So there was Amb. Richard Holbrooke talking with Jim Lehrer last night about the success of the Dayton Accords in stopping the war in Bosnia. It's been 10 years since Holbrooke led the negotiations that produced the accords, and yesterday at the White House, the three main parties in Bosnia agreed to break down some of the final barriers to normalization.
While I'm happy for Bosnia, where I had the privilege of living for a year while helping in the reconstruction, the real lessons of the Dayton Accords and the 10-year peace building process there has yet to be learned. Yesterday’s dramatic announcements coming out of the Cairo Summit on Iraq offer an opportunity for the intern ational community and the United States to finally profit from the tough lessons learned in Bosnia.
Holbrooke himself tried to make this point, but he was quickly shut down . Holbrooke was discussing the sequence of events in Bosnia : the U.S. and NATO bombed the Serbs into peace talks, the Dayton Accords were signed, and then 20,000 U.S. troops joined with other NATO forces to enforce the agreement. At that point, he mentioned to Lehrer that the ratio of multinational troops to local population in Bosnia would have required "600,000" troops on the ground in Iraq, not 150,000. At that, Lehrer redirected the conversation back to Bosnia.
But the lesson for Iraq is more than just having the right number of troops. What is more important is having some kind of political consensus that legitimizes the intern ational presence. The Bush administration never had any intention of holding a Dayton for Iraq, or even a Loya Jirga, the Afghani analog. Rather, the plan was to install a puppet regime, evidenced by the insertion of Ahmed Chalabi and his INC militia on military transports into Iraq even ahead of the arrival of the first U.S. administrator, retired Gen. Jay Garner. When that plan failed, instead of turning to the Dayton model, the White House decided to rule Iraq directly, subsequently handing over to two different sets of puppets.
It was a fateful series of strategic mistakes but the process started at Cairo offers a chance to finally get onto a track towards peace. To make it work, however, the U.S. will have to subordinate its military and economic planning to the outcomes of the Cairo process. That was the structure of Dayton. American troops did not arrive before an agreement was reached and then they implemented the agreement. Bush won't make that decision of his own accord, as he's still trying to force his now-unraveling alliance of Shi'a and Kurds down Iraqis' throats. Change will require domestic political pressure here in the U.S., meaning a united Democratic position on Iraq.
The benefits are clear. The Sunni insurgents are part of the Cairo process and are calling for direct negotiations with the Americans. A truce that allows good-faith talks to succeed would reduce our casualties, strengthen the subsequent agreement, and accelerate reconstruction of the local economy. That's all good. With the EU and the U.N. involved in the talks already, it is clear that this path has the chance of producing some kind of burden-sharing arrangement, allowing even more U.S. troops to come home. But ultimately, a legitimate peace process is the best chance of bringing peace to Iraq, and avoiding the civil war that is breathtakingly close to erupting.
So between now and February, when the next round of talks are scheduled, it is essential that Democrats from Murtha to Woolsey and from Clinton to Feingold debate not just the scale and pace of unilateral disengagement. With the advent of the Cairo process, our last best hope for peace has arrived. We must commit the full resources of our country to seeing it work. And that means the disposition of our troops must follow not what is easy but what is best for bringing peace to Iraq.
The Bush administration's strategy of "guns and puppets" is a dead end. The path to peace goes through Cairo, via Dayton.
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