Says Larry Diamond:
If Iraq is going to be stabilized, and if democracy is to have any chance of emerging, the terrorist and insurgent violence must be diminished. As senior American military officers keep insisting, this cannot be done through military and intelligence means alone. It requires political steps as well to widen the circle of Iraqis who have a stake in peace and order, and to take the nationalist steam out of the insurgency.
Four steps are now urgently needed. First, the Bush administration must declare that the United States will not seek permanent military bases in Iraq. Its refusal to do so has aroused Iraqi suspicions that we seek long-term domination of their country. Second, we should declare some sort of time frame (but not a rigid deadline) by which we think we can withdraw militarilyï¿½if Iraqi groups that are supporting or tolerating the violence will instead help build the new political order. Third, we need to talk directly to the (largely Sunni) political groups connected to the insurgency, some of which have been seeking to talk to the United States for more than a year now. Fourth, we need an honest broker to help mediate these discussions and build confidence in the process. This role could be played by a small international contact group consisting of a high-level representative of the United Nations and perhaps one or two of the European ambassadors now resident in Baghdad.
Both the terrorist violence and the postwar political mobilization have deepened ethnic tensions and insecurities in Iraq. Ultimately, an inclusive and federal democracy is the best way of containing these tensions. Even if we take the above steps, there is no guarantee that such a viable democracy will emerge in Iraq. However, if we do not depart more sharply from our imperial posture in Iraq, we are doomed to fail.
Good stuff, and all of it together might well produce an occupation I might be able to stomach a bit longer. But what are the chances that the Bush administration will credibly (that is, unambiguously and with real deadlines) forswear long-term military bases in Iraq? And what are the chances that the Bush administration will otherwise cease meddling in harmful ways in Iraqi politics, long-term bases or no? (E.g., covert support for favoured political parties, and if Seymour Hersh is to be believed, also stuff like ballot-stuffing. With Syria and Iran playing the same sorts of covert games in Iraq, it’s not as if the temptation for the U.S. to play them is going to diminish.)
As for the second point, the Bush administration seems dead-set against timetables. I can imagine it breaking down and producing some sort of wishy-washy time-frame, but nothing honest, clear or precise. And here Diamond seems to want it both ways: He says that the time-table should be flexible, but only the clearest and least ambiguous declaration is going to have the sort of political effects he wants.
The administration may well be moving on Diamond’s third point, as odious as it finds such talks.
And the fourth suggestion is unlikely to sit well with the Bush team, unless the group had a symbolic role only, i.e., was useless.
So we have three out of four decent suggestions which simply aren’t going anywhere. Not because they’re impossible, but because the Bush administration would refuse to carry them out, at least in a way that would do some good. Diamond says that if the Bush administration doesn’t depart from its imperial posture it’s doomed to fail. But since it obviously won’t depart from its imperial posture, it seems to me that Diamond ought to be solidly against the occupation. Is he? I’m not sure. But it seems to me that his support for it is clearly conditional, and that all that remains is to make a sober estimate as to whether those conditions are ever likely to be met. The fact that Diamond could run a better occupation than Bush ought not to weigh much with Diamond as he decides whether or not to support Bush’s occupation.
Just as before the war, commentators argued in favour of a war without looking very carefully at the particular war they were likely to get, I’m afraid that many of us – myself included – have argued in favour of the occupation by appealing to the occupation we could have if only the administration were sensible, rather than the occupation we do have, and the occupation we’re likely to have for the foreseeable future. I hope Diamond makes clear in the Slate dialogue that follows that he’s not doing that.