Friday, August 22, 2008

Spinning the non-existent agreement

Bernhard at Moon of Alabama does a good job summarizing some of the crucial points that are missing from the latest round of speculation about the US-Iraq security agreement. In a nutshell, the issues include the weasel-words "combat troops", "conditions", (along with Rice's new expression "aspirational timeline"), and so on. I would only add the following:

The netroots Ackerman-Yglesias duo is touting that idea that (if the reports are true) this will represent a major victory for the left, because:
That plan is right out of the Center for American Progress’ Strategic Redeployment paper of 2005 — get out of the cities, get less visible, move from a combat mission to a training mission, and then go. The left won the Iraq debate. Period.
But the fact is that anything that has been leaked so far is equally consistent with the opposite wing of the Democratic party policy proposals, namely the "conditional engagement"/conditions-based withdrawal line. The godfather of that position is or was social scientist James Fearon, who on the basis of the postulate of an underlying Iraqi "civil war", wrote (in Foreign Affairs March/April 2007):
As long as the Bush administration remains absolutely committed to propping up the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or a similarly configured successor, the U.S. government will have limited leverage with almost all of the relevant parties. By contrast, moving away from absolute commitment -- for example, by beginning to shift U.S. combat troops out of the central theaters -- would increase U.S. diplomatic and military leverage on almost all fronts. Doing so would not allow the current or the next U.S. administration to bring a quick end to the civil war, which most likely will last for some time. But it would allow the United States to play a balancing role between the combatants that would be more conducive to reaching, in the long run, a stable resolution in which Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish interests are well represented in a decent Iraqi government. If the Iraqis ever manage to settle on the power-sharing agreement that is the objective of current U.S. policy, it will come only after bitter fighting in the civil war that is already under way.
In other words, "get out of the cities," then "play a balancing role between the combatants..." (via troops still based in Iraq but outside of the cities, in bases, as he explains elsewhere). There is a clear family connection linking this position with the current one of Kahl, the AM doctor and others. And it is just as consistent with what has been leaked about the "agreement" as the above-noted "get out of the cities...then go" spin.

So some of the current spin can be explained as a reflection of this internal disagreement within the Democratic party policy clubhouse. Which is also what gives this discussion a good deal of its glossy, superficial character. Both parties leaving out, for instance, the role of the US forces as combatants, and treating them merely as benevolent and neutral arbiters. And leaving out as well, as reader Alex tirelessly reminds us, any analysis of the heart of the Iraqi anti-occupation political reality behind Maliki's reluctance to sign.

I think what is also being missed is the prospect of something even more glossy and superficial, namely how the Republicans would spin an agreement of this ambiguous type. They would sideline the ambiguity of the military points, and trumpet instead the image and the concept of Iraq as having finally become, through Bush's efforts, a US-friendly regime in a difficult area with wonderful economic-development prospects in collaboration with its American friends...

If you think that is too far from reality to serve as a US presidential-campaign issue, think again.


Blogger Helena Cobban said...

Nice job, Badger, thanks!

Imho, the US military's troop-planning needs/crisis are forcing this 'redeployment' far more than any 'strategy'. So they've gone from 'aspirational time horizon' to 'aspirational timetable' to 'timetable'.... though still on re combat troops, as well noted. The US position will erode even further and faster over the coming months. It has just about nothing to do with anything inside Iraq, whatever they currently say. But as they draw down even further they're going to need to be attentive to what's happening inside the country. That's when they'll need serious help from others, oh, including the Iranians.

7:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

badger, yep. concurs w/my comment @MOA

which begs the question why do they need these constant news bites? because we are in an election season and when politicos talk about the war there MUST be a current meme. it can't be 'still no done deal/ canceled election'. this is coming on the heals of the conventions and i imagine both parties want to use a message. spun like 'success' for the gop, 'withdrawl' by the dems.

only we all know withdrawl is not on the table, for either party.

the fearon piece is chilling.

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