What would you do if you were an American politician wondering what to say about Iraq?
Well, you could assume that Iraq is a blank sheet on which you could demonstrate your doodling talents in “nation building”.
Or, you could tell the Iraqis who should govern them and what should their policies be.
If neither option satisfies you, you could always blame the Iraqis for your troubles and recommend that the rest of the world let them stew in their sectarian juice.
Finally, you could simply deny there is a war at all.
The first two options are all the rage among Democrat Party leaders in the United States.
Anxious to please their militant anti-war base without appearing soft on terrorism, some Democrat leaders have come up with a variety of fanciful ideas about the future of Iraq. Senator Joseph Biden, a presidential hopeful, wants to divide Iraq into three mini-states, although none of those involved in the current struggle inside that country want it. Biden does not say how this is going to be done or who is going to do it. His colleague, Barbara Boxer, a Senator from California, however, is more pro-active. She thinks that the US-led coalition should divide Iraq into three before leaving. What she does not tell us is how the beleaguered US task force, already finding it hard to pacify Baghdad and its environs, would be able to impose peace on three separate states before withdrawing- and all of that by Christmas!
Senator Hillary Clinton, another presidential hopeful and a Democrat collage of Biden and Boxer, is not as naïve.
She knows that no one in Iraq wants the “three-states” game proposed by her colleagues, and that no force on earth is capable of imposing it. She also knows that the so-called solution has no relevance to the many problems that Iraq faces today.
However, Hillary, too, is unwilling, or under pressure from the anti-war base of her party, unable, to support a rational position on Iraq by taking the long-term view and settling for nothing short of total victory over the terrorists. Thus, the senator from New York has chosen the second option: telling the Iraqis who to choose as leader, and what policies to adopt. Supported by the “realist” wing of her party, Senator Clinton has called for the dismissal of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government.
Had it not been for the tragic situation in Iraq, this kind of political posturing might have merited some hilarity. Politicians who would not dream of developing a bipartisan policy on Iraq in Washington are advising their counterparts in Baghdad to do what they themselves would never do. Having done all they could to sabotage President George W Bush’s Iraq policy, they are telling the Iraqi politicians “Do as I say, not as I do!”
There is yet another comic angle to all this.
The very Democrat politicians who blame Bush for “imperialist” intervention in Iraq wish to dictate Iraqi politics as any classical colonial officer in the 19th century.
The third option, blaming the Iraqis for failure and getting out fast, has even broader appeal in Washington. Senator Barrack Obama, another Democrat presidential hopeful, thinks the Iraqis are not ready for a more civilised system of government and that the US has no business trying to impose one by force.
His Republican colleague, Senator John Warner, he elders-statesman of the defence establishment in Washington, appears to share the view. He claims that the US has done all it could, and should now start pulling out, leaving the Iraqis to fend for themselves against the terrorists and predatory neighbours.
Translated into plain language this means: Ooops! We went to Iraq and wrecked its state structure but now realise that we lack the stamina to support it until it develops a new one.
Of course, some politicians in Washington do not try to beat around the bush, no pun intended, over Iraq. One such is Congressman Jack Murtha, one of the few Democrats who opposed the toppling of Saddam Hussein from the start. Murtha does not hide his view that his party needs a clear American defeat in Iraq to capture the White House and win the next Congressional election in 2008. Murtha does not care who wins in Iraq. What matters to him is that the US should not win, at least as long as Bush is in the White House.
Several of his colleagues, including Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and the House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi have already claimed that the war is lost and that the US should admit defeat and get out.
On the Republican side, we have Senator Chuck Hagel, a later-stage opponent of the liberation of Iraq. Last year he told his Senate colleagues to face the real questions: is there a war on terrorism or not? Is Iraq part of that war? If not, shouldn’t the Congress stop all money for the war, thus forcing the president to bring the GIs home? Isn’t it cynical to oppose the war and try to set up innumerable hurdles for fighting it but, at the same time, continue funding it?
Former Senator John Edwards, another Democrat presidential hopeful, has chosen the fourth option in his new anti-war position (when in Senate, he had strongly supported the liberation of Iraq in 2003). Edward now says that he has had several years in which to think about things and has concluded that the so-called war on terror is a figment of George W Bush’s imagination. Well, if there is no terrorism and no war on terror, why should the US fight in either Iraq or Afghanistan?
The bad news in all that is that the American people are not allowed to understand what is really at stake let alone what they, or anyone else, should or should not do about it.
But, as always, there is also good news. To start with, it is not Biden or Boxer who can decide who becomes Iraq’s prime minister. As long as Maliki retains his parliamentary majority, no amount of political gesticulation in Washington or elsewhere could dislodge him.
Nor are we in the early 20th century when Western empire-builders sat by the poolside and divided the Middle East, as they liked.
No one can divide Iraq today as long as the Iraqi people wish to remain united within a single, democratic and federal entity.
As for the US-led coalition’s withdrawal from Iraq, it is plain that this will not happen anytime soon. Even the Democrats, their posturing aside, know that you cannot withdraw 180,000 men and massive amounts of material without stabilising the territory concerned either by defeating the enemy or by surrendering to him and winning his protection while you run away.