The End of the Beginning
In a situation rich with irony, voting was heavy in the former rebel stronghold of Fallujah, secured by the USMC in November 2004. Most of the Fallujans chose to reject the proposed Iraqi constitution, though the nationwide results are expected to heavily confirm it. US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad didn't seem to mind whether people voted for or against the proposed constitution, so long as they voted.
With hours to go before the polls closed Saturday, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad made his first trip to Fallujah since he took over the post in July. ... Khalilzad congratulated residents on their participation but cautioned them against being consumed by "nostalgia" for the past.
"The past is finished," Khalilzad said.
Despite the widespread description of an Iraq on the 'brink of civil war' beset by 'a widening insurgency' and 'descending into chaos', the Times of London reports it was an "almost a peaceful day as Iraq votes".
Amid unexpected calm, millions of Iraqis turned out in the sunshine yesterday to vote on a new constitution whose advocates claimed it would unite the country in a progressive democracy but whose critics warned that it would ultimately prove divisive.
Naturally, some observers regarded the ratification as only another signpost on the road to a total American defeat in Iraq. Even the 'unexpected' peace was attributed, not to the Iraqi Army but to the insurgents who granted it as a boon.
... critics warned that it would ultimately prove divisive ... Sunni insurgents appeared to have made surprisingly little effort to disrupt the voting, however. Following threats of slaughter at the polling stations, American Humvees roared through the streets of Baghdad and helicopters hovered in the skies as voting began at 7am.
But it seems clear, despite the consistently dire predictions of the press, that the Iraqi constitution will be approved and that before the end of 2005 Iraq will have a new and regular government. In the words of the Guardian, after the ratification process:
Iraqis will choose a new parliament in national elections to be held by 15 December. Parliament will then select a new government, which must take office by 31 December. The new administration will be first permanent, fully constitutional government in Iraq since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's rule in 2003.
(Speculation alert) I think most rational observers, however anti-American, must have by now come to the grudging conclusion that the insurgency is a lost cause in Iraq. As Athena at Terrorism Unveiled and Dan Darling pointed out in their analysis of the captured letter from Zawahiri to Zarqawi, the insurgency's terror tactics have been a huge mistake from Day One. Athena puts summarizes Zawahiri's message to Zarqawi eloquently. "His cowboy ways aren't winning him any strategic alliances. And on the sectarian strife among Sunni Muslims, Zawahiri is basically saying 'Drop it.' "
If Zawahiri is now looking for a Mr. Nice Guy, however, Zarqawi is probably the wrong place to start. But it doesn't matter. Any realist must guess that we are now moving into the post-OIF era. While there will continue to be fighting in Iraq and many challenges remain, the ultimate outcome is no longer a mystery. One hint this is understood by Washington is a New York Times sourced article (hat tip DL) describing the hitherto hidden border fighting with Syrian soldiers:
WASHINGTON, Oct. 14 - A series of clashes in the last year between American and Syrian troops, including a prolonged firefight this summer that killed several Syrians, has raised the prospect that cross-border military operations may become a dangerous new front in the Iraq war, according to current and former military and government officials. ...
In a meeting at the White House on Oct. 1, senior aides to Mr. Bush considered a variety of options for further actions against Syria, apparently including special operations along with other methods for putting pressure on Mr. Assad in coming weeks.
American officials say Mr. Bush has not yet signed off on a specific strategy and has no current plan to try to oust Mr. Assad, partly for fear of who might take over. The United States is not planning large-scale military operations inside Syria and the president has not authorized any covert action programs to topple the Assad government, several officials said.
The timing of this release suggests that Syria's participation is now an issue which Washington is prepared to publicly discuss. While the situation in Iraq seemed doubtful, the US could not credibly address the Syrian issue because its Iraqi commitments precluded any action against Damascus. Now the Assad regime knows that US forces will not long be occupied in Iraq they are sweating bullets. Ironically the availability of US forces means that they will probably not have to be used in Syria. Newsweek Magazine claims that the US had considered launching cross-border operations against Iraqi insurgent targets Syria on October 1 -- another publicly released telltale that US policy is ready to come out of the closet -- but were dissuaded by Condoleeza Rice who argued that "diplomatic isolation is working against al-Assad, especially on the eve of a U.N. report that may blame Syria for the murder of Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri". Diplomacy would not have been enough while the insurgency tied down America. With the insurgency fading fast, diplomacy may be enough.
Just as the ouster of Saddam by OIF touched off a wave of changes in Libya, Lebanon and the entire region, the impending defeat of the insurgency will paradoxically enhance the ability of diplomacy to address many of the remaining issues. Saddam's defeat confirmed what many military analysts knew from Desert Storm, that it was impossible for any conventional army to stand up against US forces. And that modified the behavior of many rogue states. Yet there remained the hope that the terrorist model of warfare, forged in Algeria and refined against Israel in Lebanon, would bring America to a halt: that rogue regimes acting discreetly could operate within that strategic shadow. Now, for the first time since Algeria, a terrorist force of the highest quality, supported by contributions from oil-rich countries, in the heart of the Arab world, with sanctuary in a friendly regime across the border and eulogized as "freedom fighters" by dozens of major international publications is on the verge of total and ignominious defeat. There are no more strategic shadows.
Victory is arguably the most perilous moment for any great power. In that instant it can be goaded into the destructive path to hubris, or if it is wise, go on to attain real greatness. The fruits of freedom throughout the region may not always be congenial, as the example of the voters in Fallujah showed in microcosm. But that is what the mission set out to attain all the same: Operation Iraqi Freedom.