Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Kissinger-Schultz Article

An article jointly authored by Henry Kissinger and George Schultz in the Washington Post entitled Results, Not Timetables, Matter in Iraq argues that a definite timetable for an American withdrawal in Iraq is not as important as the attainment of a definite goal which represents success. They argue that it is the achievement of the goal which is vital.

A precipitate American withdrawal would be almost certain to cause a civil war that would dwarf Yugoslavia's, and it would be compounded as neighbors escalated their current involvement into full-scale intervention. ... We owe it to ourselves to become clear about what post-election outcome is compatible with our values and global security.

Much of the article focuses on the what they believe to be the desirable endpoint of the political process, of which the elections on January 30 are but a part. Their recommendations implicitly assume that Iraq must be preserved as a multiethnic, unitary state. Kissinger and Schultz believe that the minimum outcome should be:

The Constituent Assembly emerging from the elections will be sovereign to some extent. But the United States' continuing leverage should be focused on four key objectives:

(1) to prevent any group from using the political process to establish the kind of dominance previously enjoyed by the Sunnis;
(2) to prevent any areas from slipping into Taliban conditions as havens and recruitment centers for terrorists;
(3) to keep Shiite government from turning into a theocracy, Iranian or indigenous;
(4) to leave scope for regional autonomy within the Iraqi democratic process.

The article repeatedly warns against letting the almost foregone Shi'ite majority ride roughshod over the Sunnis, however bitter their memories; however brutal the campaign by "insurgents" against them has been. The one thing that must never be permitted, in Kissinger and Schultz's view is "a Shiite-dominated bloc extending to the Mediterranean"

The reaction to intransigent Sunni brutality and the relative Shiite quiet must not tempt us into identifying Iraqi legitimacy with unchecked Shiite rule. The American experience with Shiite theocracy in Iran since 1979 does not inspire confidence in our ability to forecast Shiite evolution or the prospects of a Shiite-dominated bloc extending to the Mediterranean. A thoughtful American policy will not mortgage itself to one side in a religious conflict fervently conducted for 1,000 years.

This proposition should be read in conjunction with Gerecht's The Islamic Paradox, who observed that a Shi'ite dominated Iraq is not necessarily the same as a clerically dominated Iraq, which must certainly be Kissinger and Schultz's meaning for their injunction to make any sense at all, for Iraq by ethnic composition will be Shi'ite dominated by definition. Gerecht wrote:

So, is there a Sunni parallel to the political evolution among the Shiites? Inside Iraq, it is easy to find Arab Sunnis who want to see democracy triumph. If for no other reason, fear of a Shiite dictatorship appears to inspire a certain Sunni willingness to embrace some kind of a democratic order. ... Given the widespread Sunni-led violence in Iraq, particularly among the hard-core takfiri fundamentalists, we can lose sight of the fact that the Sunnis will still likely follow the Shiite lead, however reluctantly. ... Arab Sunnis today realize they are vastly outnumbered by “the other side.” ... Even if Sistani dies, the Hawza will remain a more influential force than any association of Sunni clerics. And both Arab Sunnis and Shiites regularly remark about the lack of revenge killing since the fall of Saddam Hussein even though the pursuit of revenge (intiqam) for perceived wrongs is a leitmotif of Iraqi Arab culture. ...

The Kissinger-Schultz requirement to keep the Sunnis in play, no matter how they may subject themselves to old Ba'athist influences creates a problem for the counterinsurgency strategy, especially if has to be addressed within the requirement of preserving a unitary Iraq. Kissinger and Schultz say:

It is axiomatic that guerrillas win if they do not lose. And in Iraq the guerrillas are not losing, at least not in the Sunni region, at least not visibly. A successful strategy needs to answer these questions: Are we waging "one war" in which military and political efforts are mutually reinforcing? ... Do we have a policy for eliminating the sanctuaries in Syria and Iran from which the enemy can be instructed, supplied, and given refuge and time to regroup?

Here lies the core of the problem. The policy of keeping the Sunnis within Iraq at all costs in conjunction with the Kissingerian imperative that the insurgency be 'defeated', not merely contained,  sets up a potential contradiction, one that Gerecht has already foreseen. Unless the Ba'athists and their backers in Syria are to be implictly given veto power over the birth of a democratic Iraq, either the risk of widening the war, or decisive closure, even if it means partition, must be accepted.

But democracy in the Middle East obviously does not rise or fall on the participation of Iraqi Sunnis. The principal question is then whether Sunni Islam writ large is able to embrace a democratic ethic? Democracy could triumph in Iraq because the Iraqi Shiite community wills it, but if representative government does not spread to the Sunni nation-states, where 85 to 90 percent of all Muslims live, then the nexus between dictatorship and Islamic extremism is little changed.

Yet despite these remaining questions, the Kissinger-Schultz article indicates that the post-Saddam regime is already fait accompli. That is already a sign of strategic success. It is far from clear the proposition that "guerrillas win if they do not lose" is a valid axiom. There are hundreds of guerilla groups throughout the world that will never 'lose' yet we never hear of them, perhaps in part because the press does not care about them. Yet  Kissinger and Schultz are undoubtedly correct in maintaining that the only way forward is through success and not via some arbitrarily selected date on the calendar.