Even if you have read it, Juan Cole's 10-point Plan regarding Iraq deserves to be read over and over again. It's very sensible and the fact that there is so much distance between the reality of America's foot-print in Iraq and what Cole suggests explains why this morass is worsening.
He proposes a lucid plan that really deserves immediate attention by policymakers. I'm particularly taken with the importance of re-branding the non-criminal Baathists.
This is very close to what Americans did with a large roster of conservative, accused set of classified war criminals (organized in different categories of seriousness) after WWII.
At the beginning of the Allied Occupation of Japan, socialists and communists were the big political winners and conservatives -- even the good ones -- were shunted aside. Ichiro Hatoyama, the first ascending Prime Minister, who assembled a coalition in the new government of Occupied Japan was purged from office by the Occupation authorities the night before he would have been vested with his office. This was a lousy lesson for democracy -- but still Hatoyama came back as Prime Minister in 1954, evidence in part of a significant change of political course that Americans took in Japan.
The differences between America's engagement in Iraq and Japan are enormous -- but what is clear is that there is a cost to keeping the competent civil and military administrators who worked for thugs, but who were not thugs themselves, from taking positions in a reformed government. Cole is absolutely right that U.S. authorities should be knocking back the Kurds and Shia who want to block the return of any previous Baathists.
I think that while I agree with Cole that U.S. forces need to withdraw from urban neighborhoods and should be trimming their profile in important ways, the most important thing America should do is work to internationalize the face of aid workers as well as foreign police and military officials as quickly as possible. The American flag needs to be removed from the scene.
What few seem to argue is that the moment President Bush gets serious about withdrawing from Iraq, European states and other Middle East nations are going to be worried about chaos, potential civil war, and outward migration. The American brand has been harmed in Iraq -- but that does not mean that all other nations will have the same problems. By leveraging our intent to withdraw, Bush could begin to angle with the Europeans, Egypt, the Russians (yes, even the Russians),the Saudis, Jordan, and other stakeholders in the region to take over roles that we will not continue. The players there need to be reframed -- and our eventual departure could be used to pass off responsibility to others.
But how to get them to go? The German Ambassador to the U.S. Wolfgang Ischinger once told me that his biggest fear about John Kerry being elected is that he would have to work hard to keep Kerry from asking Germany to send troops to Iraq, which many assumed Kerry would do if elected.
I think it's simple -- and it's a missing point in Juan Cole's excellent ten point plan, but perhaps still essential. The fact is that no matter what direction America goes with regard to the Iraq conflict, we really do need collaboration with other major powers -- even if we end up retreating quickly from the place. But most scenarios involve some ongoing presence. In that case, European and other key national support needs to be secured, and that must be one of our nation's highest national priorities.
But we are helping the Iraqi insurgents and al Qaeda fanatics in their quest by shooting ourselves in the foot with how we are respoding to the highest diplomatic priorities of nations we need.
Sid Blumenthal says it well in this piece that just appeared in The Guardian:
. . .it was revealed this week that Mr Bush's new ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, was seeking 750 changes to the 36-page draft plan to be presented to a special summit in New York on September 14 to 16. Mr Bolton's amendments, if successful, would leave the plan in tatters.
The Foreign Office confirmed yesterday that Britain was standing behind the original plan, putting it at odds with Mr Bush.
The concern in British and other international circles is that the American objections, if adopted, would severely undermine the UN summit, the biggest-ever gathering of world leaders.
At least 175 world leaders have accepted an invitation to attend. The UN said yesterday that Mr Bush had confirmed that he would be there.
A wide range of organisations, from aid groups to the anti-arms lobby, voiced dismay about Mr Bolton's objections yesterday and expressed concern that the summit may end in failure.
The Make Poverty History campaign said there was a danger that the millennium development goals, the original reason for holding the summit, would be reduced to a footnote.
A source close to the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan said it was too early to declare the UN plan dead. "Bolton wants to knock down the plan and start from scratch," the source said. "He will find that his opinions are not shared by most of the rest of the world."
As best I can tell, President Bush, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove turn every battle -- all of them -- into winner-takes-all, take-no-prisoners skirmishes. This is not strategy. This is just clear-cutting -- when America lets them get away with it.
Strategy would be losing the right battles to your friends so that America wins from them the support it most needs.
I think that a more enlightened posture on global climate change, global poverty, AIDS and other pandemics, and other of the Millennium Development Goals would be ideal battles for America to lose to its closest allies. If we gave them some "wins" to take back to their publics in order to secure their support for the biggest objectives America had, we'd all be better off.
It seems to me that securing their support for the "internationalization" and "de-Americanization" of some ongoing presence in Iraq would be well worth giving in on a few of these other gestures John Bolton has problems with.