Iraqi Ambassador Urges ‘Quality’ Attention From Obama
We know what John Nagl of the Center for a New American Security thinks about the future of the U.S.-Iraq relationship. What does Samir Sumaida’ie, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States, think the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people want that relationship to be?
He’s “fairly optimistic” about the future of Iraq. “The price has been high and will continue to be high,” Sumaida’ie said, “but a) the outcome matters, to us and to you and the region, and b) the alternative is too awful to contemplate.” He means a failed state. He’s not so concerned about “how much attention” the Obama administration gives to Iraq but “the quality of attention” it gives. Very diplomatic. He praises America’s ability to learn from its mistakes in Iraq.
Structurally, Iraq has “issues that cannot be easily wished away.” You think? So “for this reason Americans should continue to be engaged. They have learned at every level … from writers and journalists to leaders and military officers.” The United States is “wiser” in Iraq now, knows Iraq more than in 2003, which seems like faint praise. “Now it’s time to shift from the SOFA, the Status of Forces Agreement, to the Strategic Framework Agreement,” the U.S.-Iraq document that establishes a long-term post-occupation relationship.
American influence is not dwindling. “Maybe military,” he says. But “Iraqis are now used to dealing with Americans.” Iraqi police and soldiers are dressed more like Americans than the Saddam era. “McDonald’s has not opened up yet,” Sumaida’ie said, to laughs. “It’s the soft power that now should be exercised, rather than the hard power,” he continues. “But there is a reluctance … America should be much more forceful, much more engaged.”
Managing the disengagement of U.S. troops “will be extremely important. We have to get that right, though we got the engagement wrong.” Clearly he’s not convinced that the Obama administration has already gotten it right. “Maybe I’m putting more weight than most people do, but it’s crucial … There are issues that can only be resolved with the help of our American friends.”
I’m reminded of Hamid Karzai’s 2003 congressional testimony pleading for the United States not to neglect Afghanistan as it invaded Iraq.