There is no Democratic solution in Iraq

Daily News Egypt
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The Democrats in the United States declared the recent congressional elections a “referendum on the Republican President George W. Bush’s stewardship of the Iraq war. On the campaign trail, they savaged Bush and the Republican-majority Congress for the disastrous war and demanded its speedy end. Now that they have wrested control of both houses of Congress, they don’t have a plan to end it. Democratic Representative Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House to be, promises an undefined “new direction on Iraq policy. Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, the likely chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would split Iraq into three largely autonomous entities and then leave that country. Democratic Representative John Murtha, a powerful antiwar voice, would begin the pullout soon. And so on. They and other Democrats are saying that they’re waiting for the report of the Iraq Study Group. The group is expected to recommend next month that the US begin a phased withdrawal of its troops from Iraq, involve regional governments in the search for a solution of the Iraqi crisis and help speed the training of the Iraqi army and police. The inability of the Democrats, lately among the bitterest critics of the war, to offer an Iraq strategy of their own has disappointed many Americans. The party is studded with bright minds, but most are basking in the glory of America’s “sole superpower status. Like many Republicans, many Democrats believe that America’s “victory in the Cold War has left it the world’s natural hegemon and entitled it to impose its economic model and political values on other societies. Gone are the days when Democrats were known for their broad global outlook and sensitivity to other values and cultures. There are internationalist Democrats who value non-Western cultures and civilizations and aware of the limits of American power, but they have been marginalized by the party’s “America right or wrong conservative wing. Hence four decades ago the Democratic Party’s robust progressive, pluralist flank could see the immorality and perils of the Vietnam War and spearheaded the antiwar movement in time to spare America a total disaster. But in 2003 when a cabal of neoconservative “empire builders coaxed a coterie of naïve right-wing Republicans into waging Iraq war, “liberal congressional Democrats vied with their Republican colleagues in putting out a resolution blessing the invasion. The unraveling of the Iraq invasion, thanks to the Sunni Arab insurgency, has eroded the American mainstream’s support for the war. Democratic and other critics of the Iraq war lament the loss of 2,800 American lives, a half-trillion in American tax dollars and America’s global standing. Few of them mention the loss of Iraqi lives or the near destruction of the Iraqi state and economy. The fact that the war was illegal under international law is almost never cited in the US political or intellectual discourse. Most of the new – and old – Democratic members of Congress are ideologically not very different from their Republican colleagues. Because this, Democrats are having difficulty coming up with an Iraq strategy that’s different from that of the Republican administration. Yet having won the congressional elections on the Iraq issue, they feel immense pressure to be seen pushing for early troop pullout from Iraq. Carl Levin, who will become chairman of the Senate Arms Services Committee, is working on a bipartisan resolution proposing that the US notify Iraq of its desire to begin incremental troop withdrawal “within four to six months. Such a resolution, even if adopted, would only have a symbolic value as it would be non-binding on the administration. Ultimately, the Democrats are waiting for the Iraq Study Group to pull their chestnut out of fire. Most Democrats, as most Republicans, are unwilling to leave Iraq bleeding and in chaos, which the American pullout may entail. (A public opinion poll has found that one out of two Americans share their concern.) Should the pullout be shown as compliance with the bipartisan panel’s recommendations, the blame for its adverse consequences could be defused. The Iraq Study Group may cushion the Republican administration and Democratic Congress against some of the American criticisms for their lack of vision and courage. But it can’t cushion the Middle East or America against the war’s far-reaching effects. The commission is unlikely to come up with a magic bullet with which to quell Iraq’s Shiite-Sunni Arab civil war. Down the road the Shiite militias could prevail over the minority Sunni militant groups, but that could risk spilling the sectarian bloodbath over into neighboring states. In northern Iraq, the Kurds may attempt to set up an independent state of their own. That could prompt the Turkish Army to move into Iraq to crush the move. About the only thing that could bring Iraq back from the precipice would be a joint initiative by Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other states bordering Iraq. The US could be part of it, but because it is widely perceived as responsible for the Iraqi tragedy and antagonistic to Islam, it might have little leverage on subsequent events. America’s debacle in Iraq would also embolden anti-American forces throughout the Middle East, who would step up their movements to roll back American hegemony. These movements are in fact repeating an all-too-familiar drama in the region. Rich material resources, audacious religious doctrines and fascinating cultural patterns have lured waves after waves of foreign invaders into the Middle East. The people of the region have put up staunch resistance to most of them. So have they now against the Americans. Their anti-American struggle may fester for a while. If history can offer any clue, however, it will yield the same outcome as did resistance to the hegemony of the Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Mongols, French and British: the retreat of the hegemon.

Mustafa Malik is a columnist in Washington. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

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