Monday, August 27, 2007

Modeling the Way

Have our troops opened the doors to political reconciliation and gone beyond simply creating a secure environment in which the political solution in Iraq can be attained? Are they on the path toward attaining what professional diplomats could not?

The Marines have found a way to bring tribal Sheiks together, provide local security, and run Al Qaeda out of Anbar province. What just a year ago was counted as lost to Al Qaeda according to the intelligence report of the time is now a success story.

The Army’s 1st Cavalry has brokered a deal in the area around Taji which includes Sunni and Shiite tribes. The agreement has a diverse group ridding their neighborhoods of all terrorists and insurgents, regardless of political or religious affiliation, and working together to improve the area.

Under General Petraeus counter-insurgency leadership, our military has been able to achieve more than just security in areas of Iraq. In some cases, they are achieving political reconciliation at the grass-roots level.

The “surge” started out as an aggressive, collaborative, armed version of the “neighborhood watch” program, but has grown into a process by which previously disagreeing factions are discussing and smoothing out differences, allying for a common cause.

The professional politicians, diplomats, and critics should take note. What they have been unable to accomplish at the national level, our troops are accomplishing at the local level.

We have State Department and other officials involved in the political reconciliation processes at the national level in Baghdad. Their sole purpose has been to help the national government find a way to come together for national Iraqi unity.

In many ways, their tutelage has fallen short of attaining that which is pursued. As the professional diplomats, shouldn’t they be the experts at leading the Iraqi’s to political solutions?

They should, but they have not yet reached their goal.

Maybe they should look to our soldiers and Marines, who have been achieving political solutions, for some guidance. What they have accomplished at the local level in bringing together the different groups can surely be repeated at the national level.

But the diplomats need to follow at least two of the closely intertwined lessons learned and now being implemented by our troops on the ground.

First, this is about the people and their tribes. The interests of the other, varied groups which claim a stake in Iraq should be secondary. The diplomats must first and always ask “are my pursuits good for individual Iraqi’s and the tribes to which they belong?”

By comparison, there are diplomats and counselors who have chosen sides at the national level. There are some who have invested themselves in moving the cause and position of Muqtada al Sadr forward. There may be others who want Al Qaeda to have a place at the bargaining table or others who want a disproportionate Sunni or Iranian influence. They seemingly fail to ask if their pursuits are good for the Iraqi people. Instead, they focus on one of the power brokers in Iraq.

By comparison, our troops have to be civilian-centric, addressing immediate security for the people themselves. Part of that process involves bringing disputing factions together to stop local violence against the citizens. It also means that anyone not willing to work toward local security must be dealt with and eliminated from the equation.

There is no place in the neighborhoods for radical religious zealots who are unwilling to live peacefully by accepting others not like them. Where diplomats believe they can accommodate Sadr or Zawahiri, our troops know they and the Iraqi’s can not.

That then is the second lesson. There is no room for any of the groups willing to use violence to further their own cause at the expense of the Iraqi people.

At the national level, attempts to appease radical individuals and groups like al Sadr and even Al Qaeda, to give them a place at the collective bargaining table, have been made. That is a mistake which will continue to be an obstacle to national unity.

Our troops (and a growing number of Iraqi people) have learned that such violent groups with zealous self-serving interests can not be part of the future of Iraq. Their presence in the neighborhoods makes every situation untenable.

In some cases our troops are working with previously violent individuals and groups who had been the opposition, but whose interests have shifted away from being so personally or religiously radical. However, our troops and some Iraqi’s have learned that inflexible, radical individuals and groups similar to al Sadr or Al Qaeda are of little value. Eliminating them from the equation creates an environment in which peace can finally move forward at the local level. The diplomats need to learn this for peace at the national level with regard to who they’re willing to represent and tolerate.

Our troops are succeeding in bringing about local political reconciliation as well as the security necessary for national political reconciliation. They are laying the groundwork from which a political solution can be developed in Baghdad. Those responsible for attaining that solution, but who still struggle to find it, need to search no further than the streets of Anbar and Taji for a model.

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