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August 21, 2007

Comments

He gets cover to call for an immediate start to withdrawal when it doesn't happen?

There's always the possibility that Levin is trying some kind of triple-backflip-jiu-jitsu political move, that by telling the Iraqis they need to get rid of Al-Maliki, they'll unite behind him instead.

Nah, I don't buy it either.

Hilzoy: Thanks for commenting on this. I said WTF when I read that. So us ousting the PM would make the government seem less a puppet of America? Or what? I’ve been trying to figure out his reasoning as well.

I agree with OCSteve -- the last thing we want to do is create the appearance that we are pulling the strings of the government. It removes the next PM's authority in negotiating reconciliation, for it appears that if the US doesn't like the process, the PM will be replaced.

Hasn't the idea of replacing Maliki been something the administration has been trying out through leaks in the media over the past several days? How did they get Levin to be the guy to speak it out loud in public and thus take the blame?

I haven't been very happy with Levin ever since he took the lead among Democrats in embracing the "blame it on the Iraqis" explanation for our failure in Iraq.

One word for everyone to remember: Diem.

Been there, done that.

I think that it is because Levin is up for re-election in Michigan this year and feels like he needs to have a plan for getting out of Iraq, but also wants to be the centrist that can help bring independent and Republican votes to the D column in Michigan.

Unfortunately, I agree with KC and think that this strategy is going to backfire because now the Bush Administration can lay the blame at his (and Congress') feet.

"One word for everyone to remember: Diem"

Sorta apropos: Jindal.

OT, but disgusting, if true.

Just read rilkefan's jindal link. I'm a non-Catholic Christian and I wasn't offended at all. That's a standard set of Catholic arguments for why their church is the true church and Protestants, though well-meaning, are mixed up and self-contradictory in their theology. Maybe someone would be offended, but that's their problem.

For once I'm on the Republican's side on this. The Democratic attack ad is slimy.

Of course this is totally OT and this is two posts OT for me. Going to shut up now.

I lost my respect for Carl Levin in stages. One big drop was September 2002, when he took the lead among Senate Dems in advising the "let's get the Iraq vote out of the way" tactic. Sure, he voted against the war resolution, but he was advising the presidential contenders and Senators up for re-election to go for it.

The second, pretty much fatal loss of respect was when he put his name on the habeas-stripping amendment that accompanied the McCain anti-torture provision, a horrible "deal" that got worse when Kyl and Graham went back on even their minimal part of it (they tried to pretend that it retrospectively stripped habeas protections from Guantanamo prisoners, going so far as to try to pass off as actual legislative history statements they had inserted later into the Congressional Record).

Then, as KCinDC noted, he became one of the loudest adopters of the blame-the-Iraqis framework for supporting withdrawal.

Finally, he was one of the principals who got rolled/never intended much resistance in the first place in the recent FISA debacle.

So by the time I heard this little bit of arrogant nonsense, I was beyond giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Meh, not the first time Levin has blamed the victims expressed his impatience with the pace of progress on the part of the Iraqi political leadership (Nell - this is the instance where I lost all respect for Levin):

America has given the Iraqi people the opportunity to build a new nation at the cost of nearly 3,000 American lives and over twenty thousand wounded. But the American people do not want our valiant troops to get caught in a crossfire between Iraqis if they insist on squandering that opportunity through civil war and sectarian strife.

[...]

We should put the responsibility for Iraq’s future squarely where it belongs – on the Iraqis. We cannot save the Iraqis from themselves.

- From Statement of Senator Carl Levin at the Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Iraq, 11.15.06

While I agree that the US has no control any more over Iraq's future direction (if it ever did), the notion that the events of past several years represent a 'squandered opportunity' on the part of Iraqis makes me want to say many, many things that would violate the posting rules (not to mention several religions).

Thankfully, Allan Uthman of The Buffalo Beast says many of them for me here.

(Money quote that bears perpetual repeating: "It's hard to pull up your socks when your legs have been blown off".)

(Which I believe is what both KC and yourself were referring to, Nell).

"It's hard to pull up your socks when your legs have been blown off".

Well, you've mostly blown your own legs off, as was to be expected after years of being forced to drink Saddam's Lesch-Nyhan serum.

Don Johnson, I don't see what's wrong with the attack ad. Of course I haven't seen it. But if Jindal does take a standard catholic position that would discourage protestant voters from supporting him, whyever wouldn't his opponents point it out?

Obviously it shouldn't be connected to candidates who oppose him since they'd want him to lose the protestant vote far more than they lose the catholic vote. But if he's offending people surely his opponents would want those people to know. Is there supposed to be some sort of ethics in political campaigning that would stop them from that? If the situation were reversed, is there reason to think that Jindal would honor those ethics?

Some other thread, JT. It would be worth discussing.

people desperate for a solution will try anything. The whole iraq adventure has been a hail mary pass from the beginning

Here's my take on the "WTF?" issue: The main goal prior to the September Petraeus/Crocker report is to emphasize in any way possible that military success is meaningless in the face of political failure on the part of Iraqis. Talking about ousting the PM is a way of grabbing headlines, and pushing the political failure meme to the fore.

Alternatively, if the iraqis need to spend months choosing a new PM and then months while he gets things organised, that provides a good long time that we need to provide security so the politicians have the breathing room they need. We got rid of the bad politician and now we need to give the new good one his fair chance. We needed time to give Petraeus a chance, and then we can take time to give the new iraq PM a chance, and maybe after that we can take time to give somebody else a chance and soon it will be January 2009.

"It's hard to pull up your socks when your legs have been blown off"

I'm reminded of Iraqi Crybaby Theatre.

I concur with OCSteve. Why does Carl Levin think that he has the right to tell Iraq who they should or should not have as a leader? I would not pretend for a second that the Iraqi government is a model of democracy or good government. But it is the Iraqi government, not the U.S. government.

This is just one more example of 'American exceptionalism' that, in my mind, rightly drives citizens of other countries mad. Americans do not like being told by non-Americans who they should vote for for President, yet many who would become quite upset were the situation reversed have no trouble at all telling other nations how they should do things.

It is well past time for the U.S. to stop telling the rest of the world how to live. If the Iraqis in the Iraqi government choose to toss Maliki, that is their decision, but the U.S. should not do anything to either abet or prevent that result.

Should Bush not second the call for Al-Maliki's ouster by parliamentary means?

http://osi-speaks.blogspot.com/2007/08/calls-start-to-mount-for-malikis-ouster.html#links

Should Bush not second the call for Al-Maliki's ouster by parliamentary means?

http://osi-speaks.blogspot.com/2007/08/calls-start-to-mount-for-malikis-ouster.html#links

Levin is making the best of a series of bad choices; the fact that no alternative to Maliki is perfect (or good) does not mean that Maliki should remain.

I would defer to Levin.

I'm with G'Kar and OCSteve on this one: one of the many reasons I disagree with Levin is that we should not be telling the Iraqis who to have as their Prime Minister. Besides which, if we want them to develop the capacity to govern themselves, we should let them do it. And besides that, this is a dumb idea anyways, for the reasons I gave in the post.

Whether Iraqis feel they should defer to Levin is perhaps in question.

[...] "...Why does Carl Levin think that he has the right to tell Iraq who they should or should not have as a leader?"

Um, because our armed forces are running around all over Iraq, instructing people by killing, who should be the leader of Iraq?

If we have no opinion about who should be leading Iraq, why, precisely, are we shooting people there?

It seems entirely clear that the president of the United States believes "that he has the right to tell Iraq who they should or should not have as a leader"; why the president should have that "right," and not a member of the U.S. Senate, is unclear to me. Where did the U.S. president gain such a right from?

I haven't spent a lot of time looking into the details of the Jindal brouhaha, but Henry Farrell's take seems reasonable at first glance.

I think somethign people are overlooking is that the Iraqis may not WANT to be unified. Maliki may not be seeking compromise b/c the Shiites don't want compromise. The Galbraith article was especially good in outlining the reasons (the very personal, deep-rooted reasons) why many Shiite leaders will never ever never tolerate reversing de-Baathification.

Hilzoy,

I see what you're saying about the behavior of Dawa and SIIC (or whatever the hell they're calling themselves these days) being pretty much par for the course. It seems to me, though, if recent reports are any indication, The Ayatollah Sistani himself has about had it with them.

Al-Quds al-'Arabi reported that Ayatollah Sistani, the highest Shi'a cleric in Iraq, has similarly expressed his disapproval of the demarche of the government and its Shi'a parties. According to the paper, the Shi'a cleric said “they have filled my heart with puss,” in reference to ruling establishment in Iraq.
...
Particularly, the paper added, the Ayatollah attacked “those who wore my robe, and controlled the government and the parliament,” which is a clear reference to al-Hakeem’s SIIC (which declared Sistani its highest reference earlier this year) and his allies in the Da'wa party. Strangely, al-Quds al-'Arabi quoted Sistani as complaining from the “sectarianism” of Iraq’s leaders.
With all the caveats apply that the information appearing was not completely reliable, when the highest Shi'ite cleric in the country remarks indicates his disgust with the current ruling party, it seems likely that they're in a position from which they need to climb down. This is not a frustrated Senator, but a man who refuses to even directly talk with the Americans saying that Maliki and company "fill his heart with pus."

So while he wouldn't support a Diem solution, he'd probably be happy with a vote of no confidence.

publius: yes, that was sort of my point, though on reflection I didn't put it very clearly. If the problem is not Maliki, but the fact that the Iraqi people, or the members of Parliament, do not want to achieve what we regard as political progress, then they can change Prime Ministers as often as they like without its doing a bit of good.

It is exactly like what we did in Vietnam: mistaking a problem with a whole political order for a problem with an individual.

No, you said it clearly -- I just don't read clearly always. Particularly when I'm this sleep deprived

But maybe it's a somewhat different point. I mean, yes, a problem is that they can't "put aside" sectarian differences. But that almost implies like they'd like to be a country but all this other stuff is getting in the way.

I think the hatred/past crimes/drilled skulls runs so deep that have no DESIRE whatsoever to give up power or re-empower the Sunnis (or associate with them, frankly). It's not even a goal -- much less a goal thwarted by circumstances.

But maybe we're saying the same thing -- it's just drilling down a level deeper

the galbraith article had just had a big impact on my thinking about this stuff. i think it's difficult for americans (except maybe old southerners, black and white) to understand in their bones what generations of ethnic hatred feels like and looks like. The old "can-do" American spirit doesn't really apply well in those contexts

Whether Iraqis feel they should defer to Levin is perhaps in question.

As is whether they feel they should defer to Maliki.

I understand that the conventional wisdom is that Levin should keep his mouth shut -- as laid out by Hilzoy and others -- even if he were correct on this one. I take the view, however, that Levin's expression has tactical edge to it, and is intended to prompt Maliki.

I see what you're saying about the behavior of Dawa and SIIC (or whatever the hell they're calling themselves these days) being pretty much par for the course. It seems to me, though, if recent reports are any indication, The Ayatollah Sistani himself has about had it with them.

Actually, Andrew, Sistani was angry at the fact that SIIC and Dawa cut Sadr out of the new coalition government (which is the same as the old coalition govt., minus Sadr and the Sunnis).

Sistani wants to maintain a united Shiite political front. He was the driving force behind creating the UIA in the first place, and he has been the one keeping it together thus far (despite the internal conflicts).

He is not upset with Maliki for being too Shiite in his outlook, but not Shiite enough.

Levin is making the best of a series of bad choices; the fact that no alternative to Maliki is perfect (or good) does not mean that Maliki should remain.

I would defer to Levin.

Yes Von, but that's what we said the last time when we swapped Ibrahim Jaafari (the Dawa Party leader) for Nuri al-Maliki (the Dawa Party's second in command).

So should Carl Levin get involved in an effort to put Jaafari back in the prime minister's seat because Maliki has been so bad?

Because that's one of the options being discussed. To me, that seems rather like a waste of time, effort, credibility and political capital.

:o

The von! He hath returnedeth!

von, you miss the primary point of hilzoy's post. The issue is not whether it makes sense to try to replace Maliki or otherwise pressure him because of a fear of removal.

The issue is whether or not it makes any sense in the first instance to believe that replacing Maliki or otherwise pressuring Maliki can have any impact on the larger political problem. If Maliki's actions or inactions is not the root cause of the problem, it makes no sense to focus on him as a solution.

The secondary issue is the wisdom of meddling in who should be PM. "We'll stand down when they stand up" is going to be difficult if you install puppets that you expect to stand up on their own.

The replace Maliki talk is just another fig leaf to justify two more F.U.s -- zounds, we can't leave if we engineer a new PM who just might win it for us!

As long as the cup has a drop of water in it, the war supporters will never leave "because there is still hope." Like a perverse application of the Cheney doctrine, if there is a 1% chance, then we have to go for it.

Um, because our armed forces are running around all over Iraq, instructing people by killing, who should be the leader of Iraq?

I was not aware this was the purpose of the U.S. armed force in Iraq. Perhaps you could point to some documentary evidence laying this out as the official or unofficial mission of MNC-I for those of us who missed it?

If we have no opinion about who should be leading Iraq, why, precisely, are we shooting people there?

I am decidedly curious. Do you see no difference between an attempt to deny forces attempting to overthrow Iraq's elected government and an attempt by the U.S. to influence the results of that process? If so, it would seem we are on such differing planes of reality that further discussion is unlikely to be fruitful.

As for the President believing he has a right to decide who should be the leader of Iraq, George Bush also believes in creationism. I hope that the fact the President believes something does not, in fact make it true? Bush may have the power, but that does not mean he has the right.

G'Kar:

Do you see no difference between an attempt to deny forces attempting to overthrow Iraq's elected government and an attempt by the U.S. to influence the results of that process?

Do you not see that we have taken sides in a civil war, by doing little to combat the Shia death squads killing in the name of the "elected government" while we do the killing of the Sunni insurgents on behalf of the Shia?

I wonder which faction is ahead in the killing game -- the Sunni bombers of Shia civilians, which are more spectacular and get the most attention, or the daily drumbeat of Sunnis murdered by Shia and found dead by the road each morning? Of course, this assumes that there are only two primary factions, which is not correct. There is plenty of Shia on Shia violence -- we are also supporting the Iran friendly Shia and against the Shia nationalists who would do the most to limit Iranian influence. And then there is the whole Kurd complication and the sub-factions in that region.

What is maddening is that our de facto policy is to strengthen the Iran-friendly government in Iraq, while simultaneously spouting propaganda that it is the Iranians who are behind the attacks in Iraq.

Depicting our role as anti-insurgent to protect the government is self-deluding.

Do you not see that we have taken sides in a civil war, by doing little to combat the Shia death squads killing in the name of the "elected government" while we do the killing of the Sunni insurgents on behalf of the Shia?

Excuse me. I forget that you are on the ground in Iraq and see what is happening there every day, while I am posting from far away and know only what my preconceived notions point me too. I'll not bother to post again in the face of your knowledge from the ground.

G'Kar: please don't deprive the rest of us who value your perspective, distant though it may be ;)

*grumbles about smart-aleck professors who shall remain pseudonymous*

I'm entirely sympathetic with G'Kar's tempermant, given his eyes on view.

I'm utterly desirous of his continued reports. I'm more grateful than I can say for them.

I implore him to waste valuable time here, giving them, except insofar as they remotely interfere with his mission.

I'm apologetic as can be for anything I've said or done to interfere with his thoughts.

And I'm nothing but grateful that he spends any time at all with us here.

This doesn't, however, mean, that I don't have questions for him.

However, speaking only for myself, I ask questions only because I so highly respect G'kar's answers.

And I thank him for them with every emphasis that I can.

Um, G'Kar, what exactly are you disagreeing with? Or, rather, which of the following statements are you asserting:

1. Shia death squads are not killing Sunni civilians

2. These (alleged) death squads are not allied with the central government

3. The US Army is not killing Sunni insurgent forces

Grumble away; just keep commenting* ;) If it would help, I'll be glad to say grumble-worthy things on cue.

*Schedule and duties permitting, and only if you want to, of course.

Gary,

I do not mind the questions. (And if I'm a touch snippy, I apologize...it has been a long day.) But I do see a vast gap between supporting the elected government (and again, there are many issues with the government and how it was selected, although I wonder if it is any more representative than those selected in the United States for much of its early history...indeed, arguably well into the 20th century until the Voting Rights Act) and trying to install a leader chosen by Americans.

So should Carl Levin get involved in an effort to put Jaafari back in the prime minister's seat because Maliki has been so bad?

Perhaps not; Levin's statement, however, may provoke Maliki (and others) to act differently.

Turbulence,

Please elaborate. I fail to see how agreeing with those statements necessarily undermines my position. I suspect that there are unstated assumptions I am not seeing (or perhaps I'm simply missing things that have been said; I'm running on 4-6 hours of sleep per night as I continue to evade attempts by the Centauri to capture me), so if you could try to lay out how you see these questions relating to my argument, you will make it far easier for me to respond.

hilzoy,

I am not certain that grumble-worthy comments are those best-formed to elicit my responses, although I'll concede they appear to be working at the moment. Doubtless I shall continue to spar here as duty permits, however, if only because I am so desperately in love with the sound of my own voice.

G'Kar,

I was looking at this/. You appear to be displeased with a prior commenter's statement that states: 1. we have done little to combat shia death squads, 2. shia death squads have killed Sunni civilians, 3. these death squads are associated with the central government and 4. because of 1-3, we have effectively taken sides in a civil war.

If your dispute stems from other statements, then I apologize. I just wanted to sanity check that we all agreed to some of the same factual premises. So, do you agree or disagree with points 1, 2, 3, and 4?

Turbulence,

I perhaps should have quoted a different section. What I primarily responded to was the comment that I was deluded, so I probably should have quoted that. No apology is needed; I could have been clearer.

To the specific points, I'm not certain I concur with 1, and 4 is I believe somewhat more complex than it seems. I think that the Coalition certainly could be doing more to combat the Shia insurgents, but I'm not certain that the argument we have done little to combat them is accurate. This is, to be sure, a difference of degree and not of kind. Because AQI has the better 'brand name,' if you will, I believe that the Coalition has focused too much of its efforts on combatting it, although the fact AQI tends towards more spectacular attacks also probably feeds this tendency. The Coalition is far more likely to feel it needs to do something about big attacks that kill 20-40 people at a clip as opposed to murders that trickle in at a slower rate and are often difficult to classify (while sectarian violence is a major problem, so too is crime, and a nontrivial percentage of murders are difficult to classify as one or the other).

I believe the question of taking sides in a civil war is equally complex, not least because there are a vast number of sides vying for at least some degree of control of Iraq, and they are utilizing many methods to attempt to gain that control, violent and nonviolent alike. The fact the Coalition is focusing too much on AQI does not necessarily mean it is making things a great deal easier for the Shia if a full-scale civil war breaks out (whether or not the current conflict is a civil war or just an insurgency is a separate, but interesting, question). Yes, I know that AQI is nominally Sunni, but if the Anbar situation proves nothing else, I should think it demonstrates that rank-and-file Sunnis bear little love for AQI when they must coexist with them.

I hope that answers your questions. It has been a long day and I may well not be as coherent as I prefer due to fatigue. If so I apologize and will attempt to address additional points as you raise them and as my time permits.

A FIRM WITHDRAWAL DATE FOR AMERICAN FORCES?

Maliki is not the problem. His governing coalition is the problem. Now that he is down to representing a Parliament minority that is only Shiite, Maliki has a legal right to rule but no logical one. As Prime Minister he must represent the Sunnis as well as the Shiites if Iraq is to see peace, but he cannot. As a consequence, Iraqi Sunnis have only one veto power over government action: Civil War. This is unbearable in a Democracy.

It is necessary that a governing coalition be formed in which the Sunnis have the option of bringing down the government by legitimate political means. However this is to be accomplished it absolutely must be done and America needs to play a role in making it happen. This means making peace with Al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army because they are the only Major Shiite Party that still actively demonstrates more loyalty to Iraqi Sunnis than they do to Iranian Shiites.

Al-Sadr's price for forming a unity government with Iraqi Sunnis is very simple: A Firm Withdrawal Date For American Forces.

Do you see no difference between an attempt to deny forces attempting to overthrow Iraq's elected government and an attempt by the U.S. to influence the results of that process?

What support does iraq's elected government have in iraq, by iraqis?

They were elected with great hopes. A major campaign plank of essentially every party was to get US troops out of iraq, although Dawa announced late in the process that they couldn't do it.

So, how have they done at getting US troops out of iraq? They've passed a bill that we must present them with a timetable, a calendar-based timetable and not a results-based one. A nonbinding vote. They have not succeeded in scheduling a vote on a binding resolution.

Why would any iraqi support them, when they've failed at the central plank of essentially every party? What have they accomplished? They control the chain-of-command for various iraqi troops that are stationed in places that do not have US or insurgent troops. They theoretically have a "parallel" chain of command in baghdad, where apparently we give the orders but if their own CoC were to give them different orders something would have to be arranged. I wonder how that works in practice?

Can the iraqi government tell us not to attack an iraqi city? It doesn't look like it. Can they collect their own taxes, apart from oil? I haven't heard they can. They don't control a foreign army in their country and particularly in their capital city. They don't collect their own taxes. How are they a sovereign government?

Sure, we can make them get a new prime minister any time we want. We won't be reducing iraqi support for their elected government. They already know the score.

I think it would be a great thing for iraq to have a sovereign elected government. We can't figure out how to withdraw when withdrawal would betray our friends in iraq. Get an elected government and they'll tell us to go away and we can go away in good conscience.

All we have to do is stop preventing them from doing that, and we can leave.

I would not pretend for a second that the Iraqi government is a model of democracy or good government. But it is the Iraqi government, not the U.S. government.

Are you saying that the current US government IS a model of democracy or good government? (I know what you're saying, but the two statements are not exclusive.)

What support does iraq's elected government have in iraq, by iraqis?

What support does America's elected governmet have in America, by Americans? I suspect that Maliki and company may not be much worse off than President Bush when it comes to public support.

As for the control of things by the Iraqi government, in fact they can tell the U.S. not to attack certain places in many parts of Iraq. That's part of the whole turning provinces over to the Iraqis concept. As I've noted, the Iraqi government has myriad flaws, but I still object vehemently to the idea that the U.S. has any right to make changes to it as it sees fit.

Jeff,

Perish the thought. I wouldn't say the U.S. government is a model for anything save, perhaps, inefficiency.

"I suspect that Maliki and company may not be much worse off than President Bush when it comes to public support."

Our House of Representatives has support dating from November of 2006, to be specific.

"I suspect that Maliki and company may not be much worse off than President Bush when it comes to public support."

It's a fair point, I should say.

"As I've noted, the Iraqi government has myriad flaws, but I still object vehemently to the idea that the U.S. has any right to make changes to it as it sees fit."

My initial citing of Diem was precisely to note how awful the consequences of a decision otherwise can go, even without going into the "right" of the matter.

Once the United States government, in its awesome wisdom and rightousness, decides to overthrow a "lesser" government, said government can't regain native legitimacy absent opposing us. It's always been a completely stupid move. Outstandingly arrogant.

Note how it's worked out in Iran since 1954, after all.

It's never been a move that worked in the long term. It's as if it was a game option that was available only in order to tempt the player into a self-destructive move.

I hope it doesn't need to be said that if the US even encouraged an Iraqi coup, let alone lent any aid to it, we'd completely destroy any hope for legitimacy any successor Iraqi government would have.

This can't be overstated as to how awful an outcome this would result in.

Gary has explained my objections better than I did. Thanks, Gary.

'Once the United States government, in its awesome wisdom and rightousness, decides to overthrow a "lesser" government'

Is Levin proposing to overthrow Maliki?

Maybe Levin's current stance has something to do with a)Syria and/or b)Israel. Just a hunch.

Well, but wait a moment. The USA overthrew Saddam and nobody minded much. Then we set up a series of "interim" puppet governments that we intended to discard after some interval -- 7 to 10 years, maybe -- and nobody minded that we scheduled getting rid of them. Then we told the last interim government we set up to themselves set up an iraqi interim government, on our schedule and with a whole lot of input from us. One of our rulings was that we would supply supervisors to the administration that would watch iraqi administrators and remove any that we thought were corrupt, and the elected interim iraqi government could do nothing about that or our other pronouncements without a 2/3 vote.

The iraqi interim government wrote a constitution (with an unknown amount of input from us) and held elections, on our schedule. Our army guarded the election. Based on polls etc many iraqis believed that we transferred around 13% of the vote from Sadr's party to Allawi's.

The legislators aren't safe outside the Green Zone. Well, but that's because Baghdad isn't safe. Surely they could improve their credibility by moving the legislature to some place safe that's controlled by iraqi troops under iraqi direction. Remember, most of iraq is secure, it's only 5 provinces out of 18 that are not. Why not at least temporarily move the legislature to one of the secure provinces where the iraqi army is running things and there's no violence? We never hear about problems in wasit, or misan, or dhi-qar, or muthanna, or suleimaniyah. Why not let the iraqi government move to a safe place run by their own troops, and they'd improve their credibility? The ones who fled the country could come back. Well, of course they might not want to. Their constitution says that Baghdad is the capital, but it doesn't say they have to meet there. On the other hand, if the iraqi legislature slips out of our physical control, there's no telling what they'd say or do.

Why would it really matter if we got rid of them? They don't have much credibility left in iraq, do they?

Still, we have the legal fiction that the iraqi government is sovereign. So we can't just throw them away. If we don't like them, the proper approach is to make the legislature vote (by absolute majority) to disband, and then hold new elections. Or as a lesser matter we could make them vote (by absolute majority) no confidence in the prime minister and then they'll choose a new one. Legalities solved.

But that only gets rid of the politicians. We can't throw away their constitution without going through a lengthy process to make them write a new one. So their structural problems will remain. But their constitution doesn't have to limit us any more than ours dose.

So for example their constitution says they won't let anybody monitor the phone system in iraq. But they can't very well tell us to stop. It says "No Iraqi shall be surrendered to foreign entities and authorities." Haha. "The sanctity of the homes is inviolable and homes may not be entered, searched, or put in danger, except by a judicial decision, and in accordance with the law." "No person may be kept in custody or interrogated except in the context of a judicial decision."

We can safely continue to ignore the iraqi constitution whenever it's inconvenient.

I'm curious, J Thomas: do you think that can and should are equvalent? There are a number of things the U.S. can do. I believe that quite a few of those options are things they nevertheless should not do. Do you see the distinction?

G'Kar, certainly I see a strong distinction between 'can' and 'should'.

However, look at the specific case here.

We set up the iraqi government ourselves. Once we say it's the legitimate government it looks bad for us to get rid of it and set up another one.

On the other hand, the current iraqi government has very little de facto legitimacy now. It has failed to represent the iraqi people. We don't get many bennies from supporting it.

It's a bad situation with no good choices. If we do get rid of this government and set up a new one that gets better press, in a few years the new government might easily have more support than this one could get within a few years. Set up a new government, give them 20 or 30 billion dollars to give to their friends and do reconstruction -- less money than our army in iraq spends in a month -- and some iraqis will like them.

Sure, it would look bad for us to dump the government we imposed on iraq, but it looks bad for us to keep this one too. You have to look at the alternatives.

Probably the best choice is to let the current or future iraqi government tell us to go away, and then we have a perfect excuse to go away. That's also the single best thing they can do to get legimacy in iraq. It's win/win.

The only losers if we leave are the sunnis in shia areas and shias in sunni areas and ethnic minorities and minority religions -- the people who're safe because we have squads outside their houses guarding them 24/7. The people who aren't getting ethnic-cleansed because we are totally effective at stopping terrorists from reaching them. Those guys. They'll be in trouble if we leave, or even if we draw down the forces.

I appreciate JThomas' bigger point here, which is that Iraqi sovereignty is a sham.

Just want to register a quibble with this: We never hear about problems in wasit, or misan, or dhi-qar, or muthanna, or suleimaniyah.

We've heard of a few, namely the serial assassinations of the Governors of Muthanna and Qadisiyah. The problems are alleged to be intra-Shia struggles.

Did Bush reverse himself and suddenly wholeheartedly embrace Maliki specifically for the joy of sawing off the branch Levin had crawled out on?

Levin and HRC.

HRC is calling for a "less divisive and more unifying figure"? I suppose it's less incongruous than Bush doing the same.

Some context: the NIE.

J Thomas,

The issue I have with the U.S. deciding such things is that, however foolish that may make me, I do not believe it is the place of the U.S. to decide what governments other nations should have. While the current Iraqi government has many problems, it was at least created by Iraqis and, as I noted above, probably was more democratic than the U.S. government in 1789. (Of course, I'm not sure how much a government being democratic is worth.) As far as I am concerned, and clearly it is a minority opinion, the United States should get out of the business of telling other states which governments are 'acceptable,' even in Iraq where the U.S. is so thorougly intertwined with the Iraqis.

You're in an odd line of work for someone with those beliefs.

Come home soon.

Nell,

"You're in an odd line of work for someone with those beliefs."

G'Kar's beliefs are not unusual for an ambassador from an alien race. Now, if he were a war-time soldier, I could understand your comment far better.

Why not at least temporarily move the legislature to one of the secure provinces where the iraqi army is running things and there's no violence? We never hear about problems in wasit, or misan, or dhi-qar, or muthanna, or suleimaniyah.

Do you think that the attacks aimed at the Green Zone are purely a matter of location? If we (or the Iraqis) moved the Green Zone to anywhere else, I'm sure that all the various parties would flock to that location pretty quickly.

Jeff, it would be a lot easier for the iraqi security guys to track newcomers to the province and the city if it was, say, amara in misan province -- which has been peaceful all along -- than baghdad. Much much much harder to track newcomers in baghdad.

And if US troops stayed out of misan, leaving it entirely to iraqi army and police, there would be much less excuse for insurgents to go after them.

It would make the iraqi government look independent. As it is, the iraqi legislature is utterly dependent on US forces for protection. They get mortar and rocket attacks anyway, and the people in baghdad mostly don't tell us who's doing it or where they are -- we can triangulate that but we can't do enough about it. But in amara, with a population that supports the iraqi government, the citizens would immediately report mortars being set up and would attack them themselves. Attacks on US troops are generally considered appropriate, attacks on the iraqi government much less so. So it follows we should keep US troops away from places we don't want to be attacked.

An iraqi government presiding in a province that had no US troops would appear far more legitimate than what we have now. If they then set policies that appear not to be forged in DC, that gives them more support still.

Ideally at some point they'd vote to disband, get their new election in less than 2 months -- without our participation -- and come back with full sunni representation. Then they'd be a long way toward actually having a government that can handle iraq.

Ideally at some point they'd vote to disband, get their new election in less than 2 months -- without our participation -- and come back with full sunni representation.

This sounds an awful lot like "we'll be greeted with flowers and kisses" to me. Insurgents (or whatever the name of the day is) wouldn't need mortars and rockets to attack an unfortified location like Amara -- they could use truck bombs which have been used all over Iraq.

I'd need more than "just THIS little tweak and a couple more Friedman Units and everything will be rosy" to counterbalance the BS we all have been fed about this war.

Jeff, I'm pretty hopeful about this plan.

See, once you get an iraqi government that *represents* the insurgents they stop being insurgents. They don't want to attack their own government. And one way the iraqi government can show they represent the insurgents is to tell the US troops to go away.

Everybody wins!

J. Thomas, hasn't the Iraqi Parliament already expressed its opinion that it wants us to go away? That hasn't made the insurgents love them.

And I assume you're kidding about us being "totally effective at stopping terrorists from reaching" ethnic-cleansing targets. We are doing better now at protecting them, but any particular family's survival is still a matter of odds.

An Iraqi government that left Baghdad would quickly be replaced by some kind of insurgent government IN Baghdad. Which, admittedly, might make the civil war a little more straightforward by creating clearer targets for both sides. So, okay, the plan has some merit.

Nell,

An interesting observation. And perhaps correct. Nonetheless, I am content with the choices I have made and accept their consequences.

Trilobite, the iraqi legislature has passed a nonbinding vote saying they want us to go away. They have not actually done anything to persuade us to leave.

Yes, I was kidding about the US providing security. When we can't keep insurgents from killing basicly anybody they want outside the Green Zone, what good is it for civilians? People who're in danger move away or they get killed. We can sometimes stop big convoys of ethnic cleansers, so we can keep it small and slow it down a bit. Is that worth what it costs us? If they can't get 30 people in one raid but have to do ten or fifteen little raids instead, is that going to make much difference over a couple of years?

An Iraqi government that left Baghdad would quickly be replaced by some kind of insurgent government IN Baghdad.

I don't see it. Baghdad has a bunch of mayors of individual sections, each supported by his own militia. I doubt an insurgent government could take over sadr city any easier than we can. I'd expect Baghdad to stay a patchwork quilt of groups that sometimes cooperate and sometimes don't. And I didn't advocate that the US military pull out of baghdad, only the iraqi legislature. We certainly won't abandon our embassy.

I doubt that the violent parts of baghdad would get stabilised real soon even if we left. So no, there isn't going to be an insurgent government there anytime soon.

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