Thursday, December 09, 2004

Chess and ping-pong in Iraq

From “This is their civil war” by Charles Krauthammer in the Guardian:

In 1864, 11 of the 36 states did not participate in the American presidential election. Was Lincoln's election therefore illegitimate?

In 1868, three years after the security situation had, shall we say, stabilised, three states (and not insignificant ones: Texas, Virginia and Mississippi) did not participate in the election. Was Grant's election illegitimate?

There has been much talk that if the Iraqi election is held and some Sunni Arab provinces (perhaps three of the 18) do not participate, the election will be illegitimate. Nonsense. The election should be held. It should be open to everyone. If Iraq's Sunni Arabs - barely 20% of the population - decide that they cannot abide giving up their 80 years of minority rule, which ended with 30 years of Saddam Hussein's atrocious tyranny, then tough luck. They forfeit their chance to shape and to participate in the new Iraq.

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan looks on the “Bright Side” in the New Republic. He writes:

The coalition has learned a critical tactic in neo-imperial governance: divide and rule. From the Romans to the Brits, it has long been a useful strategy. By working with the grain of Iraqi ethnic tension, specifically the pent-up hostility of Kurds and Shia toward the Sunnis, who for decades ran the country, the United States has been able to gain leverage against the largely Sunni insurgency. So as Sunni Falluja was pummeled, the Shia were quiet and Kurdish troops actually took part in the operation.

Should the elections be postponed till the situation is more stable, and perhaps till more of the Sunnis are won over? Mario Mancuso argues against it in the Weekly Standard. He writes:

As a matter of principle, delaying the elections would reward the brutal campaign of violence that has beheaded innocents, targeted Iraqi civilians (including children lining-up for candy), and sought to bury a promising Iraqi future before its birth. In practice, it would encourage more violence and demoralize innocent, fence-sitting Iraqis (including certain political elites) who would like to believe in a better future, but fear the thugs who run the illegal checkpoint down the street today. It would also feed conspiracy theories about American intentions in Iraq, and do nothing to satisfy those Sunni clerics who have pledged to boycott any Iraqi election while there are foreign troops on Iraqi soil.

Mancuso serves up a succinct summation of the task ahead. “Our fundamental challenge in Iraq,” he writes, “is that we have to play chess (keep our strategic interests in mind) and ping-pong (respond to daily events) at the same time.”

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