From Belfast To Baghdad
June 29, 2005 - 12:13pm ET
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Reflecting on Bush's speech last night, I was struck by just how deep Bush has backed himself into a corner on Iraq. He's now characterized both the situation and the mission in Iraq in terms that bear little resemblance to the facts on the ground. Indeed, Sen. Chuck Hagel is quite correct in saying that "The White House is completely disconnected from reality." If the United States is going to get to a worthwhile end-state in Iraq, we're going to have to change direction drastically.
That does not mean a timeline, however. As Bob Dreyfuss and I were talking about his two-part series on an Iraqi exit strategy, (Here's Part I and Part II) the realization struck me that what we needed was a sophisticated peace process that could capture all the various layers of this puzzle. The example that came to mind was the process in Northern Ireland that led to the Good Friday Accords.
That process had three concentric elements. First, between the Protestants and the Catholics in the North. Second, between the North and the South of Ireland. Third, between the Republic of Ireland and Britain. This layered and interrelated process was the only mechanism that could bring all the "stakeholders" to the right kind of table in a productive way. Leave anyone out and they become the spoiler. Translate that to the Iraqi theater and a very clean structure emerges; a structure that places Dreyfuss' worthwhile recommendations into context.
The trick is, getting the Sunnis into a process which includes the United States in a relevant way. To take a bit of issue with Bob, direct talks between the United States and Sunnis are not the primary objective. The objective is rather to get Sunnis and Americans into a process that will result in a viable state where the Iraqi people are represented, the insurgency no longer has the support of the people, and the U.S. presence is ended.
If that's the goal, then the Irish model has considerable merit. At the center of the process is the effort to bring real representatives of the Sunni population into a process. That means dealing with the Sunni insurgent groups, but not the foreign fighters. At this point, it's useful to include a simple definition of who to include in the process: anyone, who, if left out, could derail the process. This will take a lot of concentrated effort, but our military, diplomatic, and intelligence services—as well as the international community—have the skills and experience necessary. They need only be given the order.
The Kurds already have a home-grown pair of political parties. The Shi'a, however, are saddled with two exile groups, SCIRI and Al Dawa. To the extent that they represent the exile and religious communities, as Dreyfuss notes, the secular Shi'ite Iraqis are unrepresented. Here, the task will be to find, protect and build the capacity of credible representatives of non-exile secular Shi'ites.
With three sets of representatives, then, the national layer of the process can begin. This thread will have to agree upon the constitutional issues, free of the legacy of Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority decrees. Minority and human rights will have to be strengthened and power sharing enshrined.
Finally, the third layer will involve Iraq's neighbors, in a come-as-you are session to ensure that what is decided within Iraq is respected beyond Iraq. That will mean sitting down with Syria and Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Jordan and Kuwait.
Who runs it? The answer will depend on the time and the level. Clearly, the United States will have to make the deals with Sunnis and Shi'ites to create the conditions in which real representatives can come forward. Dreyfuss looks at some of the actions that will be necessary. But the more that the other elements of the peace process can be managed by more neutral parties, the better. For that, there ought to be a U.N.-mandated contact group. Small enough to act, inclusive enough to act authoritatively.
Or not. American can try to stay the course, hoping that we can kill or capture enough insurgents and that illegitimate political parties will represent the interests of the Iraqi people (and not the people who provide them with military protection). Eventually, we'll just have to do this kind of process with a more poisoned well.
MoveOn.org is now talking about getting out of Iraq "the right way." That does not require a timeline, but it does require a process. An artificial timeline for pullout would destabilize the situation and civil war in Iraq would likely trigger a regional war that would just as likely take out the global economy. Back home in America, the people who would pay the most for that are those who can least afford it. A far better way is to build a viable peace process in Iraq now. Then we can start dealing with the big problems.
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