Sunday, September 23, 2012

US Superpowers

This piece by Michael Gordon, a piece of his forthcoming book, argues that the Obama administration screwed up the end-game in Iraq.  That they wanted Iraqi politicians to share power and accept a continued US presence.  Perhaps there was some politics in the US administration that led to less than perfect approaches to the Iraqis.

I am no Iraq expert, but this short piece woefully underestimates a few basic realities that were well-covered by the NYT in 2009:
  • the Iraqi leaders showed no signs of wanting to share power at all.  After all, the real problem of today is not who became President vs. Prime Minister but that the folks who split with the Sunni extremists, the Awakening or Sons of Iraq movement, were seen as a threat by the Shia politicians.  The promises made to the Sunnis were broken pretty quickly.
  • the Iraqi pols had their own agendas and interests, so giving up power or shuffling the deck was never going to happen, no matter how super a salesman Obama might be in theory.
  • even as the Iraqi people came to see the COIN-enforcing/more restrained US forces as better than the alternatives, no politician could undermine their nationalist credentials by supporting a continued US presence.  
Pieces like this forget that the Americans killed tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens, that American-funded contractors were responsible for Fallujah's big mess in 2004 and lots of collateral damage with few consequences, and that the Americans were requiring more immunity in a new Status of Forces Agreement (only that would work domestically) that the Iraqis had little interest in giving.

So, yes, the Obama folks could have played this better, but expecting either US troops sticking around in Iraq or Iraqis to share power means one has a very American perspective--that the US has far more agency than anyone else and if only the pols in DC did things right, everything would work out fine.

In Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Little America, this tendency also exists but to a lesser degree.  I finally finished that book, and will Spew about it later today.  I will be clearer in my bias in that post than here.  Again, we can criticize the Obama administration for not performing better on a whole host of issues, including perhaps managing the endgame in Iraq, but these expectations here are just a wee bit much.

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