Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Starting To “Draw Down” For Good In Iraq

(And I also posted here.)

On the occasion of our partial withdrawal from Iraq today, I actually thought it was a good idea to revisit part of a speech President Obama’s predecessor gave here on that country in front of a typically sympathetic AEI audience, before Iraq War II began in February 2003…

Rebuilding Iraq will require a sustained commitment from many nations, including our own: we will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more. America has made and kept this kind of commitment before -- in the peace that followed a world war. After defeating enemies, we did not leave behind occupying armies, we left constitutions and parliaments. We established an atmosphere of safety, in which responsible, reform-minded local leaders could build lasting institutions of freedom. In societies that once bred fascism and militarism, liberty found a permanent home.
I'd like to comment on the text I just highlighted.

In the matter of “rebuilding Iraq,” I realize I could point out a few different things, but I happened to come across this good story from last March in the Boston Globe (don't say all I ever do is bitch about Iraq and ignore the "green shoots" of good stuff, if you will)…

John Dunlop, 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds of muscle, works out of the US Army's Forward Operating Base Falcon in the Rashid District, at the sharp end of Baghdad, but he's not in uniform. His mission is to help Iraq rebuild itself, block by block, and yesterday, as it happened, verse by verse.

Poetry is in the lifeblood of this proudly literate country, and so it was that Dunlop and an Iraqi arts professor convened a poetry competition in war-ravaged Rashid. It was one more way to revive a sense of possibility.

"When you've got local poets who are identified with the community coming forward, it pulls the community around a common identity. It's like everyone's pulling for the same football team," Dunlop said by telephone from Iraq on the eve of the final round of the competition. "It's a sense of normalcy, not war and instability - of culture, of things happening, the kinds of spices that make communities worth defending."


Dhafer Al Makuter, an Iraqi translator who has worked with Dunlop since last August, said the importance of poetry to Iraqis can't be overstated. "It's like McDonald's to Americans. Poetry is for when you pray or go to the circus. Everything in Iraq is done with poetry. Today we bought some tractors for Iraqi farmers. A poet was hired to read poetry to the guests at the ceremony for almost an hour. Poetry in Iraq is people's life."

Doug Arbuckle, a USAID colleague who was Dunlop's boss in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 2001, is working with him again in Baghdad. Arbuckle is USAID's executive officer for the Iraq mission, which has 120 expatriate staff such as Dunlop as well as 1,500 contractor employees and 3,700 Iraqi employees.

"John is unafraid. He plows right in and gets the work done. He is a great big guy, and in many of the environments we work in he could be very intimidating, yet he is extremely effective. He establishes rapport very quickly with new people, " Arbuckle said. "And he is the kind of personality who appeals to the military. He's big enough that nobody messes with him."
And let’s not forget that, when it comes to “remaining in Iraq,” Dubya said here that he wanted to “see a lengthy U.S. troop presence in Iraq like the one in South Korea to provide stability but not in a frontline combat role,” though, judging from the celebrations as our troops pulled out of their cities, you can argue as to whether or not that is something the Iraqis actually wanted.

Although, when it comes to “leaving behind an occupying army,” General George Casey, as noted here (from last month)…

…said this week that the American military is preparing to continue its interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan for at least another decade.
Kind of makes me wonder how much different this is from “Straight Talk” McCain’s notorious answer about a possible “hundred year” occupation during the presidential campaign (a pox on both political parties for this...nothing "hopey, changey" about this).

And when it comes to Iraq having a constitution and a parliament…well, they have the former, as noted here, but as far as the latter is concerned, the New York Times tells us this today…

We once hoped that a clear timetable for an American withdrawal would finally persuade Iraq’s leaders to make the political compromises that are the only way to hold their country together without an indefinite occupation. That has not happened. The Parliament has still not passed a law to divide Iraq’s oil resources equitably.

Indeed there are worrying signs that Iraqi politicians are doing the opposite — looking for ways to shore up their communal interests in case the civil war reignites. Many of Iraq’s neighbors are making the same calculations.

We are particularly concerned about the Iraqi government’s cavalier — or worse — treatment of the Awakening Councils. Those are the former Sunni insurgents who decided to switch sides, at Washington’s urging. Members have complained about delays in being paid. The government has barely made a down payment on its commitment to find jobs for the group’s 94,000 members in the security services, ministries or private sector.

Baghdad blames dropping oil prices and a budget squeeze for the employment problems. But keeping these fighters, and their relatives and neighbors, on the government’s side should be a top priority. Mr. Maliki has further alienated many Sunnis by ordering the arrest of several council leaders and a few high-profile Sunni politicians. Iraqi officials say the arrests are justified. United States officials need to impress on the prime minister the dangers he is courting.
And when it comes to leaving behind “an atmosphere of safety”…

Violence is down, but extremists are still trying to spark a new cycle of attacks and retaliation. In June, more than 300 Iraqis and 10 Americans were killed.
Finally, I don’t know how anyone can seriously claim that “liberty found a permanent home” when you realize the following (from here)…

George W. Bush’s misguided attack on Iraq has had catastrophic consequences for the Iraqi people. Although the removal of Saddam Hussein was a blessing, the bloody chaos that resulted was not. Estimates of the number of dead in the ensuing strife starts at about 100,000 and rises rapidly. The number of injured is far greater.

Moreover, roughly four million people, about one-sixth of the population, have been driven from their homes. The most vulnerable tended to be Iraq’s Christian community and Iraqis who aided U.S. personnel — acting as translators, for instance. Yet the Bush administration resisted allowing any of these desperate people to come to America, since to resettle refugees would be to acknowledge that administration policy had failed to result in the promised paradise in Babylon.

As the Iraq War played out, the Bush administration seemed to do everything in its power to ignore the refugee crisis. Former President Bush, reluctant to admit to a failed war policy, never mentioned the plight of the refugees and for years refused to allow Iraqis fleeing the war zone to resettle in the U.S. Only after significant political pressure from members of Congress and advocacy groups did the administration’s policy begin to change, and refugees began gaining access to the United States.
And of course, Obama has said “this is a major problem, that we are responsible for this problem and we will try to change this.”

We’ll see, won’t we?

And just out of curiosity, I actually visited the AEI site to see what they had to say about this milestone day in Iraq, and…surprise, surprise…they actually didn’t ignore it, given their prior war cheerleading. But as far as the violence that has transpired during the transition, “resident scholar” Michael Rubin had this say…

The worst is yet to come.
Take a bow, you cretins.

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