Friday, September 26, 2008

WaPo edit notes Iraq progress; cautions Obama

An editorial in today’s Washington Post begins - - -

While Washington was seized with congressional negotiations over the Wall Street bailout, Iraq's parliament on Wednesday took another major step toward political stabilization.

By a unanimous vote, the national legislature approved a plan for local elections in 14 of 18 provinces by early next year -- clearing the way for a new, more representative and more secular wave of politicians to take office. The legislation eliminates the party slate system that allowed religious authorities to dominate Iraq's previous elections, and it provides for women to hold 25 percent of seats.

Most important, it will allow Sunni leaders who boycotted the 2005 provincial elections -- and who have since allied themselves with U.S. forces against al-Qaeda in Iraq -- to compete for political power in the provinces that were once the heartland of the insurgency.

As always in Iraq's halting journey toward a new order, the reform was not complete. Elections were put off in the province surrounding the volatile city of Kirkuk, where Kurds, Sunni Arabs and other groups compete for power, and in three Kurd-run provinces.

Staging fair and peaceful elections will be another major challenge: In the south of Iraq, competition among Shiite parties, including those of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Mahdi Army leader Moqtada al-Sadr, could easily spill over into violence. The importance of securing the elections is one good reason for President Bush's decision to withdraw only 8,000 of the 146,000 remaining U.S. troops in Iraq between now and February.

Still, the precipitous drop in violence in Iraq during the past year offers strong reason for hope that a good election can be held -- and that the new Sunni and Shiite leaders who emerge will be well positioned to jump-start reconstruction in the provinces and negotiate with each other. …

[It’s] now clear that the political progress that the Bush administration hoped would follow the surge of U.S. forces in Iraq has finally begun.

How can the next president preserve that momentum?

Democrat Barack Obama continues to argue that only the systematic withdrawal of U.S. combat units will force Iraqi leaders to compromise.

Yet the empirical evidence of the past year suggests the opposite: that only the greater security produced and guaranteed by American troops allows a political environment in which legislative deals and free elections are feasible.

The entire editorial's here.


I didn’t know enough to offer an informed opinion on whether the surge would work. So I kept quiet.

Naturally, I’m delighted it worked. I salute the President for his decision to back the surge and Gen. Petraeus and the troops for all they accomplished.

On the matter of troop drawdowns in Iraq, I do have an informed opinion: we need to move very cautiously on any troop withdrawal with a bias of having more troops there then are needed rather than risk having too few.

You can look all over the third world and see instances of nations now in chaos because they “gained their independence” before there were sufficiently strong governmental, military, civil, economic and social forces, structures and traditions in place to assure their survival as democratic and thriving nations.

Some people who know Zimbabwe only as a place of famine might be surprised to learn that as recently as the 1970s, before it fell into the murderous hands of Robert Mugabe and his thugs, the country’s population was well-fed and it was a net food exporter.

Iraq’s diverse population, with its history of religious and ethnic hatreds and wars, assures that for decades at least it will at best be a very fragile democracy in need of the stabilizing presence of the U. S. military.

There’s no other force in the world that can give Iraq the time and stability it needs to make progress.

For the foreseeable future, Iraq will be a prime target of terrorists who’ll do all they can to destabilize and destroy a civil, peaceful, and democratic Iraq.

Without the U. S. military’s involvement, Iraq will quickly become as unstable and dangerous as Lebanon, where terrorists find shelter and target not only Israel and American interests, but any place in the region moving toward modernization and broad-based prosperity.

Sen. Obama and all of us would do well to heed the caution the WaPo editors offered him today.