Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Wait, Zelikow was smart?

My whole world view is imploding: someone at the State Department has come up with a good idea. Unprecedented.

This is how David Ignatius (Washington Post, ‘Groping for the Exit,’ December 1, 2006) summarized it in his Op-Ed:


As administration officials review Iraq strategy, one failed element is the
policy of "Sunni outreach" pursued by the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad. Some officials have concluded that Khalilzad's approach made Iraqi Shiites fear that America was abandoning them, without achieving any meaningful reduction of the Sunni insurgency. A few officials argue flatly that it's time for America to take the Shiite side in the Iraqi conflict. "National reconciliation is a fallacy," one senior intelligence analyst said in an interview this week, insisting that, in Iraq, "You have to pick a winner."
The State document was authored by Condi Rice’s counselor, Philip D. Zelikow, who just recently had announced his resignation. Leaving Foggy Bottom makes plenty of sense for Zelikow; he had violated a central Foreign Service commandment by suggesting a useful policy idea. Zelikow’s memo was first reported by Robin Wright (Washington Post, ‘U.S. Considers Ending Outreach to Insurgents,’ December 1, 2006) today—or ‘Robin Wrong’ as she was known among Iraqi opposition circles from her days at the Los Angeles Times. Wright/Wrong is allegedly a Richard Haas protégé, and I can’t tell if the leak was done to cast aspersions on Zelikow’s proposal or to ‘give it legs.’

But it does make sense: Why piss-off 80 percent of the Iraqis by making nice to the people killing them? And should the Americans be talking to people who seek to reinstate Saddam, destroy Israel or set-up a caliphate? And how does it make sense to keep talking to terrorists who refuse to show any good will by calling a ceasefire while negotiations are underway?

Don’t worry, State Department will soon get back to its good old self by promoting the very architect of the ‘Appease the Bad Guys’ strategy, Mr. Khalilzad. He is set to become Rice’s deputy. Ahemmmm.

Here is a selection of where I stood on this issue over the last two years:

Column: Leave the Sunnis Behind, November 26, 2004


History is about to turn an important corner in Iraq and it would be disastrous for it to be impeded by an American roadblock. Iraqi politics and pie-slicing are on autopilot. At the end of election day, eight out of 10 Iraqis (six Shia and two Kurds) will walk away from the voting booths feeling as if they have a stake in the future. Two out of ten Iraqis, probably Sunnis, would be busily boycotting the whole election or desperately trying to blow up the ballot stations.

...

The Sunnis will soon realize that, unlike their grandfathers and fathers, they missed the opportunity to be part of a newly remodeled Iraq. It took the Shias until 1927, a year after Bell died, to realize that they had missed their own opportunity and to try to rectify their situation, but by then the Sunni dictatorship had closed off all avenues to power sharing. In this century, it may take another five years for the Sunnis to get back on board. Only an Iraqi-led democratic process that is not micromanaged out of Langley, Foggy Bottom, or Cairo will leave the door open for them to do just that. Leave the Iraqis to sort this out, and just maybe Iraqi children will quarrel over
marbles and soccer rather than sectarian identity.
Column: Dances With Terrorists, June 16, 2005

To make matters worse, the Americans have indicated that they are willing to bargain with the terrorists. The rationale behind this is to include Sunnis in the political process and to split the insurgency. Fine, it sounds great, but there is a danger of losing the goodwill of the Shias in the process.

...

A very weird and immoral term has emerged to describe the insurgent terrorists who only target American and coalition forces: the "honorable" insurgency. Even weirder, America's diplomats have embraced this term and are ready to bargain with these "honorable" murderers. The moral high ground of liberation from tyranny has been ceded to those who cloak their response to losing power as fighting against the "occupier." Sunni moderates who are loyal to the new era in Iraq and who early on took a clear stance against terrorism have been completely sidelined, and the Americans have indicated that the only "real" Sunni leaders they are willing to engage with are the ones bargaining on behalf of the murderers. Ms. Rice and her phalanx of diplomats, through a misguided security policy, have earned the moniker of "Dances with Terrorists."

The Americans are showing signs of Iraq fatigue, but the regular folks of that country are also exhausted. Using renegade violence should be a dead end, and the Sunnis need to learn this lesson rather than being given a seat at the table. A lack of accountability for the terrible suffering faced by the Shias in the past and present opens a venue for Shia radicals to use violence too, and they will be cheered for it. Iraq needs to move forward, but it cannot be held back in order to win over some of those who begrudge a non-Sunni dominated democratic future. Civil war is a very likely prospect, and America should build its policy on keeping its friends on its side, rather than on caving in to the enemy.
Column: ‘Abu Omar’ vs the Shi'as, April 12, 2006

The American government, acting upon the advice of its ambassador in Baghdad, has unwisely maneuvered itself into the anti-Shia camp, which is a problematic development since the Shias are more than 60% of Iraq's population and have been
consistent in their support for the democratic process. By picking sides as to who gets to become prime minister for the next four years, and in contravention of the voting tallies, America is making an unstable situation far more volatile.

America is not actually out to harm the Shias as a sect, but perceptions are important. Shia resentment is so acute that the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, is referred to as "Abu Omar" in Iraqi political circles - meaning "father of Omar," with Omar being a quintessentially Sunni name as far as Shias are concerned. It doesn't help that the Afghan-American ambassador is in fact a Sunni by birth.
[full text of Robin Wright’s story is posted in the comments section]

9 Comments:

Blogger Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي said...

U.S. Considers Ending Outreach to Insurgents
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 1, 2006; A01
The Bush administration is deliberating whether to abandon U.S. reconciliation efforts with Sunni insurgents and instead give priority to Shiites and Kurds, who won elections and now dominate the government, according to U.S. officials.
The proposal, put forward by the State Department as part of a crash White House review of Iraq policy, follows an assessment that the ambitious U.S. outreach to Sunni dissidents has failed. U.S. officials are increasingly concerned that their reconciliation efforts may even have backfired, alienating the Shiite majority and leaving the United States vulnerable to having no allies in Iraq, according to sources familiar with the State Department proposal.
Some insiders call the proposal the "80 percent" solution, a term that makes other parties to the White House policy review cringe. Sunni Arabs make up about 20 percent of Iraq's 26 million people.
Until now, the thrust of U.S. policy has been to build a unified government and society out of Iraq's three fractious communities. U.S. officials say they would not be abandoning this goal but would instead leave leadership of the thorny task of reconciliation to the Iraqis. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the deliberations.
The proposal has met serious resistance from both U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and military commanders in Iraq, who believe that intensive diplomatic efforts to bring Sunni insurgents into the political process are pivotal to stabilizing the war-ravaged country, the sources said.
Khalilzad, who has spearheaded U.S. outreach to the Sunni leadership, has developed a long list of steps to accommodate Sunni concerns, from a possible amnesty to changes in the hydrocarbon law that distributes oil wealth, which is located mainly in Shiite and Kurdish regions. Critics argue that he might be able to broker an agreement, but they question whether it would hold, according to sources close to the discussions.
Opponents of the proposal cite three dangers. Without reconciliation, military commanders fear that U.S. troops would be fighting the symptoms of Sunni insurgency without any prospect of getting at the causes behind it -- notably the marginalization of the once-powerful minority. U.S. troops would be left fighting in a political vacuum, not a formula for either long-term stabilization or reducing attacks on American targets.
A second danger is that the United States could appear to be taking sides in the escalating sectarian strife. The proposal would encourage Iraqis to continue reconciliation efforts. But without U.S. urging, outreach could easily stall or even atrophy, deepening sectarian tensions, U.S. sources say.
A decision to step back from reconciliation efforts would also be highly controversial among America's closest allies in the region, which are all Sunni governments. Sunni leaders in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf sheikdoms have been pressuring the United States to ensure that their brethren are included in Iraq's power structure and economy.
But over 10 days of intense discussions recently among top policymakers in the White House review, State Department officials argued that intervening in Iraqi politics is increasingly counterproductive, particularly after elections for a permanent government last December. Reconciliation, they also argued, is now exceptionally unlikely and could actually jeopardize U.S. relations with Iraq's Shiites, who make up about 60 percent of the population, according to sources familiar with the debate.
State Department counselor Philip D. Zelikow, author of the proposal, argued that the United States has compromised its prospects of success by reaching too far, according to the sources.
The State Department proposal, which was introduced at the second of 10 meetings and has dominated debate ever since, suggests that the United States would keep at arm's length diplomatic efforts to bridge the deep divide in Iraq between the two branches of Islam, the sources said.
State Department spokesman Tom Casey declined to comment on the proposal.
Another point of debate in the policy review is how far to broaden a new U.S. strategy to bring in regional players to help stabilize Iraq. The White House and the State Department are still wedded to the isolation of Iran and Syria, despite the growing momentum behind the idea of regional outreach, according to sources familiar with the discussions. The idea has also been part of the discussions of the Iraq Study Group.
The policy review team briefed President Bush on Sunday evening with a 15-page slide presentation of its incomplete findings. Although differences have not yet been sorted out, the presentation coalesced heavily around a tilt to the Shiites, sources said. The White House review was then put on hold for Bush's summit with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The administration had initially hoped to pull together its review about the time the Iraq Study Group released its report, but en route home from the Bush-Maliki summit in Jordan, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley said changes to U.S. strategy may still be weeks away.
"There is a real sense of urgency, but there is not a sense of panic," Hadley told reporters on board Air Force One. "I think probably it's going to be weeks rather than months. It's going to be when the president is comfortable."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Jordan yesterday that Bush plans to receive the report of the Iraq Study Group on Wednesday, then hear more from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his own policy review team. "Then I think he'll set out a direction that adjusts our policy to be appropriate to the circumstances that the Iraqis now face," Rice told reporters traveling with her.

10:17 AM, December 01, 2006

 
Anonymous lester said...

"And should the Americans be talking to people who seek to reinstate Saddam, destroy Israel or set-up a caliphate?"

neither sunni or shias want the first and both want the second and third.

and yes we should be talking to them they are 20 percent of the country.

11:02 AM, December 01, 2006

 
Anonymous yessir said...

Nibras,

I haven't heard that Khalilzad is set to become Rice's deputy. Do you have a source for this or is this based on what you've heard from insiders?

Also, do you really think this proposal, which I personally support, has no chance of being implemented?

These reports seem to indicate a momentum within the administration of leaning towards such a policy.

11:34 AM, December 01, 2006

 
Blogger Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي said...

Hi yessir,

That is what the rumor mill (and some press reports) are saying:

Khalilzad as Deputy.

Satterfield in Pakistan.

Crocker in Iraq. (Crocker is leaving his ambassadorial post in Pakistan after failing to convince the Musharref junta NOT to support the neo-Taliban...What level of incompetence does it take to ever get oneself fired from the Foreign Service?)

Even if they decide on a policy, the mutinous bureaucracy would make sure that it doesn't get implemented right. Such a pro-Shia policy goes against the lifelong-held preconceptions of the Arabists and the spooks. It's a good policy but will be deliberately mismanaged; a symptom of how Washington works. But that's just me and my own preconception on things!

Best,

Nibras

11:45 AM, December 01, 2006

 
Anonymous lester said...

nevermind the law of unintended consequences or our alleged mission of liberty for Iraq. throw the sunnis under the bus. no WAY there will be any comeuppance for that. ahmadenajad will become the greatest iranian leader ever simply by luck of having been president when this counter intuitive strategy was implemented by Bush.

12:21 PM, December 01, 2006

 
Anonymous ECH said...

The Shia led governments of Maliki and Jaafari have proven themselves sectarian and unable to govern Iraq.

Iraq needs a strong government based on technocrats and seculars like Allawi to survive.

Shia politicians/clerics like Hakim, Sadr seem more interested in bending over for Iran and building their personal gangs then governing Iraq. Neither the SCIRI, DAWA, or the Sadrists have at all put Iraqis interests first. That is not to say the Accord Front or the Kurds have either. My personal opinion is Iraq's government should fall and new elections held under a different electoral system, the current one cultivates and empowers radicals and sectarianism.

9:34 PM, December 01, 2006

 
Anonymous Through Gracepeace said...

تبرىء الكلمات في القلوب

ثم همس الرب في قلوبنا...
الكلمات تصل حيث لا يقدر السلاح

سألنا حكيم قريتنا، كيف ينزل الدفء
على النفوس والشيطان
قد ألقى بسمومه المفضلة
خوفاً ويأساً وكراهية
على القلوب البريئة
كما الرماد من محرقة السعادة

كيف تنام عيون الايمان
وسرير الأمل
تفترشه ملاءة القنوط الشاحب
وعيون الحنث الفاسدة
تنتهك حرمة الكلمات المقدسة
وتسعد باغتيال هدايا السماء

وسألنا :كيف يبتسم الخير
ويصفع الكره الفضيلة من وجه الخجل
و أتباعه يشوهون ويحرفون فى نفوس ضحاياهم
حتى يصل الاعتقاد
بأن الإثم فضيلة والقتل عدالة والكره هو الحب

تحدث الحكيم
بصوته الخفيض وقال
أن للشيطان أتباع
يغتسلون في أنهار النبيذ في حادي*
وبعشق السخرية الفارغ
يحصدون نفوساً مغشوشة جنيت بمنجل الانتحار

مستحيل أن يكون الطريق إلى الفردوس مرصوفاً
بجثث الأبرياء - عبر نهرٍ من الدم
اعتنقوا مد الحق وجزره الرائع في قلوبكم
تقبّلوا الشك والعار أينما كانوا
لكي تدركوا أن النفس تسعد بالعطف وليس بالانتقام

سطع صوته كالضوء وقال:
ابحثوا بشجاعة في أعماق قلوبكم
بلا نفاق ولا خداع ولا إجحاف
وحين تلمسوا الايمان هناك
ستنزل الكلمات الالهيه دواءً للقلوب
مثل مطر أبدي يجذبه البحر دائماً
حتى يرتفع ليملأ حرم النفوس
بودٍ عميق هادىء ويغدو سلاماً
على شواطىء العزم الالهي.


[أرض الموتى في الأساطير الاغريقية*

أبريل 2006

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