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Will Iraq’s parliament take the summer off?

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Counting Down to September

Will Iraq’s parliament take the summer off?

In a new video Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al-Queda second in command, ridicules the Harry Reid Democrats’ surrender date legislation. According to an ABC report, Zawahiri bemoans the fact that America may withdraw from Iraq before al-Queda can inflict hundreds of thousands more casualties on our forces.  The Democrats, comprehensively ignorant about the war and careless about the consequences of defeat in Iraq, are trying to do something no Congress has done before: impose a legislative requirement for America to lose a war.  

Having failed to override the president’s veto of their surrender schedule, the Dems — led by Hillary Clinton — are now proposing that the war-authorizing legislation (the “Authorization for Use of Military Force” passed before the Iraq invasion) be amended to expire on a date certain (and preferably before the next presidential inauguration).  Once in a long while conservatives muster the energy to propose that some federal spending program be forced to expire.  Hillary’s proposal is the Surrendercrats’ equivalent.  It would, in effect, repeal a declaration of war while American troops are under fire.  

As awful as the Democrats are, there is some hope left that the Iraqis are better.  Since the national elections in Iraq in December 2005, President Bush and Gen. George Casey (then US commander in Iraq) said consistently that there has to be a political solution in Iraq that the military can enable but not compel.  Last year, the Iraqi parliament took three months off during the summer.  It’s as if Philadelphia grew too hot for Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin in the summer of 1776 and they just quit to come back when Independence Hall was cool enough to work in comfortably.

For about three weeks, reports coming out of Iraq have said that the Iraqi parliament — having failed to deal with the most important challenges they face including local elections and the national oil law — would take a shorter vacation than last year: a two-month recess in July and August.  Gen. David Petraeus, the new US commander of the Multinational Force in Iraq, has promised Congress to report on progress this fall, probably in September.  It’s now the second week in May.  In about 120 days, Petraeus will report not only the progress on the military fronts, but also on the progress of Iraqi politicians to make their new nation work.  If they take 60 of those 120 days off, what chance will Petraeus have of reporting success?   

In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week, Sen. Jeff Sessions raised the Iraqi vacation with CENTCOM commander Adm. William Fallon.  Fallon asked rhetorically, “How can we have our people out there fighting and dying if they’re on vacation?”  Fallon said that both US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. Petraeus have “pushed back” against the planned vacation saying, “They’re not going to take a two-month vacation. We’re going to get them to work, which is clearly necessary.”  

Crocker and Petraeus need to succeed in keeping the Iraqis at work or it will be nearly impossible to succeed in anything else.  But will the Iraqis stay working, and if they do, how much success can they achieve in the next four months?  It’s only an even bet that they will do what needs to be done.  Because Iraq is an ancient place, not an ancient nation.

When the Ottoman Empire broke up and the French and English carved up most of the Middle East after World War I, there was no Iraqi nation.  It was an exercise in British map drawing.  And when Iraq was drawn, within its borders were encompassed at least three different cultures — Sunni, Shia and Kurd — which were not and are not bound together by Iraqi nationalism. Instead they are divided along religious and ethnic lines.  

In the mid-1920s, Iraq was under British protection.  (Sir John Bagot Glubb, then a junior RAF officer, fought — with a few aircraft and armored cars — to protect southern Iraqi tribes from Wahabbi raiders coming in from what was then the Nejed and is now Saudi Arabia).  But Iraq wasn’t then surrounded by powerful enemies.  Iran (nee Persia) wasn’t a major military power and Syria wasn’t a terrorist union hiring hall.  Neither were there the ruins of a thirty-year dictatorship in Baghdad nor a western army urging the Iraqis to adopt a western democratized government.

Of the many fallacies of the neocon theory of war, perhaps the most pernicious is that the desire for democracy overcomes all religious, ethnic and tribal loyalties.  It does not confound logic to say that every person wants to live in peace, or that the desire for freedom is natural. But democracy requires more than that and in the Middle East, much more.  The best example is Lebanon, or what is left of it.

It is very easy to forget that Lebanon — now in limbo between democracy, Syria and the Iranian-sponsored terrorists of Hizballah — was a functioning democracy only a few decades ago.  The Lebanese national pact was founded on the ideas of nationalism and confessional democracy.  The “confessional” democracy gave each religious/ethnic sect proportional representation in the Lebanese parliament, with ministerships apportioned more or less along the same lines.  But the national pact could not have succeeded even briefly without the nationalism that led every “confession” to pledge to reject foreign influence or assistance.

The Lebanese national pact fell apart when Yasser Arafat’s Palestinians persuaded Sunni Muslims to break the pledge and accept money, influence and eventually military incursions by the Palestinians.  Iraqis have yet to consider a national pact like the one Lebanon flowered under.  Iraqis have not brought themselves to trust each other sufficiently to reject Syrian, Iranian, or Saudi foreign influence.  

The clock is running down on Iraq.  Over the past year I have debated a number of Iraqis — parliamentarians and other leaders — on television.  None seem to understand that the time they have left is diminishing rapidly.  Last week, I debated two gentlemen.  One was Mr. Ali Hatem Salman of the “al-Anbar Salvation Council.”  After blaming America for destroying his nation, he brushed off the idea that the Iraqi government (which he criticized for not providing protection against insurgents) had only a short time to succeed.  I do not remember his exact words but he blamed America and the Maliki government for everything bad in his nation.  And he said that once Americans were gone, and if the Maliki government were gone too, the earth and the sky would be the same.  

Salman said America should throw out the Maliki government and start all over again.  He spoke as if — as many Iraqis have done — there were no limits on the time they can take to work out their own problems.  

I told Salman that Iraqis were free people, not slaves of America. That it is for them to decide their future.  That it was childish to say that we should just toss Maliki out and start all over again.  I said if we leave before the Iraqi government manages to establish itself by accomplishing some very basic goals, the earth and the sky may still be the same, but there will be no Iraq. This warning I have issued before, to Iraqi parliamentarians, without result.  

It may be that the Iraqi parliament has more than the next 120 days to succeed in achieving the basics.  But likely not, and if they take half of that time to go off on an entirely undeserved vacation, they surely will not.  In an interview last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told me that if the Iraqis take their 60-day vacation this summer it, “…could well be the last straw for a lot of my Republican colleagues.” And for the rest of us as well.

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Mr. Babbin is the former editor of Human Events and HumanEvents.com (Jan 2007-Mar 2010) and served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in President George H.W. Bush's administration. He is the author of "In the Words of our Enemies"(Regnery,2007) and (with Edward Timperlake) of "Showdown: Why China Wants War with the United States" (Regnery, 2006) and "Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe are Worse than You Think" (Regnery, 2004).

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