Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The new rationale for keeping American troops in Iraq indefinitely (with an update)

This morning (Thursday November 8) Al-Quds al-Arabi prints the first report in any major Arab newspaper about the secret political meetings that took place during three days from Saturday through Monday (Nov 3 through 5) at a resort hotel on the Dead Sea in Jordan. Unfortunately it doesn't appear this major paper has any sources for this other than those promotional-sounding ones quoted in earlier web-site reports. The newspaper does spell out who the organizer was: it was "an institute headed by a former US assistant secretary of state, Richard Murphy", (referring to Richard W. Murphy, Assistant Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs from 1983 to 1989, and more recently Director of Middle East Studies for the Council on Foreign Relations).

The body of this is merely a more complete transcription of what the meeting organizers had to say about the success of the meetings. What is new and important in this report is in the concluding paragraph, where the Al-Quds reporter says remarks by the American delegation to other participants in these meetings indicated that the "bottom-up reconciliation" process modeled on Anbar, appears to be the centerpiece of a new American policy, in replacement of the earlier policy-efforts for reconciliation on the national level. Which as it happens is exactly the nub of what Colin Kahl preaches in his widely-read recent essay, where this switch to local-level "stability" provides him with the rationale for keeping American forces in Iraq for the foreseeable future (meaning under a hypothetical Democratic administration).

The topic of the Dead Sea meetings, says the Al-Quds reporter, was the state of affairs in Iraq and national reconciliation, and this was followup to a similar meeting last year in Istanbul.

These meetings were attended by Iraqi parliamentarians of most major parties, by Baathists (in their personal capacity), and by representatives of the resistance (no details), along with representatives of the Anbar Salvation Council. The "atmosphere was positive", and participants agreed to another meeting at an undetermined date, at which they would ask for the participation of Russia, "in order to understand its views on the issue of Iraq as an international participant". Most of this tracks exactly the earlier reports, right down to the exact expressions about the "positive atmosphere" in discussions that were "serious", and the fact that the Baathists weren't representing their party because it "up to now" refuses direct negotiations [with the government], and the fact that the discussions included "a project for transitional justice, to deal with violations of the prior regime, implications of the struggle, the matters of prisoners and of those displaced and of the martyrs and the victims and an accounting for those responsible for them". And [the sources said] they discussed a number of axes of interest to Iraq and Iraqis presently and in the future, and they arrived at two conclusions: (1) In spite of differences as to the nature of the state and the shape of the governing authority, all parties agreed on the need for democracy and procedures for peaceful transfer of power under the rule of law, along with the acceptance of federalism as a form of government system, but not based on race or sect, and following procedures for expression of the popular will locally. Some said it would be better to take up these issues after the departure of the foreign forces. (2) They agreed on the principle of Iraqi sovereignty, and the need for withdrawal of the foreign forces in conjunction with the completion of establishment of the [Iraqi] armed and security forces on a professional and national basis. And they agreed to continue communications on these and other national-reconciliation issues.

Here is the important part for an understanding of American policy:
And the sources said that the organizers of the American delegation asked that the Baathists understand the model of the Anbar Awakening as an example of participation by representatives of these support councils in this negotiation, and which perhaps is the inauguration of a new stage of American activity in Iraq, relying on new local [midaniya: usually translated "in the field", but here corresponding to the US government expression "bottom-up"] agreements, and the conviction of the need to dispense with the assumptions [or conclusions] of the earlier policies [a little vague, but clearly referring to the idea of focusing on local-level reconciliation in replacement of the "earlier policies"] . This is in spite of the fact that, the Iraqi government delegation rejecting the demand of the Baathists and the resistance for dissolving the present army and replacing it with the prior Iraqi army, the US government maintained neutrality on that particular issue.

[It is true that] in the discussions between the government, and the Baath and the resistance, there were no shared points of view, and each side held to its attitudes and choices; nevertheless everyone said the discussion was positive and they agreed to continue it.
It is clear that a lot of the language describing these discussions is the kind of argle-bargle that a experienced American diplomat like Richard Murphy would have picked up and honed over the course of his long career. But the point is that the positive-sounding language of "transitional justice" and so on, coupled with the idea of focusing American policy on local-level Anbar-type stability and dispensing with the national-level reconciliation scheme, makes for a very peculiar mix. Because the language makes it sound as if there is some hope for overall reconciliation. But the policy switch from national-level to local-level stability indicates acceptance of a fragmented country. The language, whether you look at that crafted by Richard Murphy for the edification of the Iraqis, or that crafted by Colin Kahl for the edification of the Americans, is merely the cover for something else. In the Iraqi case, Murphy and his people have been able to dig up a few unnamed yes-men to make it appear the government and the resistance are in serious discussions, and this is being used to create a very positive status-quo atmosphere for the Green Zone people; and in the American case Kahl, and no doubt others who will soon be emerging from the woodwork, are using the same positive atmosphere to roll out a rationale for keeping American troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future even under a Democratic administration. Which will sound just as comfortable for the Washington people as for their counterparts in the Green Zone.

UPDATE: A reporter for the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Watan got much of the same information, often in the exact same words, but added some other points, for what it is worth, including these:

(1) He said the US State Dept delegation to the talks promised to convey to Washington the Baath demands respecting schedule for withdrawal; preserving national unity; abolition of the De-Baathification law; and reconstitution of the former army, and appropriate action would be taken. This was described as the beginning of a process of resolving the major national problems.

(2) He said the Baath was represented by people from both the Yunis al-Ahmed and the Izzat al-Douri wings, and that the Political Council for the Iraqi Resistance was also represented.

(3) He described this as the second meeting of something called the "permanent dialogue on Iraq".

(I saw this here, but the link to the paper's website doesn't work.)


Blogger Sam said...

It's actually "Sustained" dialogue. Here is the website:

5:52 AM  

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