IRAQ’S FAILED POLICY
Alon Ben-Meir – September 28, 2006
Dr. ALON BEN-MEIR – His exceptional knowledge and insight gained by more than 25 years of direct involvement with foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, have allowed Dr. Alon Ben-Meir to offer a unique and invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, ethnic conflict, and international negotiations.
A noted journalist and author, Dr. Ben-Meir is the Middle East Director of the World Policy Institute at the New School for Social Research, and a professor of International Relations and Middle-Eastern studies at the Center for Global Studies at NYU and at the New School. Born in Baghdad and currently residing in New York City, he holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University.
In addition to his essays on contemporary global conflict oriented issues, Dr. Ben-Meir writes a weekly syndicated column about current international policies and events, which is published by United Press International.
Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Dr. Ben-Meir began his career as a journalist. His frequent travels to the Mid-East and conversations with highly placed sources in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Israel, and Palestine provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness of and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news.
Dr. Ben-Meir is the author of numerous books, including: The Middle East: Imperative and Choices, Israel: The Challenge of the Fourth Decade, In Defiance of Time, Framework for Arab-Israeli Peace, The Last Option, and A War We Must Win. He expects to publish his latest book Defeating Terrorism in the summer of 2006.
Dr. Ben-Meir's views on contemporary international affairs are often sought out by major television and radio networks, and he is a frequent speaker before groups and organizations at venues as varied as world affairs councils and town hall meetings. He is a popular lecturer on international relations at a variety of universities besides the New York University and the New School.
Try as it may to put the best face on it, the American intelligence agencies’ assessment of global terrorism trends is damning the Bush administration in whichever way we look at it. In many ways the report stated the obvious: The Iraq war has contributed directly to the rise of Islamic radicalism and the diffusion of the Jihad ideology globally, and made the overall problem of terrorism considerably worse. What is tragically sad is not the report’s findings but the Bush administration’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge that the Iraq war and the occupation have enraged Arabs and Muslims throughout the world. Instead of dealing with the disastrous repercussions of the war and developing a viable exit strategy, the administration continues to link international terrorism to Iraq when in fact Iraq itself was thrown into a civil war.
As the Congressional elections are heating up, the discussions are refocused on the question whether the United States, especially in the wake of the intelligence assessment, should stay the course in Iraq or seek an exit strategy. The administration’s contention that American forces will gradually withdraw once the Iraqi military and security forces can maintain security is misleading. Past experience in training security forces, their questionable loyalty to the state and the conditions on the ground simply do not support the administration’s position.
It is clear that the continued occupation in itself has provided the greatest motivation for the Sunni Jihadis, Ba’athists and Saddamists to violently resist the American presence. The Shiites want American troops to stay, not to preserve democracy but to consolidate their power base and blunt any political challenge. Meanwhile, sectarian killing will not end, not only because of a long historical enmity between the Shiites and Sunnis but for the Sunnis, in particular, the struggle is existential. As a result the Shiite Alliance each keeps their own militia including Muqtada Sadr’s Mahdi Army to provide physical protection as well as safeguard their national long-term agenda to preserve Shiites dominance by any means and at all cost. To that end the militias work closely with the security and military forces that are predominantly Shiites and government officials tacitly promote sectarian cleansing. Although the Bush administration continues to deny the obvious, Iraq is in a civil war. One might ask then under what conditions American troops can withdraw when the Shiite and the Sunnis deliberately promote chaotic situation to serve their own, albeit contradictory agendas. Iraq will not stay in one piece and the violence will not end regardless of the pretext under which the United States continues to occupy Iraq.
Whereas there is a general public consensus that the United States cannot simply fold its tent in Iraq and leave, a timeframe (up to two years) for withdrawal of American forces must, nevertheless, be established. There is no evidence, as the administration contends that such a timetable will hand a victory to the insurgents or embolden the terrorist groups to lay in wait or intensify their attacks to accelerate the American departure.
If the intelligence report has any merit then it must be clear that ending the occupation will suck out much of the insurgents’ wind and greatly mitigate the motivation of many Jihadis to wage a blind war of terror against the United States and its allies. Moreover, as long as the Shiites led al-Maliki government is allowed to exploit the presence of American forces to promote its own sectarian agenda, the United States is playing into their hand and thereby perpetuating the corruption that has swept most government officials and ministries. After a couple of national elections and the passage of the constitution the Iraqi government must understand how high the stakes are and what to do to preserve their nascent democracy. That said, the Iraqi democracy will not be preserved by American forces regardless of their size and staying power. In fact, the longer American troops linger the greater the resistance and the weaker the elected government becomes because such government is seen as no more than an American tool in the service of Washington’s own narrow agenda. In one way or another, Iraq will eventually be divided into several provinces. The United States can, indeed should, assist Iraq in the transition so that the Sunni provinces will end up with equitable share of the nations’ oil resources—a critical requirement to ending the violence.
This administration can hardly be forgiven for adopting misguided policy toward Iraq based on neoconservative wishful thinking but it cannot be forgiven for manipulating the information about the situation in Iraq to mislead the public by insisting on the correctness of its defunct policy. Neither the war on terror nor the war in Iraq can be won unless the administration abandoned its failed “stays the course” policy. A timeframe is needed for withdrawal of American forces that have already made great sacrifices far beyond the call of duty.