The drawdowns (see update)
Michael Lopez Calderon describes the debate between Daniel Pipes and Reuel Marc Gerecht of the American Enterprise Institute -- neither of them men of the Left -- on the subject of whether the United States should support Islamists. Gerecht argued that the process was foremost, and if democracy meant that the side you didn't like occasionally won, well it was a feature, not a bug. Pipes retorted that it was insane to let radical Islamists play in a game they wanted, above all to abolish; against "democratic elections in which the result could be 'one person, one vote, one time.'" Of course, both Pipes and Gerecht might as well have been debating the problem of bringing democracy to Iraq, where election in a Shi'a majority country could be expected to produce a Shi'a dominated result.
In that election, the Sunnis and the secularist parties are bound to be unhappy with the result. And perhaps rightly so. The last post argued that accusations of cheating had to be addressed in such a way that all parties -- the Kurds, Sunni and Shi'a -- felt that their interests could be protected within a nonviolent electoral system.
The US will be probably be relied upon by all parties, to keep the level of cheating down to where results are acceptable. That probably means that the vote count itself will only be one source of input in a hybrid system that will eventually be (in my view) be a negotiated electoral result. The balance will be correct when nobody rushes out to restart hostilities.
Could this be done? One proxy indicator of its feasibility was provided by two key events: the arrival of Tony Blair on the one hand; and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumselfeld on the other hand, in Iraq. Tony Blair strongly hinted that he would soon be drawing down British troop strength in southern Iraq. The War in Context, quoted the London Times as suggesting that preparations were already under way.
"Senior defence sources said that the 800 British troops in Maysan province and 300 in Muthana province had switched to a 'tactical overwatch'; role -- remaining in their barracks and only going out on patrol with the Iraqi security forces when they asked for help. This is the first stage in withdrawing altogether from the provinces, following a similar pattern adopted in Northern Ireland.
Donald Rumsfeld announced that President Bush authorized a drawdown, not only of the additional troops sent to augment security forces for the election period, but two brigades below the base level.
Addressing U.S. troops at this former insurgent stronghold, Rumsfeld did not reveal the exact size of the troop cut, but Pentagon officials have said it could be as much as 7,000 combat troops. Two army brigades that had been scheduled for combat tours one from Fort Riley, Kan., the other now in Kuwait will no longer deploy to Iraq. That will reduce the number of combat brigades in Iraq from 17 to 15.
An American Forces Press Service press release says that not only will American numbers go down, but their role will change. Iraqi forces will take center stage and the American troops will begin to fade into the background. "U. S. forces will shift from a focus on combat operations to a focus on supporting the Iraqis as they take the lead in operations ... more U. S. engineer and logistics units will deploy instead of combat units to help the Iraqi units function." Nor was this a spur-of-the-moment decision. The US Army Ranger Association weblog carries what are described as notes from a speech by General John Abizaid at the Naval War College, at which Abizaid said: '2006 will be a transition year in Iraq and that will see the Iraqi forces take much more of the mission from the US forces. This is necessary to bring stability to Iraq. We need to be fewer in numbers and less in the midst of the people for the moderate Iraqi government to succeed.'
This is not necessarily the correct response to post-election Iraq, but the troop drawdowns, both hinted and announced reflect a confidence in the way events are likely to transpire. Of course, not everyone is convinced. Blogger Norman Solomon believes this is another Bush lie.
"Three days before Christmas, the Bush administration launched a new salvo of bright spinning lies about the Iraq war ... the Bush administration will strive to put any real or imagined reduction of U.S. occupation troop levels in the media spotlight. Meanwhile, the Pentagon will use massive air power in Iraq. ... independent journalist Dahr Jamail -- who worked on the ground in Iraq for more than eight months of the U.S. occupation -- pointed out in a mid-December article titled 'An Increasingly Aerial Occupation.'"
Simple Life says "Bring them all home & NOW!" And maybe they'll turn out to be right. Maybe Patrick Cockburn of the Independent is correct when he says, "Iraq is disintegrating". But if actions speak louder than words, the drawdowns suggest that both Blair and Bush think they can afford to ease off. The difficult process of building lasting and fair post-Saddam government in Iraq remains ahead. The Sunni and secular political parties should receive their due share of the seats. But certain things are already in the past, and one of them, maybe, is Vietnam.
Austin Bay links to a news article indicating that the Shi'ite parties are willing to enter into coalition negotiations with the Sunnis. Iraq the Model has details on how this is happening. Key line from Iraq the Model: "So far, the rival parties are using dialogue and peaceful demonstration and no one has resorted to violence and this is a positive sign that makes us think we still have the chance to resolve the dispute through negotiations."