Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Stepping up to Step Down by Fareed Zakaria

Zakaria has started to flesh out what I will call a "stand aside" exit strategy from Iraq, by redfining the goals there. His article is here.

There is a lot to disagree with in his article, so I just want to focus on what I see as one key strategic point.

I wondered aloud in one of my comments whether the Shia groups were ready yet to "buy off" the Sunni insurgency, with money and temporary political advantages that might cover a strategic 'political transition period' of say 10 years, maybe 3-5 years for 'reconciliation commissions' and the like.

Zakaria has this to observe, to the contrary:

What is equally obvious is that such a deal does not seem to be at hand. The Shia leadership remains extremely resistant to any
concessions to its former Sunni overlords. The Shia politicians I met when in Baghdad, even the most urbane and educated, seemed dead set against sharing power in any real sense. In an interview with reuters last week, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki also said he believed that if Iraqi troops were left to their own devices, they could establish order in six months in Iraq.

Now, I think it would be worth testing the thesis that the Shia really do know how to bring order, and we can argue about whether it is by force or whether they really do have some ideas on how to 'buy off the Sunni insurgency' politically.

The point is that the Shia can think strategically too, even though they are fractious. From their perspective, by already having political majority and also a more organized set of 'official' and 'unofficial' troops, to date, it is the US that is their strategic concern, arguably, not the Sunni. They might be concerned, for instance, that the US will do something like disarm them, or worse, turn back the clock on the gains that they have consolidated so far. This is why the focus on disarming the Shia militias by Baker et al., while completely rational based on experiences such as Lebanon, is a non-starter politiclaly with the Shia.

Their appropriate strategic move is to keep the status quo. The Sunni violence works to weaken the US as does time. Later on, they can make a pact with the Sunni, maybe in six months, as suggested.

In sum, the observation that even the most erudite Shia are against settling, that the opinion is so univocal, may not be related to sectarian animosity. It may be that it is so plain to everyone that continuing to drag the US along is the best strategy to weaken their main strategic opponent, the US.

We'll see if that is too much of a bad-faith characterization. The U.S. says it has worked on benchmarks with the new government, but Rummy insists from the DoD podium that their are no penalties contemplated for missing them. Is that too tempting a blank check? I suspect so.

Of course, they could get the US out by making a gambit on the Sunni insurgency now, but one wonders if they are spiteful enough to deny the US (Bush?) a 'victory' of that kind. I suspect the odds are at least 50/50.

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