January 11, 2005

Iraq: Scowcraft Speaks Out

Lt Gen Brent Scowcroft, USAF (Ret)

In a recent Washington Post article, former national security advisor Brent Scowcraft spoke out against American policy in Iraq. Although he served as an advisor to the former President Bush, he has been critical of the current president's actions in Iraq.

General Scowcraft is highly regarded, but I do not think he is assessing the situation correctly. As cited in the Post article:

"The Iraqi elections, rather than turning out to be a promising turning point, have the great potential for deepening the conflict," Scowcroft said. He said he expects increased divisions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims after the Jan. 30 elections….

The Sunnis believe that they are about to loose their long hold on the reins of power in Iraq. Actually, they have already lost it. The establishment of any form of representative government - call it democracy or whatever - validates and codifies that loss. They are acting to prevent that. Chaos, failure to hold elections, civil war - all these are good news for them. It is for this reason that I believe that anyone who thinks the elections will lessen the violence may be mistaken. In this, General Scowcroft is correct. The insurgents, be they Iraqi Sunnis and/or Ba'this, and especially the Al-Qa'idah affliated Az-Zarqawi group, will continue the fight. The solution to the insurgency is not elections, it is to hunt the insurgents/terrorists down and kill them.

That said, those who against the new government are already supporting the insurgency - I don't see an elected government, Shi'a-dominated or not, swelling the ranks of the insurgents.

Scowcroft predicted "an incipient civil war" would grip Iraq and said the best hope for pulling the country from chaos would be to turn the U.S. operation over to NATO or the United Nations -- which, he said, would not be so hostilely viewed by Iraqis.

NATO will not much more palatable to the Iraqis than the United Nations or us. In any case, NATO has already said they aren't interested. Of the three, I think NATO would be the least objectionable, but the United Nations would really inflame the Iraqis. As we know, the Iraqis are the most xenophobic people in the region, and they suffered under the United Nations sanctions.

Scowcroft also said the continued U.S. presence in Iraq is inflaming the Middle East, hurting the U.S. war on terrorism.

He may be right on this one, but he offers no realistic solution. After publication of the article, it was suggested that the general was hoping to convince the Europeans to be part of the effort, positing the possibility of a U.S. withdrawal and all that would entail. Maybe.

Others were quoted in the Post article. Most state the obvious problems, but only one offers a solution. Here is an example of stating the obvious with no realistic solution:

Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser: "I do not think we can stay in Iraq in the fashion we're in now," Brzezinski said. "If it cannot be changed drastically, it should be terminated."

Does he really think that is an option? Then there will not be an "incipient civil war" as Scowcroft warns - there will be a full-blown meltdown, one which will be disastrous.

The best excerpt, as I see it, is from Tony Cordesman. At least he implies a solution (with which I agree):

". . . Our success more and more depends on, not on our skill at war, but whether the Iraqis as political leaders can lead and govern, whether Iraqi security and military forces can take up the burden of the counterinsurgency battle and whether Iraqis can form a state. If they fail politically or fail to govern or fail to provide adequate military or security forces, nothing we do military or politically or with our allies is going to matter."

I don't think the question is "can" the Iraqis lead and govern, it is "how" they will lead and govern. I believe that leading Shi'a cleric Ayatollah Al-Sistani has already figured this out and is waiting for the results of the election, which, unless we are all mistaken, will usher in a Shi'a-dominated government. The question is, how will that new government, probably led by Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) chief 'Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Hakim, will do to restore security. The security problem is localized in the Sunni area of the country, as well as parts of Baghdad. If the Shi'a-dominated government is viewed by the Kurds and Sunnis as theocratic, then it will look like a civil war.

It may not be important what it looks like as long as the Kurds and Shi'a cooperate and focus on the Sunni insurgents, and allow the rest of the Sunnis to go about their lives. I wouldn't hold my breath for this to happen, but it is probably the only way the insurgency will end. The average Iraqis, be they Sunni, Shi'a, Kurd, Chaldean, Assyrian, Turkoman, etc, have to commit to the new government - that means accepting it as legitimate and cooperating against the insurgency.

I would have to say that we won't know until the Iraqis have a real opportunity to participate in their government. What stops them? In the Kurdish north, nothing. They have had basically a functioning democracy for well over a decade. In the Arab portions of the country, several reasons, the most obvious of which is the security situation. However, it goes further than that. The Shi'a, and even the Sunnis to some extent, are heavily influenced by their religious leadership. It is almost akin to clan or tribal loyalty. I think they will vote how their local mosque tells them to. How do we get beyond that? I don't know that we ever will unless there is a return to a secular society, such as the Ba'this, and that was maintained only by force of arms.

Let's be clear. We are not going to see, nor should we push for, a Jeffersonian democracy to emerge. There will be some form of representative government - let them figure out what they want, what works for them. The bottom line remains that we have to eliminate the insurgency. Actually, THEY have to eliminate the insurgency.