December 16, 2005


Climate Change: IN IRAQ, REASON FOR HOPE--FINALLY (Lawrence F. Kaplan, 12.16.05, New Republic)

Contrary to prevailing wisdom, Washington's political strategy in Iraq has always made more sense than its military strategy. In its essentials, the logic of the former was straightforward: Induce the Sunnis to surrender violence in favor of political participation and create a broad-based, cross-sectarian coalition that can govern Iraq effectively. Although yesterday's elections hardly guarantee that outcome, they do amount to its necessary precondition. Whether the aim can actually be achieved is up to the Iraqis.

In this regard, yesterday offered reason to hope. Having now moved beyond the mechanics of democracy--that is, the process of choosing leaders--Iraqis may also begin to move beyond a zero-sum brand of politics and toward the sort of compromises essential to a broader conception of democracy. The election offered this glimmer for a simple reason: Sunnis actually participated in it. Unlike January's election for a transitional assembly, which they boycotted, and June's referendum on the constitution, in which few Sunnis participated and then only to vote against it, millions of Sunnis turned out yesterday to vote for legislators who will serve a four-year term and approve a prime minister and president. That fact itself suggests an acknowledgment among Sunnis that either they join the political process or get left behind. Hence, the bitter and recalcitrant Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars encouraged its constituents to vote. Hence, too, Sunni insurgent groups like the Baathist Army of Iraq broke from past practice and declared they wouldn't target polling stations. With Sunnis voting by district and electing their own representatives, Sunni leaders will necessarily emerge within the political arena. This, in turn, should weaken the political appeal of the insurgency, or at the very least create cleavages between the community's politicians and its bombers.

There is, to be sure, a powerful and not entirely unpersuasive school of thought that argues the Sunni political community has completely lost its mind, consumed by nihilism or a desire to recapture its past glory. Which is where the electoral stick comes in. As Shia coalition leader Adil Abdul Mahdi delicately makes the point, after the election the Sunnis "will know their political weight. And ours." In other words, Iraq's Shia, who even today fear the Sunnis more than the other way around, will once and for all recognize their newfound power. By contrast, the election will surely compel the Sunnis, many of whom cling to the delusion that they can once again dominate the majority Shia, to confront their diminished role in Iraq's political life. With no political program of their own and with Shia-dominated army units patrolling their towns and villages, even the most nostalgic Sunnis have to recognize that the country will never be theirs again. That recognition, in turn, offers the key to political progress in Iraq.

The important thing is that either their willingness to live under a Shi'ite dominated regime or their recognition that they can do better by cutting loose the Kurdish north and Shi'a south would both be progress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 16, 2005 11:00 AM

"Contrary to prevailing wisdom, Washington's political strategy in Iraq has always made more sense than its military strategy."

I think Mr. Kaplan doesn't understand that there's really not much difference between our military and political strategy in Iraq. They are interlinked.

Otherwise, I tend to think he has a lot of smart things to say in this article.

Posted by: Patrick Phillips at December 16, 2005 12:52 PM

Send Mr. Kaplan a barrel of whatever the Pentagon has been drinking...

Posted by: Mikey at December 16, 2005 12:55 PM