The L.A. Times‘s Ned Parker has a great piece of reporting from Baghdad in today’s paper, charting the main dimensions of the recent collapse of the US’s influence in Iraq.
He leads with this:
- Once dependent on American support to keep his job, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has consolidated power and is asserting his independence, sharply reducing Washington’s influence over the future of Iraq.
Iraq’s police and army now operate virtually on their own, and with Washington’s mandate from the United Nations to provide security here expiring in less than four months, Maliki is insisting on imposing severe limits on the long-term U.S. military role, including the withdrawal of American forces from all cities by June.
America’s eroded leverage has left Iran, with its burgeoning trade and political ties, in a better position to affect Iraqi government policies.
It also means that whichever U.S. presidential candidate is elected … will have less ability to sway Baghdad than did the Bush administration.
I have been arguing since early June (e.g., here, here, and here) that the balance of real power between the Bush and Maliki governments, regarding developments in Iraq, has now shifted in the Iraqi’s favor. This, to the point that he now has more ability to influence the Americans’ behavior in Iraq than the other way round. I am glad that Ned Parker has now published this additional batch of evidence that further confirms that judgment.
Many in DC still talk about the ability of Washington to “place conditions on” the financial and security aid that it still gives to the Baghdad government.This, though Maliki has shrugged off and/or avoided meeting all of the stated conditions until now, including enacting an oil law, or holding provincial elections, or conducting the Kirkuk referendum, or… or… or..
Parker quotes one long-time DC-based “conditionalizer”, Colin Kahl of the Center for a New American Security. Kahl says the US still has some ability to influence the Malili government, but that “leverage” is now diminishing.
Parker quotes him as saying:
- “If the next president waits too long, our diminishing leverage will likely disappear altogether, leaving us with two strategic options: resign ourselves to ‘ride the tiger’ — that is, accept that we have to simply accept what the Iraqi government does and, at most, mitigate or help buffer the consequences — or jump off the tiger altogether.”
I guess this latter option would mean leaving Iraq altogether?
Note that Kahl, like the vast majority of other DC analysts, looks at the Iraq issue as either a strictly bilateral (US-Iraq) issue, or a trilateral (US-Iraqi-Iranian) issue. Most DC “insiders” pay far too little heed to the idea that there are numerous other actors who can and should be involved in the search for a durable political outcome in Iraq. These include the Arab League, the United Nations, China, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, at a bare minimum.
Remembering that these other stakeholders exist, have non-trivial powers, and can help Iraqis and Americans to extricate themselves from the fateful embrace of military occupation in a way that does not involve Iraq splintering into mutually conflicted fragments, is a really helpful thing to do. Involving all these other parties seriously in the diplomacy of the Iraqi end-game– or rather, having the UN involve all of them plus the US and Iraqi governments– is, as I have long argued, the best way to arrive at a “responsible”, that is, non-catastrophic, US pullout from Iraq. It will also very helpfully remind Americans that no, we are not the center of the universe any more.