Juan Cole's Critique of US Policy in Iraq. First, some of my own thoughts on some selected portions.
Bush Administration policies in Iraq have largely been a failure. It has created a failed state in that country, which is in flames and seething with new religious and ethnic nationalist passions of a sort never before seen on this scale in modern Iraqi history. The severe instability in Iraq threatens the peace and security of the entire region, and could easily ignite a regional guerrilla war that might well affect petroleum exports from the Oil Gulf and hence the health of the world economy.
The rivalries between Shia and Sunni Iraqis are not new. In fact, a civil war was bound to happen in that country. Saddam was going to die someday, and the Baath Party's iron grip on power was going to weaken eventually, just like Stalin's did. The US has done a lot of things, but don't pretend we created the rivalry between Sunnis and Shiites.
The inauguration of a new Iraqi government was marred by the enormous amount of time it took to form it (5 months!), by open US imperial intervention in the choice of prime minister and in other negotiations...
Wow, you mean to tell me that a brand new democracy, in a country that was previously run by a Stalinist dictator, that is on the verge of a civil war, had some problems negotiating?? You dont say! True, the US ambassador urged the Iraqis to pick a new PM to get the ball rolling; to move the political process forward. Call it imperialist, but thats really an unwarranted abuse of a stigmatized word.
The new parliament is virtually hung, and Prime Minister al-Maliki governs as a minority prime minister, being able to count on less than 115 MPs from his own party, in a parliament with 275 members. He is therefore hostage to the Kurds, who want to move Iraq in the direction of having a very weak central government, a degree of provincial autonomy unknown in any other country in the world, and who want to unilaterally annex a fourth province, oil-rich Kirkuk, to their regional confederacy, despite the violent opposition of Kirkuk's Turkmen and Arab populations to being Kurdicized.
Maybe the Kurds living in Kirkuk had opposition to being kicked out of their city and forced to flee to the north during the 1980s under Saddam's plan to Arabize Kurdistan? What I don't understand is how Juan Cole can be so adamant about giving the Palestinians back the land that the Israelis 'stole' 40 years ago, and could care less about giving back to the Kurds land that was stolen only 20 years ago.
The main US military tactic still appears to be search and destroy, a way of proceeding guaranteed to extend the scope and popularity of the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement. The guerrillas appear more well-organized, determined, and effective than ever, and no lasting and effective progress appears to have been made in counter-insurgency anywhere in the Sunni Arab heartland. The human toll of the war has been deeply depressing. The number of Iraqi dead in the war and its aftermath (killed in political violence by any side) cannot be estimated, but certainly is over 100,000 and could easily be more. The 30,000 figure often cited comes from counts of reports of deaths in Western wire services, which are demonstrably a fraction of the true total. None of the nearly 1,000 Iraqis assassinated in Basra during the past month, possibly with police involvement, appears in such statistics.
The human toll of Saddam's rule was deeply depressing. Hundreds of thousands of Shia and Kurds murdered. 1.5 million dead, including 500 thousand children, over the course of 10 years because Saddam refused to cooperate with the UN.
Despite what Juan says, progress has been made. The Iraqi Army is ever more capable of fighting the insurgency; even captured memos written by insurgents reveal this. The insurgents complain that they are unable to actually hold any territory. They are only capable of causing local violence; kidnapping and blowing things up. A big deal, but not a threat to the existence of the government. The US needs to remain in Iraq, to give the Iraqi government a chance to sort things out for themselves.
The prospect lies before us of years, perhaps decades of instability in the Gulf and eastern reaches of the Middle East. There is a danger of it doubling and tripling our gasoline prices. There is a danger of it forming a matrix and a school for anti-US terrorism for years to come. Are people in Fallujah, Tal Afar and Ramadi really ever going to forgive us?
Sure, Iraq was stable before. Tends to happen when you have one of the most brutally repressive dictators in history in charge of things. And the people in Fallujah, Tal Afar, and Ramadi didn't have to choose violence. There are peaceful ways to fight an occupation Juan - don't pretend there aren't.
The Bush administration has pushed us all out onto a tightrope in Iraq, 60 feet up and without a net.
Congratulations Juan. You've restated one of the most obvious facts about the world today - that the Bush administration has messed up royally in Iraq. Nobody denies that anymore. This is what I don't understand about people in this country that are obviously biased to the left. What do you think you are proving by stating the obvious? Are you just sticking out your tongue at the right and saying "nah nah nah I told you so?"?
I was against the war in Iraq. I thought the invasion was a very bad idea, for various reasons. I think Bush is a complete moron. Despite all of these things, I don't want to see the Iraqi government fail (which would be equivalent to a US failure). I don't want to abandon all hope of victory just because things are looking grim. You know, at the end of the day, the vast majority of the things Juan has said in his post are right. But so what? They dont help a damn thing. He doesn't offer any suggestions as to how we could improve our strategy - he just points out when we make mistakes; a habit not uncommon among the left in this country. They just knock everything we've done, even the little bit that is undeniably good, and hope enough of us buy into their pessimistic view that we pack up and leave Iraq. Just in time so that the left can rally us to send our forces to restore order in another oil rich Muslim nation - Sudan. The concept must not be such a bad one, so long as Bush can never get the credit for it.
Juan may be proven right. The Iraqi government may fail to produce any positive change. The US would eventually be forced to withdraw, and Iraq might then collapse into civil war. And then years from now, we would all know that Bush's adventure was 100% a mistake; and Juan can finally sit back and say "I told you so".
But things are still up in the air, whether or not liberals might admit it. There is still great hope that the Iraqi government could advance the political process enough to at least be in a position where it can control the country on its own, and slowly but surely improve the situation from there. For that government to even have a snowball's chance in hell of accomplishing its monumental task, its going to need America's help for a couple more years.
Juan wonders whether or not the people in a few particularly violent cities will ever forgive us for what we've done. The vast majority of Iraqis have embraced America's democratic project. I am more concerned with whether *they* will ever forgive us, were we abandon them to jihadists and years of bloody civil war, if we could have prevented such an outcome.