For months, the Bush administration has suggested that the Sunni split from al-Qaeda in Iraq augurs the end of sectarian warfare. Ambassador Ryan Crocker contended in his September testimony to Congress that the entrance of the Sunnis into anti-al-Qaeda security partnerships with the U.S. amounts to what he calls "bottom-up reconciliation" by creating a way station into a partnership with the Shiite-led central government, who will hire them into the formal security forces and demonstrate "the readiness of the central government to provide resources" to the Sunnis. President Bush has portrayed the process as all but inexorable. "When you have bottom-up reconciliation like you're seeing here in Anbar, it'll begin to translate into central government action," he said in a September trip to an airbase in Anbar Province.
Stanton's comments place doubt on both elements of the bottom-up-reconciliation approach. First, the Iraqi government isn't, despite promises, "providing resources" to the Sunnis. "I'd be lying to you if I said, 'Yup, they've got a national-level plan for reconciliation and they're all working toward it assiduously with big smiles on their faces," he said. And second, the ex-Sunni insurgents haven't made "a fundamental break" with armed struggle against the Shiites. While they're "less likely to go back to insurgency if the government does anything at all to meet them close to halfway," Stanton said, "nobody here is gonna take any option off the table for themselves." The Sunnis haven't "crossed the Rubicon" away from insurgency.
It's hard to say how fast the clock is ticking. Stanton qualified his statement by saying that the Iraqi government hasn't fundamentally "rebuffed" the Sunnis. But he'd be "nervous" if the same level of half-hearted outreach continues through the summer. And ultimately, actual reconciliation operates on a much slower timetable than many in the U.S. have patience for.
"In terms of true reconciliation, as in absolute peace and acceptance of everything my enemy has done, that's a generational thing," Stanton said. "To get these guys where they instinctively don't distrust and hate each other is gonna be generational."