Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Radical Proposal for Iraq -- Negotiate

The debate over our options in Iraq always seems to come down to two alternative; stay the course or withdraw. Both of these have always struck me as spectacularly bad options.

Staying the course is a bad option for obvious reasons; we have been doing it for over three years, and it hasn't done any good. Time after time, we have been told that we have turned a corner, that things will get better soon, and they don't. When you keep turning corners, it means you are going in circles. We are not going to win by staying the course. Already it is generally agreed that our military is not large enough to sustain current troop levels indefinitelya. And this insurgency could last for a long time. Another hawkish alternative to staying the course is to escalate. Doubtless we could escalate the firepower and reduce Iraq to a charred heap of rubble. But that will hardly advance our stated goal of creating a democratic transformation of Iraq. Or we could in theory escalate our manpower, but that would mean enlarging our military, which would mean instituting the draft, which no one is ready to propose. The final reason I see no hope for victory is that we no longer even have a useful definition of victory. Is consolidating power in the hands of a pro-Iranian Shiite theocracy whose death squads kill men for no other crime than being named Omara victory? Because that is the Iraqi government that we are supporting.

On the other hand, neither can I support withdrawal. After destroying Iraq's functioning government and bringing the country to the verge of complete anarchy and civil war, to simply walk away and say, it's your problem now is the height of irresponsibility. Colin Powell is right -- you break it, you own it. I do also agree with the people who fear that a display of weakness now will embolden Al-Qaeda. We have Osama Bin Laden's own worda that he was emboldened by our past withdrawals from Lebanon and Somalia. Some people try to soften the withdrawal proposal by suggesting that we leave a few elite forces in place, or that we continue our air war, but if our influence is so limited with 136,000 troops in place, what is the point of a much smaller force?

For a long time I have stewed in silent frustration, opposed to the war in Iraq but unwilling to lose it, displease with how things are going, but unable to think of anything better. But I believe at last that I have a contructive suggestion -- let's bring all parties involved except for Al Qaeda in Iraq -- government, militias, death squads, Iraqi insurgents of all stripes, and all neighbors, friend or foe -- into negotiations. No preconceptions and no preconditions, just open-ended negotations among all beligerents or people who have influence with the beligerents. In the end, that is the only real way to end a war (or, if you do not believe Iraq is in true civil war, to prevent one), by negotiations among the actual participants.

This is a proposal of an enlightened lay person. The fact that no serious person appears to have made it may perhaps mean that it has insurrmountable obstacles to success. But I will explain in my next post why I believe that unconditional negotiations and only negotiations, are the best hope for the future.

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