Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Evil neocon Straussian on Iraq

Gary Schmitt predictably offers sensible advice and analysis: the proposed Iraqi constitution is a pretty good deal for all parties concerned, including the Sunnis, but they will not acquiesce until they’re convinced that the insurgency has absolutely no prospect of restoring something resembling the status quo ante bellum. Here’s my favorite paragraph:

Contrary to most commentary, then, the key to succeeding in Iraq is no longer putting in place a grand political bargain in which Iraqis of all sectarian stripes live happily ever after. In fact, by suggesting that this is the goal, we probably have fueled the Sunnis’ own misperception of their future status in Iraq and hardened their own position.

Read the whole thing.

Discussions - 3 Comments

I agree...the Arab mind seems to respect strength and the will-to-violence more than anything else. Destroy their hope and then negotiate.

One good way to understand what’s been happening in Iraq is to put it under the rubric of "The Painful [for Everyone] Learning Process of the Once-But-No-Longer-Dominant Sunni Arabs."

This class, now barely a fifth of the country, had been in effect the "master race" of Mesopotamia under whatever distant/foreign nominal ruler the area happened to have for about the last millennium. Operation Iraqi Freedom overturned all that in an eye-blink. So there has been predictable denial, MidEastern-style diehard-ism, and lashing and thrashing about by some highly violent Sunnis (whose portion of Iraq contains few natural resources and who have long been reliant on employment in bloated, Sunni-run armed forces, bureaucracies, and secret-police agencies).

But the less-violent Sunnis, most of whom have been standing around waiting to see if the "insurgency" succeeds, are beginning to realize that they missed an opportunity back in January by trying to wreck the elections through a pincer maneuver of violnent terrorism combined with nonviolent boycott. A similar effort to sink the new constitution by voting it down by 2/3 or more in 3 of the 4 Arab Sunni-majority provinces will probably also end in failure, and the painful learning process will continue (like grief, it may have a lot of stages, and none may be all that much fun).

But I remain cautiously optimistic: Already in less than 3 years of difficult adjustment the Iraqi Sunnis have shown more signs of being on an upward-sloping learning curve than have their neighbors the Palestinians for the last 3 decades. Some Iraqi Sunnis have begun to work nonviolently to advance their interests, and more appear to be waking up, however fitfully, to the fact that things are just not going to go back to the way they were on March 18, 2003, and accommodations will have to be made.

The Iraqi-government troops who the other day swarmed over the city of Tal Afar deep in the Sunni hinterland embody this new reality, which PM Jafaari underlined by visiting and speaking to them in that city.

This is indeed a very sensible analysis. NO constitution is likely to offer a perfect or permanent solution to the conflicts and struggles between Kurds, Shi’ites and Sunnis in Iraq. What is crucial is to establish a peaceful democratic process for ongoing political accomodation. Schmitt is right that those Sunnis who support violence must be shown clearly that they lose by that route. At the same time, it is important to provide assurances to Sunnis that if the insurgents put down their arms, the community will not be the victim of massive revenge. This goes beyond the constitution; it requires more effective confidence building by the United States, which has been portrayed as taking the side of the Shi’ites against the Sunnis. The US must engage more actively with those elements in the Sunni community who reject violence and must persuade them that it will not tolerate vindictiveness or reprisals. I think the US military has been doing a pretty good job on this front, but US diplomacy and foreign policy have not been up to scratch. Too often the US has plausibly been presented as pro-Shite and uninterested in reaching out to the Sunnis, or even as branding the Sunnis as Saddamists.

Also, it is often forgotten that the constitution will be put to a referendum, which is a vital legitimating exercise. A referendum in which the Sunnis boycotted the vote or voted en masse against the constitution would be a pretty disastrous outcome. Thus, the goal must be to crush the violent insurgency so that reasonable, pro-democratic voices in the Sunni community can make themselves heard in advance of the vote. If the constitutional text needs to be reopened to gain the genuine support of moderate elements in the Sunni community, that should be done--but only AFTER the insurgency is put down. One gets the impression that the insurgency is largely treated as a day to day security problem rather than an obstacle that may block for a long time the political development of Iraq and that needs to be eliminated by a massive co-ordinated, no holds barred (I won’t elaborate further) operation. If that is what Schmitt means, then I am with him.

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