Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tragic Timing

Just a day after American officials Petraeus and Crocker touted success in al-Anbar, tragedy struck the Sunni community when a car bomb took the life of Sheik Richa, a vital coalition ally. Of course, this horrible crime coincides with the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan.

The death of Richa brings into sharp focus the deep struggle that will continue to plague the Sunni community in places like Al-Anbar province. Al-Qaeda's brutality and utter callousness will continue to put foriegn jihadists at odds with moderate Sunni and tribal leaders. However, the Sunnis currently find themselves in a position of such insecurity that reconciliation seems father away than closer. Look at it this way: The Sunnis cannot currently be guaranteed oil revenues which will constitute, at least in the near term, 90% of economic activity in the country. They will continue to be infiltrated by Salafists from abroad (as well as hardline Iraqis themselves) who will work with bloody and inhuman persistance to convince Sunnis that only al-Qaeda ideals can protect the Sunnis from the Shi'a dominated government. And finally, their position is further complicated by the fact that the only group that seems willing to bolster the position of the Sunnis is the least liked party of all. (yeah, I'm talking about us)

The complex dynamics that can be revealed when looking a little closer at the seemingly mundane events are more often than not glossed over in the mainstream press. I don't want to get into a hackneyed rant on the flaws of the media, at least not right now. However, I must point out that the complexity of the situation in Iraq (or in any conflict for that matter) cannot be easily parsed out with concepts like "stay the course" or "the surge has been successful."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Drawing Down

Compared to the House session yesterday, today's Senate hearing felt like a heart to heart. Its not that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker didn't attempt to evade and spin occasionally, but for such a critically hyped hearing, the top Americans in Iraq performed, well, honorably.

I don't want to give a rundown of every argument brought before the Senate committee. You should all know that is not my style. I, like a maverick stock investor, like to look into the dark corners of the stage to find the nuggets of light. Ok, maybe this isn't one of those dark corners, but I wanted to focus on the foregrounding of Al-Anbar as an example of "success" in Iraq.

Al-Anbar certainly remains a challenge to the Coalition. Patreaus' point, that the Sunni Tribes chose cooperation with the Coalition against al-Qaida elements, indeed is a success story. However, I would advocate caution in suggesting that these Sunni tribes are suddenly our friends. Rather, they are al-qaida's enemies. This is a mistake that American policy seems to make again and again. Perhpas it is an effect of that same sentimental vision of our role in the world that is offered in the media, and particularly in Armed Forces recruiting commercials. This view seems to wrap our 'allies" in the most precious and romantic robes. they are declared heroes, brave nationalists who recognize an idea called "Iraq" and see in al-Qaida a poisonous infiltrator. It is true that they see al-Qaida as a malevolent serpent, but I suspect that they feel the same about their American interlocutors. They know, however that the Americans will leave eventually, while foreign Arab elements will have to be eliminated, so it becomes a marriage of convenience, the type of which the Americans always seem to think is a good idea, and then come back with "it sounded good at the time."

Now that you think I am a cynical bastard, let me finish the point. What emphasizing al-Anbar does is effectively obscure the fact that the major struggle in the country is not defined by whether the Sunni tribes of Anbar decide to become Salafist jihadis, but whether or not they decide to point there guns at the Shiite's who intend to rule over them. Al-Anbar is vital, but it is a vital second stage, the main tragedy being the interconfessional conflict that will eventually tear Iraq asunder.

Which reminds me, my prediction was that Ambassador Crocker would make some allusion, however veiled, to Coalition and Iraqi plans to partition the country. Guess, I was wrong. But don't rule it out. One thing the hearings, both house and Senate versions, revealed - this thing is a long way from being done.

Get out of here. Go read a Hitchens post and feel good about things . . .