Day By Day

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Fareed Zakaria On Negotiating With the Sunnis

Once again Fareed Zakaria demonstrates that he is a very bright and perceptive observer of what is happening in Iraq, but that he also has a huge blind spot with regard to America's role and the administration's goals there. His eagerness to disparage the Bush administration again leads him into error.

Zakaria quite rightly urges those, including the United States, who are promoting a constitutional democracy in Iraq to engage with Sunni leaders in order to exploit rifts in the insurgency. He correctly notes that, [f]or months now there have been signs that the Baathist insurgency wants to end its uprising. To that point in his analysis Zakaria is absolutely right, but it is at this point that he begins to go astray.

Zakaria faults the US for not getting more directly involved in direct negotiations with Sunni factions. He also criticizes the de-Baathification program that deprived large numbers of only nominally Baathist Sunnis of their means of earning a living. In both of these critiques he could not be more wrong.

First, direct US involvement in the negotiations with Sunni factions over the constitution would have rendered the whole exercise meaningless. This is an Iraqi constitution, forged through negotiations conducted by the Iraqi people -- not some edict handed down from on high by an occupying power. It is a persistent error of people on the left that they view the entire Iraqi adventure as an exercise in imperial administration, not as an attempt to liberate people. If the Bush administration were trying to construct a middle-east empire, then Zakaria's prescriptions would be quite right, but if the goal is to liberate the people of the region, they are worse than self-defeating.

Yes, rifts in the insurgency should be exploited, but that effort has to be taken by Iraqis, not by the US or its representatives. This has to be an indigenous Iraqi effort -- not something imposed from outside. And that is exactly what has happened. In the past few days Shiite and Kurdish representatives have come to an understanding with several Sunni leaders that opens the way for acceptance of the constitution. And, there are several indications that the radical Islamists have just about given up on Iraq and are seeking more congenial situations elsewhere, most likely in Sudan.

And, with regard to de-Baathification. It was absolutely necessary if the new government was to be acceptable to the three-quarters of the Iraqi population that had lived under Baathist repression prior to the US invasion. The new could not simply be a continuation of the old. This was particularly true with regard to the army. US authorities were quite correct in their insistence that a new army and a new government be put together from scratch, even if it took much longer and was far more costly than the "realistic" alternative would have been. A government and an army staffed largely by ex-Baathists would have been seen as simply a continuation of the Saddamite regime. The new government, however painfully constructed, will have a legitimacy that a neo-Saddamite state could never have achieved.

Zakari ends his piece ominously by arguing that, even if Zarqawi is weakened, other radical movements elsewhere are growing. He sees a "dark cloud" forming throughout the region and fears that it will burst if the US does not act decisively soon.

Perhaps Fareed..., but not likely. Radical Islamists are looking to move out of Iraq for sure, but their destination of choice, Sudan, has already been infiltrated by US teams who will be waiting there for the next round of conflict in the long, but necessary, war on Islamic radicalism.

Read Zakaria's column here.

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