Iraq: Now Or Never
September 27, 2005 - 4:28pm ET
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Nine months have passed since former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft declared he was seeing signs of incipient civil war in Iraq and the announcement last week from Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud that, "'All the dynamics are pulling the country apart...And the main worry of all the neighbors' was that the potential disintegration of Iraq into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish states would 'bring other countries in the region into the conflict.'"
Prince Saud's comments are deeply disturbing. First, the prince decided to make these statements to the press in Washington. That means the normal channels into the White House are deaf—to the Saudis. Second, what the prince says should make the hairs on all our necks stand on end. If "other countries in the region" start taking sides in Iraq, more than 20 percent of the world's oil production will be threatened and we'll be longing for the days $3.00 regular unleaded. Our economy will grind to a halt.
How could such a scenario play out? The International Crisis Group's report, posted yesterday, answers this question bluntly: "If the U.S. fails to pick up the baton, Iraq may face a scenario in which the constitution is adopted on 15 October and a government is elected by 15 December that will lack a strong political compact underpinning its legitimacy. In that case, the country's feared descent into civil war and disintegration, with mass expulsions in areas of mixed population (including Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and Kirkuk), could well become a reality."
Today in TomPaine.com, Robert Dreyfuss brings another layer of the story into focus. Instead of engaging in crisis negotiations with the representatives of the Sunni community, the United States is attacking Sunni cities using the Iraqi Shi'a and Kurdish militiamen that comprise the less-than-capable Iraqi National Army. In addition, the leadership of the Sunni political opposition is being targeted by bombers loyal to the ruling Shi'ite political parties.
Not only is the status quo on a trajectory for disintegration of Iraq, U.S. policy is actively creating an environment in which future Sunni political participation is increasingly impossible.
America is now at a crossroads. Our policy is driven by ideologues who are blind to the empirical evidence that their ideology, especially in Iraq, has failed. Now they are prepared to take the ultimate risk, to "stay the course" when that course has little, if any chance of success. Disintegration of Iraq, as the Saudi foreign minister said, will severely damage the U.S. economy at a time when our economy needs only one more shock to send it spiraling. To be sure, such a policy, by so clearly embracing complete failure, throws away the lives of all those Americans who have fought in Iraq and endangers the lives of millions more at home and around the world.
The Democratic party has so far been unable to unite behind a single policy on Iraq. Today that can change—and it must change. Today, Democrats can unite behind a policy that is simple and urgent. That's because between now and October 15, the great stumbling block to Democratic unity—the disposition of American forces—becomes a moot point. "Out Now" is irrelevant in such a timeframe, while those who want to finish the job we started in Iraq know that it cannot be done in the midst of a real civil war.
Operation Last Chance
The policy that emerges—let's call it Operation Last Chance—must have three elements: a cessation of major assaults on Sunni cities and towns, the guaranteed protection of Sunni political representatives and the immediate establishment of all-party negotiations.
First, the United States must stop offensive combat operations. A unilateral moratorium on major military actions on the part of the United States is essential to show the bona fides of the United States and give the embattled Sunni population a chance to reconnect and debate the constitution. This is not to say that the United States should merely hunker down in its bases, but rather that U.S. forces should begin to plan the inevitable shift from a combat footing to a constabulary footing that will come if diplomatic negotiations are successful.
Second, the United States must ensure the security of Sunni opposition politicians. This would involve securing their families, providing secure travel to and from negotiations, and securing the site of the negotiations. This will not be easy and it may cost American lives to achieve. But the alternative—civil war—will mean more American lives lost as we retreat, defeated in Iraq.
Finally, the United States must immediately launch all-party negotiations. The International Crisis Group explains the aim of the negotiations best: "With the referendum only three weeks away, an agreement will have to come, if at all, in the form of a political deal between representatives of the three key communities, brokered by the U.S., and concluded before 15 October. This could be achieved through a public commitment by all principal parties, guaranteed by Washington, that necessary steps will be taken through either legislation or constitutional amendment after the parliamentary elections to address certain specified Sunni Arab concerns." ICG goes on about the details of just such a deal, here .
But while the United States must initiate and support that process, America cannot remain the sole broker of the accord. Rather, it is time to take King Abdullah of Jordan up on his request to facilitate and call on the United Nations to support the process going forward.
Now Or Never
Democrats must come together at this moment. The American people are overwhelmingly behind a new approach to Iraq and, by sidelining the issue of withdrawal for now, that majority will back politicians up. We cannot afford to waste any more time—or precious American and Iraqi lives.
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