October 9, 2008
With the widening economic crisis grabbing so much of our attention, ending our occupation of Iraq may be taking a back seat in some minds, but it will be a major, pressing issue for the next president.
Here's an under-reported development that fits very well with Barack Obama's pledge to start pulling troops out in a systematic way, with a view to ending our military role there, and with Obama's emphasis on a new foreign policy that emphasizes diplomacy rather than military force:
The Boston Globe reports today that:
Members of a team that worked to produce a framework for political reconciliation in Iraq told a congressional subcommittee yesterday that the United States must involve the international community in further peace negotiations and allow Iraqis to take the central role in the process.
Representatives of South Africa's African National Congress, veterans of both sides of the bloody Northern Ireland conflict and others with experience in difficult national reconciliation told a committee chaired by Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.) how they are working with Iraqi political leaders spanning the spectrum from Islamists and former Baathists to Communists, to move forward national reconciliation in Iraq. As with South Africa and Northern Ireland, such a process will be essential to bringing peace to Iraq. It will also be key to enabling Iraq to stand up to interference from the U.S., transnational corporations, etc.
A series of meetings involving all the Iraqi groups and the reconciliation experts over the past several months resulted in what's known as the Helsinki Agreement, signed by 37 Iraqi parties in Baghdad in July.
A useful commentary by Max Bergman of the liberal National Security Network calls attention to the significance of this process for Obama's vow that "we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in." Bergman draws the following conclusions:
1. Political reconciliation is not something that will happen over night.
2. The one thing Iraqis are united on is opposition to U.S. occupation.
3. In Iraq, political reconciliation will have to be largely self-reinforcing, as it is in Northern Ireland.
Iraqis are united in wanting us out. Maliki is driving such a hard bargain with us, because it is politically popular to oppose the U.S. presence. This matters because it potentially makes the U.S. not only a focus for potential violence from a nationalist backlash, but because reconciliation for Iraqis must be seen as a means by which to regain their sovereignty.and
There is no military solution to building trust. Less violence helps, but even if people feel more secure or safe in their neighborhoods that does not mean that they will have any more trust in the intentions of their Sunni or Shia neighbors or politicians. Addressing this takes a long long long time and lots and lots of talks between political leaders and the process set up with Helsinki is an important first step. This process has to ramp up as troops begin to withdraw. Additionally, part of a withdrawal strategy has to attempt to get the countries in the region to play a constructive role in supporting political reconciliation.
The upshot, in his view?
A timetable for withdrawal is not just about moving troops out. It is also a negotiating timetable for Iraqis, as well as for Iraq's neighbors. While our military efforts decline, our diplomatic efforts will have to ramp up.