Monday, September 10, 2007

When Do The Iraqi People Appear Before Congress?

This appeared on the today. Assuming the Brookings Institution data is reliable, this is an extremely important and overlooked trend:

"In February 2004, nearly 80% of Iraqis wanted a unified country. By March this year, only 58% were in favor."

In all of the discussion about the future of Iraq, we assume that the goal is to keep the country unified. It seems more and more Iraqis no longer share the same goal. This is at once discouraging (given our regional security concerns), but at the same time, it does begin to reveal a likely outcome (and I strain to say a 'solution').

Any amount of predictability is surely an asset at this point.

It seems clear that whatever our American military strategy, we will never have enough troops to secure the country and to affect change through military means. And so, we must ask, what will determine the outcome in Iraq?

Ultimately, I think, it is up to the international community as stakeholders, and more importantly the Iraqi people (the biggest stakeholders) to determine the future of Iraq. Beyond the surge, our efforts alone will not change the course of history.

As I see it, there are two things that ultimately will make this determination:

Oil... and the will of the people.

Oil, which everybody seems to have stopped discussing at the macro level (perhaps because it is taboo), is of the utmost importance for two reasons. One, it is central to political deliberation within Iraq. And two, because it is one of the few things about Iraq that achieves nearly unanimous agreement in the international community.

There was broad international support for the first Gulf War, not especially because of the human rights and state sovereignty violations, but because everybody agreed that Saddam Hussein could not have sole control over Iraq and Kuwait's oil reserves (3rd and 4th largest reserves respectively).

I don't believe it is a 'conspiracy theory' to say that the international community is supremely reluctant to give a dictator so much leverage in international affairs. Furthermore, while it was not the reason we got into Iraq the second time, breaking our dependence on Saudi Arabia was certainly a reason.

I don't think the UN will ever allow Iraq to fall into the hands of Iran or Syria in the long term. The international community will, however, continue to enjoy watching America reap what it has sowed in the short term.

As for the will of the people, I'm not sure we've thought clearly enough on this. Our short term goal is to provide enough security that Iraqi politicians can achieve some kind of national conciliation. But does that mean conciliation through national unity or autonomous states?

For Iraqi politicians, voting the wrong way can mean having one's family murdered. In this sense, Iraqi politicians are acutely aware of the 'will of the people'. It is tough to gauge the will of the people from a distance, but it seems obvious that, at a fundamental level, the people of Iraq, including the politicians, are not enjoying this day-to-day reality.

As Americans, we are fixated on our own involvement, our own efforts, our own concerns, and our own long term interests. I hear politicians every day say, "we cannot afford to lose in Iraq because it will embolden our enemies- it will make us less safe." That's fine. And that makes sense. But we must understand that Iraqi citizens should not, and I would assume do not, give a rat's fiddle about why we "cannot afford to lose in Iraq".

Politicians in Iraq are concerned about getting as much power as possible. Civilians, I would imagine, are concerned about surviving as much as possible. If both of these concerns lead Iraqis to believe that they would be better off with regional or independent states, all of the Petraeus testimony, funding bills, think-tank panel discussions, and op-ed pieces wont mean a thing.

If they perceive that the quickest end to the violence is not through national unity but through partitioning the country, then that is what they will do. I'm not sure we could or should prevent that.

We spend a great deal of time asking each whether our efforts in Iraq are yielding results, whether those results are worth the commitment, whether we can 'win' or not, and a dozen other questions. What is less clear, as one astute Associated Press reporter asked Senator Lindsey Graham last week, "what is our goal beyond securing Baghdad- securing Iraq? What long-term outcome are we looking for?"

If we are in Iraq to provide an environment that will yield national unity, and the Iraqi people aren't interested in national unity, then we should take pause and seriously reevaluate the long term goals- particularly how our long term goals may differ from those of whom we are waiting on for progress.

No comments: