April 14, 2004

Seriously: What Is To Be Done?

Naturally, John Kerry's op-ed on Iraq in The Washington Post came under fire for being watery, vague, and a bit heavy empty bombast. (And by the by, can we all finally agree that 'fisking' is the single most obnoxious form of commentary?) It's true, Kerry had very few clever ideas, and certainly nothing in the way of a surefire antidote for our Iraq woes. But I've been clicking furiously around the blogosphere today, trying to get caught up on all things war, and honestly, there are very few clever ideas to be found anywhere. Give Kerry credit for at least coming up with a thimbleful of half-decent specifics:

We should urge NATO to create a new out-of-area operation for Iraq under the lead of a U.S. commander. This would help us obtain more troops from major powers. [...] The United Nations, not the United States, should be the primary civilian partner in working with Iraqi leaders to hold elections, restore government services, rebuild the economy, and re-create a sense of hope and optimism among the Iraqi people.
Fisk away if it makes you happy, but Kerry's suggestions sound far more substantial than anything Bush put forward in tonight's platitude-fest (To wit: "Eventually, Iraq's security is going to be handled by the Iraqi people themselves").

Okay, so pablum noted all around. Now who has the bright ideas? Which of our pundits can get past the sniping and political manuevering and actually say, "Our problems are these. Maybe we should do this. Answer: Not many. Not many at all. Here are the few constructive proposals I’ve seen:

1.) Fareed Zakaria argues that the occupation has suffered from too few troops and an inadequate commitment to the security of the Iraqi people. He notes that ‘Iraqification’—the transfer of security to local forces—will take far longer than the Bush administration expects. In addition, we need more civilian authorities, and greater international legitimacy.

Zakaria’s solution: First, bring in more troops for security purposes until we can get Iraqi security forces up to snuff. Second, create a legitimate interim government by bending over backwards to win Ayatollah Sistani’s approval, including token members of Sadr’s faction. As Zakaria notes: “The goal for now is to create a stable, credible, even popular Iraqi grouping.” Liberal democracy will have to wait. In other words, put in a variation of Zakaria’s famous illiberal democracy, bolstered by UN oversight and US troops.

2.) Spencer Ackerman is tremendously insightful and proposal-ready in his commentary on Kerry. Now, Ackerman thinks that the TAL, the deadlock over the constitution, and larger factional power struggles are the main problems in Iraq. On his appraisal, the Sadr-Sistani struggle is of greater import than the bloody insurgency against the Marines. Taking this as his starting point, Ackerman notes that we need, as Kerry wrote, a “credible” goal in Iraq, and goes on to list a few concrete measures to take.

Step one: tell Sistani that we’ll handover elections to the Security Council if he allows us to scrap the June 30 deadline (which is, by now, unrealistic). Step two: eliminate the aspects of the TAL that allow ethnic mini-states (namely, the three Kurdish states) to wield effective veto over the constitution. (As he argues here, requiring a country-wide two-thirds majority vote for approval is the best option.) Step three: make every effort to disarm Iraq’s militias.

3.) Finally, the most comprehensive set of proposals come from Robert Collier in The American Prospect. After some on-the-ground reporting and interviews, Collier concludes that the real problems stem primarily from a nation-wide distrust of American intentions. Too many viable Iraqi leaders appear to be Bremer puppets. So he went around asking local leaders: What would stop the rebellion? and what would persuade the guerillas to give a foreign coalition some breathing space. The answers:

  • Hold full national elections in the second half of 2004 under UN supervision.
  • Abandon any open attempts to stack the new government with pro-Western moderates.
  • Allow Baathists to purge their ranks and create a new party (on the logic that a disenfranchised bunch of Baathist would be dangerous).
  • Start public trials of Saddam Hussein and other top regime officials.
  • Give the United Nations overall control of the Iraqi transition process, even though not all attacks will cease.
  • Call up the former Iraqi army and security agencies.
  • Keep U.S. troops out of main Sunni cities and replace them with, preferably troops from non-neighboring Arab and Muslim nations. (The UN has apparently suggested that, under the right conditions, Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh would all be willing to send in troops.)
  • Now, who knows if all of these proposals are feasible. But it’s a start. At the moment our big strategy consists of steamrolling through the "Shiite Vatican" and firing up a cycle of violence with no foreseeable end.

    So here’s a modest proposal: why don’t all of the Democrats hitch up with Sens. McCain, Hagel, Lugar, Collins, and Snowe, and start sketching out strategy. Then, present a series of substantial recommendations to Bush. (I don’t know exactly what form this would take, but surely it can be done, can’t it?) Pass a resolution if needed. If Kerry leads this up, he’ll look like a political saint, and more importantly, we can finally start to stitch Iraq back together.
    -- Brad Plumer 1:31 AM || ||