In light of Iraq spokeman Ali al-Dabbagh’s vision of Iraq pushing the Middle East in a European Union-style direction of common markets, it’s striking just how little effort he devoted to mentioning a place for the U.S.
Now, a Middle Eastern E.U. is as ambitious as it is desirable, so asking how realistic Dabbagh’s proposal is may be a mistake. But outside of using the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) as a springboard to claim “full sovereignty” for Iraq and to say that the pace of withdrawal within the context of the agreement must be “decide[d] jointly,” the U.S. didn’t have a place in what Dabbagh was talking about. Indeed, he threw the occasional elbow at the Bush administration. His regional framework, for instance, represented “self-initiated democracy,” which is “much better than an imposed formula, and we noticed for the last five years there is an objection [in the region]… against that imposed formula.” In other words, the U.S. invades or makes a speech during an inauguration instructing the Middle East how things are going to work now, and it does little but run democracy’s name through the mud.
But is the U.S. really getting out of Iraq? My friend Eli Lake writes in The New Republic that it’s unclear. Eli’s piece is itself unclear. Sometimes he says a “residual U.S. force of considerable size is likely to remain for the medium to long term,” when his piece doesn’t demonstrate (unless we take lax understandings of the adjectives “considerable,” “residual,” “medium” and “long”), while at other times concluding that “the end of the war [looks like] the beginning of a long-term friendship,” which is a more justifiable statement from the piece. Lake’s main piece of evidence is that Barry McCaffrey wrote in a report that the Iraqis are going to need to buy U.S. weaponry and therefore will accept U.S. training. Maybe — they certainly want the weapons — but after the New York Times reported that McCaffrey has sold his integrity to the highest defense-contractor bidder, I wouldn’t rely on what he says.
There’s some other stuff in the piece about how the SOFA envisions the use of Iraqi bases to be negotiated through a joint U.S.-Iraqi security committee — it’s Article Six in the document — but that’s in the context of the agreement itself, which has U.S. troops out in December 2011. If what the piece is actually documenting is a U.S. military desire to stay in Iraq despite the SOFA, that’s interesting and should have been more clearly presented. But if it’s merely portraying the side dishes as the the main course, so to speak, then it’s difficult to know what to actually make of the piece.
But for purposes of discussion let’s entertain the less controversial point that the U.S. will have some relationship with Iraq after Dec. 2011. Hard to see how anyone would object to that, right? After all, if there’s no military occupation of Iraq and relations are normalized — in terms of trade, human rights, and political ties — that’s fundamentally unobjectionable, at least at the level of strategy. What’s interesting is how the Maliki government, represented yesterday in Washington by Dabbagh, doesn’t discuss an Iraqi-U.S. relationship, he discusses an Iraqi-Mideastern relationship. Obviously as long as the U.S. is in the Middle East — and, for that matter, remains a superpower — Iraq will have some relationship with us, but it’s significant and worth noting that the Maliki government deemphasizes that relationship when sketching out its visions. It might reasonably be observed that such a deemphasis occurs because there’s going to be a series of provincial elections next month, but that itself is barometrically significant — no one’s running for those elections on a platform of greater ties to the United States.
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