himself as leader of all Iraqi resistance to the American occupation, not just head of a Shiite faction.
By welcoming Iraqi troops -- many of whom are his militiamen -- into areas he controls but fighting the Americans, Sadr is splitting his opposition. Most importantly, he is maintaining his credentials as the Iraqi leader least willing to condone a continued occupation, thereby gaining that decisive quality, legitimacy.
If the Iraqi government orders American troops out, the result would be a win-win situation. America would win, and so would Iraq. In fact, it would be a win-win outcome, and there's the rub. The third winner would be Iran. A Shiite-dominated Iraq free of American occupation would have a close relationship with Iran. In fact, in order to defend itself in a nasty neighborhood Iraq would probably conclude a formal alliance with Iran.
The Bush administration's response should be a rapprochement with Iran. After all, the United States' real enemy is not any state but the non-state forces of Fourth Generation War. But that is not how the Bush administration will view the matter.
On the contrary, faced with the possibility of an Iranian strategic victory, courtesy of the American troops who overthrew Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the U.S. government is likely to take the fool's way out, escalation. Inside the White House bubble, the argument for attacking Iran might become irresistible, driven as it would be by panic.
The outcome of such folly could very well include the loss of the American army now in Iraq, not to mention another doubling in the price of oil. As usual under the second-worst president in American history -- Woodrow Wilson still ranks No. 1 -- we have seen the enemy, and he is us.
All the U.S. government has to do to get out of Iraq with some dignity while strengthening the government it installed there is to push that government into ordering U.S. forces home. That should be easy enough; what intransigence in the ongoing negotiations cannot achieve a few million Swiss francs should certainly manage. Instead, the Bush administration will refuse to board the last train out of the station, then blow up the railroad. If it were happening to someone else, it would all be comical.