Escalation alone is doomed to fail

January 14, 2007|By David L. Mack

There is no military silver bullet for our dilemma in Iraq.

Unless Iraqi leaders make tough decisions to improve political dialogue and governance, President Bush's proposed increase in U.S. combat forces will be a waste of our precious human resources.

Leading advocates of a surge in U.S. military deployment to Iraq are correct in saying it would be effective only if it were substantial and sustained. But the necessary political accommodations by Iraq's ruling groups and the necessary level of economic assistance to the least-secure areas must also be substantial and sustained. Moreover, the United States would have to be willing to give other governments a stake in stabilizing Iraq, unless it is prepared to maintain the increase in military force and economic assistance indefinitely.

Iraqi sectarianism, suppressed under decades of Baathist rule, has polarized political identities during the past few years of extreme personal insecurity, hardship and uncertainty. The leading Shiite politician with a reputation for reaching across the sectarian divide, Ayad Allawi, is unpopular because of his cooperation with forceful U.S. military measures against Sunni insurgents and the Shiite Mahdi Army. No Sunni Arab leader has emerged with the combination of courage, political skills and a loyal constituency necessary to negotiate effectively with the better-organized Kurdish and Shiite leaders. The vast majority of Sunni Arabs no longer aspire to dominate Iraq, but they will fight for their neighborhoods and homes. In the absence of better leaders, they can be tools for extremists.

There are few indications that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has the will or capability to engineer the required political changes. Inevitably, they require giving constitutional and power-sharing concessions to Sunni Arab or secular Shiite opponents of the government at the expense of Mr. al-Maliki's sectarian Shiite base. His personal toughness has been found wanting in the past, perhaps because his viability as prime minister depends on satisfying the real political power-brokers of his coalition: Abdulaziz Hakim and Muqtada al-Sadr.

Sunni Arabs view his timid and vacillating outreach as the halfhearted result of American pressure. Few Iraqis believe political concessions will be sustained as U.S. involvement and influence ebb. Moreover, the Kurds do not support constitutional revisions and guarantees for equal distribution of oil revenues to Sunni Arabs.

Constitutional reform, oil revenues, political power-sharing and a relaxation of extreme measures against former Baath Party members have been showstoppers in the past for a prime minister who is unable to buck his political base. The Iraq Study Group advised making these issues conditions for continued U.S. support, but President Bush is providing U.S. military backing up front and thereby surrendering the leverage he might have used during the past two years.

At the same time, Iran has gained political influence in Baghdad partly through subversion but also through an Iraqi electoral process that emphasized sectarian identity. Reversing the real and perceived impediments to Sunni participation in future governments would require sustained support from elements of the Shiite majority for painful compromises.

On the economic side, the government has failed to provide adequate reconstruction resources to Sunni Arab areas devastated by fighting. Basic services in such areas are just as essential as security and must be sustained for a long time to be effective.

Mr. Bush says, "The Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money," but Sunni Arabs in Baghdad have only to look at the relatively pacified but economically desolate cities of Fallujah and Tal Afar to imagine what lies ahead for them. A meaningful jobs program must offer more than short-term projects to overcome the purely economic attractions of collusion with the insurgency. Personal insecurity and anti-occupation grievances are additional impediments.

The lack of an international diplomatic framework for stabilizing Iraq, combined with continuing U.S. threats of regime change in Tehran and Damascus, ensures that Iran and Syria see little reason to cooperate. Although both governments have dirty hands, the absence of U.S. backing for a multilateral effort to engage them on issues such as border control is puzzling. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group would require the United States to tone down its messianic goals of victory for democracy in Iraq and regional transformation. Instead, it should embrace the stabilization of Iraq in an international context, emphasizing diplomacy rather than military force.

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