Half a loaf
Philip Carter argues that the Surge is ultimately doomed to fail because Iraq is no closer to governing itself. And while there may be gains in security, the country remains a political failure. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates looks at the depth of the Sunni-Shi'ite divide.
Gates told reporters as he flew back to Washington that gains made in security in western Iraq's Anbar province and at the local level were cause for optimism, but he acknowledged they were offset by divisions at the top.
"In some ways we probably all underestimated the depth of mistrust and how difficult it would be for these guys to come together on legislation, which let's face it is not some kind of secondary thing," he said.
"The kinds of legislation they're talking about will establish the framework of Iraq for the future so it's almost like our constitutional convention," Gates said.
"And the difficulty in coming to grips with those we may all have underestimated six or eight months ago," he said.
Now the really interesting question, as I've argued in earlier posts, is whether the Surge actually makes divisions at the top worse. Empowering grassroots organizatons and giving them ownership over local security may actually weaken central institutions. Why would you look to squabbling politicians at the top to provide security that you know darned well it is being provided locally and by the Iraqi Army/Coalition Forces?
But on the other hand, grassroots empowerment is the only sure basis for creating a national political consensus. Recently Hillary Clinton's college thesis on organizing guru Saul Alinsky was released. One of Alinsky's tenets is that truly stable organizations can only be built from the bottom up.
In the past Iraq has been held together by one form of strongman or the other. It can be rebuilt as a tyranny on that basis again. In fact there are those who preferred that it be reconstructed that way, by a Saddam-like successor. But it can't be rebuilt as a democracy unless it is founded from the bottom up. Now while I think the Surge creates the necessary preconditions for Iraqi political stability it does not create sufficient. That requires something else. Either an architectural change which will split Iraq into several viable countries (which may then war against each other for access or resources) or America will have to mobilize the grassroots in order to push the politicians at the top into line. Petraeus may have solved part of the problem and that's something at least. But the other half of the problem remains outstanding. Let's see whether the diplomats are up to being as creative as the soldiers.
But one thing that I think has been overlooked by analysts who have been focused on US troops numbers, is the role an integrated Iraqi Army has played in the Surge. When Michael E. O’Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack wrote their optimistic article in the New York Times, this bit did not escape me: "In addition, far more Iraqi units are well integrated in terms of ethnicity and religion. The Iraqi Army’s highly effective Third Infantry Division started out as overwhelmingly Kurdish in 2005. Today, it is 45 percent Shiite, 28 percent Kurdish, and 27 percent Sunni Arab."The ultimate long guarantor of security for everyone in Iraq is an integrated Iraqi Army. That means that people are only as sure of staying alive as they are of keeping a national army together. Without the Iraqi Army, the different communities will have to fall back on their respective militias and face a probable war. Thus, the politicians may themselves be held hostage to the need for unity. In which case the soldiers have been very, very clever indeed.