Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Summer Plans, And Some on Iraq

I've managed to get myself some funding from MIT to go to China this summer, with a few caveats:

1) I keep passing Chinese. I'm doing well so far, but we'll see.
2) I get a job. A little tougher. I've just finished my initial application to work for the State Department in the Embassy or one of the Consulates in China. I'd have a ball (I'd have to get a suit), but it's pretty competitive. I'm looking at the American Institute in Taiwan as a backup.

But, should this all work out, I'll be spending the summer in China, traveling about the country during the weekends, armed with a dictionary, a journal, and a camera. I'll improve my Chinese language and cultural knowledge, and (hopefully) have the summer of my life.

But for now, we're waiting.

Now, time to ring in on the surge, which I've been hesitant to do. It's a policy that requires a great deal of pragmatism to approach. We should ask ourselves two questions:

1) "Is it working?" Difficult to define, but we'll try.
2) "Does it matter whether it's working?" We might want to call it quits regardless of effectiveness, but that's unlikely.

I will first argue that we should weigh or judgments on the Surge as to whether it's working. If it's working, we keep doing it. If it's not, we shouldn't.

Why? Success is important. Stability in the Middle East is key to US oil and Israeli interests, and surrounding Iran with stable, democratic, liberal US allies will be a great foreign policy improvement over a chaotic ethnic cleansing region or an Iranian puppet.

Reputation is also important. It would be good for us to show that we're willing to clean up our own messes, and stick through to the end to help a state and society that our action has destabilized. We will continually deal with western-world dislike if they can be constantly reminded of a chaotic, dangerous state that reaches long-term realization if we pull out.

So, what is success? Well, most people think it means a stable, working democracy that can provide for its own security. This is a fine metric, and I think we should be striving for it, are striving for it.

But can we reach it?

Violence increased rather linearly for years after the invasion, despite the growth of the Iraqi Army. Baghdad was a literal war zone before the surge: 2/3 of 507 neighborhoods were war zones. But there has been drastic improvement. From a recent article:

"There are about 507 neighbourhoods in Baghdad and before operation Fardh al-Qanoon (Imposing Law) was launched (in February), two-thirds were controlled by terrorists and criminal gangs," the general said.

"Today, only five or six neighbourhoods can be considered hot zones," he said.

This is spectacular progress over 7 months. Iraq overall has not shown quite as much improvement (obviously; the surge has not been focused there), but violence outside of Baghdad has also dropped, despite the surge not being present in many of these areas. Violence overall is now lower than it was at any time after the Golden Mosque bombing, and linear reductions in violence continue.

So there are great improvements in security. But what of political reconciliation? These are still stalling. But I believe political reconciliation is extremely difficult without security. You can't have a functioning parliament when MP's don't show to meetings because they've been assassinated. But as Iraqi General Abud said, now "life is going normally," and we should keep our eyes out for reconciliation to occur on a national level soon.

If the parliament is unable to suck it up and try to stabilize their own country even with the efforts and successes of coalition peacemaking operations during the surge, then they're probably not worth our time. If the Iraqi government refuses to function, then there's nothing we could do. And we should pull out.

But reconciliation is happening on small levels. Sunnis and Shiites throughout Baghdad and most multi-ethnic zones in Iraq are participating in hundreds of small-scale reconciliation meetings between neighbors and local leaders. Coalition troops and diplomats are hosting these meetings, and they tend to go rather peacefully. These local Sunnis and Shiites are giving peace a chance.

But there's an even better sign, and it comes in a very odd form. While sectarian violence has dropped dramatically, Al Qaeda terrorist attacks have been more stubborn. This means, first, that we should look at the violence drop numbers knowing that Sunni-Shiite civil war violence has dropped more than the mean violence.

But Sunni and Shiite reactions to Al Qaeda have been better than we could have hoped for. When Al Qaeda killed a prominent pro-American Sunni leader, they began threatening Sunnis that cooperated with Americans. But instead of cowing to terror threats, Sunnis have vowed to seek revenge on Al Qaeda, and fight their influence.

Al Qaeda's covert meddling has been successful in causing spikes in sectarian violence (they are probably responsible for the Golden Mosque bombing), but their overt meddling may turn Sunnis and Shiites alike against them. History shows us that common enemies can act as a very strong (if temporary) adhesive. But perhaps, this temporary glue may be enough for political leaders to institute some longer-lasting solutions.

And people are primed for longer-lasting solutions. People are ready to work. In a recent article (http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hyhq3ADshGO5q1Ye-U10Jlt5vcAA), we read:

"We meet with Sunnis here in public forums and in very discreet ones, and they all readily acknowledge (the 2005 election boycott) was a mistake," said Joshua Polacheck, public diplomacy officer for the U.S. State Department's provincial reconstruction team in Ninevah. "I don't know one Sunni Arab who says it wasn't a mistake to boycott those elections."

So I say: give it time. American deaths have been very low in the past few months, Iraqi violence has been falling off decisively. Iraqi Sunnis (and Shiites, but the Sunnis are new) are open to reconciliation, and are making and accepting efforts in that direction.

I think Iraq is, for the first time, winning its fight to create a stable state. This is a course I am proud to stay, as it's working. And as long as things continue to go our way, we should stay. We owe it to the Iraqi people, and to ourselves.