Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.


Arguing About a War In Question


James Skillen

11-28-2005


November 28, 2005

Ask yourself just one question. During all the argument over the past three weeks about whether U.S. forces should leave Iraq quickly or stay the course, why was there so little reference to the upcoming Iraqi elections on December 15?

President Bush says American troops will stand down when Iraqi forces are ready to stand up. But what is the relation between military forces (whether theirs or ours) and the future Iraqi government? Can Iraqi forces be made ready to take over even if a stable Iraqi government doesn't materialize after December 15? On the other hand, if Iraqis do elect a government on December 15, will it really be governing Iraq if American forces, under U.S. command, are still required for many more years?

At the beginning, the American military intervention in Iraq aimed to overcome Saddam Hussein's imminent threat to the security of the United States and Iraq's neighbors. Then it became a war to liberate the Iraqi people from an oppressive dictator. And then it became a war to bring democracy to Iraq and the wider region. Yet on those terms, once Hussein was gone and a new constitution and transition government were in place, what enemy was left for the American military to fight?

The enemy that still exists, we hear, is the Sunni terrorist insurgency within Iraq itself, along with some anti-American jihadists coming in from outside Iraq. However, as even Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and American commanders now state publicly, that enemy cannot be defeated by American military forces. But then the question again: what "war" is the American military now fighting?

This is where the remaining words and phrases we have grown so accustomed to using over the past three years become more and more slippery. The so-called "Iraqi forces" in the now "liberated" Iraq, which is about to certify its "democracy" with elections on December 15, may be a mirage. The military and police forces that the American military is trying to train in Iraq come from, and are primarily dedicated to, Shiite, Kurdish, and Sunni communities. Many, in fact, are tied to, if not directly representative of, militias in those regions. In that respect, there is not an independent "Iraqi force," like our American military, under the firm control of a national government and independent of all local governments.

Furthermore, those diverse forces in Iraq closely align with the new constitutional order of the country, an order that, above all, solidifies the independence and autonomy of Shiite and Kurdish regions. The Iraqi constitution is far weaker than the American Articles of Confederation that failed our culturally homogeneous colonies after 1776.

This is why the "war" in Iraq is so disconnected from the upcoming elections and vice versa. If the elections are successful, in the same way that the passage of the constitution was successful, the not-yet-unified country of Iraq will be dominated by a Shiite majority. That majority will respect and largely ignore the Kurds, who will govern themselves. And it will either succeed in putting the Sunni minority in its place or will have to fight that minority if enough Sunni factions continue their terrorist insurgency. If the elections are unsuccessful, it will simply mean that the civil war has already begun.

This is why the main planning now being done in Washington is for the exit of American forces rather than for an expanded program of nation building. Within the framework of American policy our military no longer faces an enemy it can defeat, and nation building was never part of our plan. I just hope that the sad moment will never come when Americans are willing to accept the post-exit explanation that after our forces "liberated" and brought "democracy" to Iraq, the "Iraqi people" apparently did not want to keep it.

—James W. Skillen, President
    Center for Public Justice

 



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