John Kerry: Latest Perspective on Iraq

-By Thomas Brewton

The ever-changing (aka flip-flopping) Senator Kerry gives us his latest straight scoop on Iraq.

In a December 24, 2006, Washington Post article, Senator Kerry shares his insights after literally having been on all sides of the question in the past. His latest thoughts originate in the visit that he and Senator Christopher Dodd made recently to Iraq.

The Senator’s conclusion is: The only hope for stability lies in pushing Iraqis to forge a sustainable political agreement on federalism, distributing oil revenues and neutralizing sectarian militias. And that will happen only if we set a deadline to redeploy our troops.

We’ll look at that in a few paragraphs down, but first let’s indulge in the fun of a few pot-shots at an easy target to hit.

Senator Kerry writes: But with U.S. troops in Iraq in the middle of an escalating civil war, this is no time for politics. Refusing to change course for fear of the political fallout is not only dangerous — it is immoral.

Does he seriously think that President Bush believes that he is scoring political points by staying the course in Iraq? If scoring political points were the only objective, wouldn’t the President simply have pulled out of Iraq a year or so ago? Isn’t it possible that, whatever the man-in-the-street thinks (given the one-sided media coverage), President Bush is pursuing what he sincerely believes to be the best policy?

Senator Kerry writes: The lesson is simply that we need to change course rapidly rather than perversely use mistakes already made and lives already given as an excuse to make more mistakes and lose even more lives.

Why do we need to change course rapidly? Isn’t the better part of wisdom to play a chess game with a series of moves intricately related, each offering optional strategies if results of each step are not what is desired? After all, we are playing on a chess board with multiple opponenents and partners — Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Al Queda, and Iraqi shiites, sunnis, and Kurds — each with his own strategic aims.

Senator Kerry writes: We cannot afford to waste time being told that admitting mistakes, not the mistakes themselves, will provide our enemies with an intolerable propaganda victory.

It’s correct to say, I believe, that the Bush administration isn’t worried about giving our enemies propaganda victories. It’s worried about opening the flood gates to Iranian domination of the Middle East that would give it the power to choke off oil supplies to the Western world and ignite ruinous inflation.

Senator Kerry writes: The Iraq Study Group tells us that “the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.” It joins the chorus of experts in and outside of Baghdad reminding us that there is no military solution to a political crisis.

Historically it is absolutely false to say that there is no military solution to a political problem. Beginning with the Egyptian empires of more than 5,000 years ago, the Middle East has been the scene of endless tribal warfare interspersed repeatedly with centuries of imperial stability under Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and the various branches of militant Islam. Each period of peace and stability was achieved by brutal military conquest and subjugation. Indeed, however distasteful to our Western mores, it may be that the Arabs and Persians understand only brute force, because they have always lived under some variety of autocratic rule.

Endorsing the Iraq Study Group recommendation for negotiating with Iran and Syria to stabilize conditions in Iraq, Senator Kerry writes: Conversation is not capitulation… How else could we end up with the famous mantra that “only Nixon could go to China”?… His 1972 visit to China was a major U.S. diplomatic victory in the Cold War.

That’s a bit like asking why the New York Yankees baseball team don’t use more passing plays and off-tackle slants. The politico-economic circumstances in 1972 were in no way a parallel to the Middle East situation we confront today. China was not at all concerned with the possibility of American intervention on the Chinese mainland, but she was greatly concerned with Soviet military and colonial pushing against her western frontier. China saw a diplomatic opening to the United States as an effective counterweight to Soviet power.

In contrast, Iran earnestly desires to dominate Iraq, using that as a lever to bring Saudi Arabia and Kuwait into its sphere of influence. Let’s not forget that, as recently as the entire decade of the 1980s, Iran was fighting a bloody war with Iraq for domination of the Middle East and its oil reserves. The last imaginable thing on Iran’s list of aims is a stable and strong Iraq that could again threaten its political and military position.

Let’s now come back to Senator Kerry’s prescription: The only hope for stability lies in pushing Iraqis to forge a sustainable political agreement on federalism, distributing oil revenues and neutralizing sectarian militias. And that will happen only if we set a deadline to redeploy our troops.

What dangers lie in setting a troop withdrawal deadline? And suppose it doesn’t work as the Senator assumes, what fall-back position does he envision?

To us outside observers seeing only biased media reports, it appears that a “sustainable political agreement on federalism, distributing oil revenues and neutralizing sectarian militias” is a tall order unlikely to be achieved by telling the Iraqi governing councils to shape up before we ship out.

First, wouldn’t their knuckling under to us destroy their credibility as an independent Iraqi government? Wouldn’t their internal political opponents call their supporters into the streets to overthrow what would be tarred as an American puppet government?

Second, the problem isn’t federalism in the American sense, but deep-rooted tribal and religious differences that for thousands of years have been suppressed only by tyrants like Saddam Hussein and the Iranian Ayatollahs. Working out a viable set of compromises will require more than a few months before American troop pull-outs.

Third, “neutralizing sectarian militias” is the equivalent of asking the Democrats to abandon labor unions and the tort bar. The shiite, sunni, and Kurdish factions get their political power from the sectarian militias that support them.

Fourth, the oil production is almost entirely within shiite and Kurdish areas. Getting them to share oil revenues with the sunni minority who brutalized them under Saddam is not to be accomplished easily.

In short, what sounds like a reasonable policy enunciated by Senator Kerry is as much, or more, problematical than the tactics of the Bush administration, using back-channel diplomatic contacts with Iran and Syria, while shifting (or threatening to shift) support from one Iraqi faction to another to cajole them into cobbling some form of stable government.

Copyright Publius Forum 2001