When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee two weeks ago, the panel’s chairman, Sen. Joe Biden, Delaware Democrat, said, “I believe the president’s strategy is not a solution.” The crowds of anti-war protesters around the Capitol on Saturday don’t have the solution either. Nor did the Senate, with its vote on a non-binding resolution condemning President Bush’s new strategy. The anti-war camp must accept that it is not possible to undo the war.
Thousands of Iraqi lives have already been lost. Some American troops have expressed their confusion and bewilderment over the meaning of their sacrifice in fighting in Iraq. Ordinary Iraqis still say they don’t believe that the United States cannot provide security. Alas, it is a preventative war, chosen by the superpower. But if the American people decide that Iraq is unwinnable, that the U.S. military cannot secure the country and its own troops, and that the solution is withdrawal, Iraq will surely be divided and more innocent Iraqis will die.
On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine how the military would be able to withdraw. When Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki talked about the lack of competitive weapons to fight the insurgency, he was right. And when the death squads are part of the Iraqi security establishment, it is also understandable why the United States is not willing to provide them the weapons. Now the question is whether Mr. Maliki will keep his word to break down the extremists’ militia — including that of one of his supporters, Muqtada al-Sadr.
Many in the region see the U.S. presence in Iraq as a throwback to the infamous Sykes-Picot Agreement, which then outlined the partition of the Ottoman Empire and drew the borders of today’s Middle East. Mr. Biden, the most outspoken Democrat on foreign policy, recommended that Iraq be divided into three largely autonomous regions — Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shi’ite Arab — with a weaker central government in Baghdad. Mr. Bush, at least, at no time, recommended explicitly division of Iraq as a solution. On the other hand, he argues that keeping Iraqi borders intact is crucial. The truth of the matter is that none of Iraq’s neighbors would prefer dividing the country, a solution that could easily trigger a regional war.
Americans must also be aware that with the fierce opposition to Mr. Bush’s policies, a “regime change” in the White House does not guarantee a positive change toward America in the region — in fact, the result could be a switch from anti-Bushism to real anti-Americanism. If Iraq is divided on the Democrats’ watch, the division of Iraq and the remapping of the Middle East will be the lasting American policy. And at no time will the people of the Middle East turn the debate toward themselves and question how much they are to blame.
That should be the concern of everyone who seeks to live in a democracy and freedom. In the end, it will be far more constructive to take the equal time and energy that’s currently being spent angry and slamming President Bush and use it to explore ideas on how to keep Iraq intact.
Mr. Bush has accepted that the war has not turned out as planned. “This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in,” he said in his State of the Union address. The fight turned out to be sectarian violence. Now, the question is whether the United States can do anything in the midst of an Iraqi civil war.
First, we must understand that the people in the region believe that U.S. policies have created the sectarian divide since the first Gulf War. As a result of those policies (the no-fly zone, sanctions, etc.), few Iraqi Kurds speak Arabic today, creating a language barrier for the peshmergas who would join U.S. troops in Baghdad. It was wrong to label Sunnis as a “violent” sect since the invasion of Iraq. The majority of Muslims in the Middle East are Sunni, and they are also victims of extremist religious ideologies and the dictatorships they live under. For Iraqi Shi’ites, it was evident that political parties like SCIRI were founded in Iran.It is, however, wrong to claim them in Iran’s pocket. The political terminology in Washington has to grow out of ethnic and sectarian divide.
That terminology also benefited Iran. Although the president has ordered U.S. troops to arrest and kill Iranian agents aiding the insurgency in Iraq, he also said, “[w]e’re going to continue to protect ourselves in Iraq, and at the same time, work to solve our problems with Iran diplomatically.” If America accepts defeat and begins withdrawing, it will lose all credibility in the Middle East. Life will change gradually for Americans in the United States, and not in a positive direction.
Large populations in the region, despite all the conflicts and issues, do not want America to lose the war in Iraq — which creates an even greater imperative for the U.S. to get it right. Yet, it is troubling to observe the enthusiasm of some accepting the defeat.
Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.