The Corner

Second Thoughts on Rich’s Points

I’ve been wrestling with our exchanges yesterday.  I haven’t changed my mind, in the bottom-line sense, about anything.  But there is something that bothers me about my position, which rates more consideration.

I conceded, in reference to Cliff’s compelling argument about American credibility, that we have to fight and win the Battle of Baghdad because we’ve made a commitment to do that.  That is, American credibility is on the line.

I still think that’s right.  But there’s a corollary to that, which is highly relevant to Rich’s contentions, and to which I don’t think I’ve given a convincing answer.  To wit, we have staked a lot of American credibility on the success of Maliki’s government. 

Now, to be sure, I think this was a blunder.  To me, Maliki is a Dawa apparatchik Islamic fundamentalist.  The organization of which he was a high-ranking officer bombed an American embassy (in Kuwait) in 1983.  Even though he was an implacable foe of Saddam’s regime, he opposed the U.S. invasion in March 2003.  He supports Hezbollah.  He favors closer Iraqi ties with Iran and Syria.  His alliance with Sadr is not an accident.  And, for all the blather about how he is reluctantly deferential to Sadr, I actually think it’s Maliki who is using Sadr, not the other way around. 

Maliki’s Dawa party is more adept and just as anti-American as Sadr, but because of Sadr’s blatant opposition to us, Americans have not focused on the history and creed of the Dawa party — indeed, most Americans don’t even realize that there is a Dawa (the “call to Allah”) party, or an Iranian supported party called SCIRI (the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq).  Americans have been focused on Sadr and his Mahdi army. Meantime, Sadr is not even the most important Shiite opposition to the U.S. in Iraq, much less the whole problem.

All that aside, though, the Bush administration has placed great and explicit stock in establishing a stable, popularly elected (which it translates as “democratic”) Iraqi government.  It has made an enormous deal out of the popular elections and the constitutional referendum.  It has been so seduced by the images of Iraqi Muslims courageously going to the polls that the zillion reasons to worry about what these Iraqi Muslims were actually voting for have been ignored.  There has been no concern about Iraq’s commitment to remaining culturally Islamic (the Bush administration, for all its talk about this being an ideological war, has steered carefully clear of any consideration of Islamic ideology).  Thus, there has been no inquiry about whether a government led by Maliki and Dawa would ever be pro-American … notwithstanding that Americans care a lot more about whether the Iraqi government we birth is pro-American than whether it is “democratically” legitimate.

As we pursue our actual national security interests in Iraq, I continue to believe we should execute the Bush Doctrine — i.e., defeat al Qaeda and work to depose terror sponsors like Iran — even though the Iraqi government is certain to oppose many of the things we must do to accomplish those ends.  But I do not mean to minimize how much our credibility could/would be harmed by ignoring and, at least occasionally, reducing to irrelevance the Iraqi government we have placed so much stock in.  Rich raises very real concerns in this regard, and I don’t mean to minimize the blow to our credibility that my position necessarily entails.  I happen to think other interests outweigh that regrettable development, but I don’t mean to suggest that it is an unimportant concern.

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