Friday, September 26, 2008

Is Honesty on Iraq as Elusive as The Great Pumpkin?

Today's Washington Post editorial once again challenges Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama to update his Iraq position. While EPIC takes no position on candidates running for political office, we have a lot to say about the policy prescriptions (or lack thereof) of both the Republican and Democratic nominees. Where one party seems to be blind to U.S. shortcomings in Iraq and the region, the other seems to be blind to any progress.

What progress you ask?!

Yesterday EPIC Guest Blogger Reidar Visser wrote about the successful passage of a special election law in Iraq, which opens the door for next year’s provincial elections. Today the editors of the Washington Post write:
Iraq's parliament on Wednesday took another major step toward political stabilization. By a unanimous vote, the national legislature approved a plan for local elections in 14 of 18 provinces by early next year -- clearing the way for a new, more representative and more secular wave of politicians to take office. The legislation eliminates the party slate system that allowed religious authorities to dominate Iraq's previous elections, and it provides for women to hold 25 percent of seats. Most important, it will allow Sunni leaders who boycotted the 2005 provincial elections -- and who have since allied themselves with U.S. forces against al-Qaeda in Iraq -- to compete for political power in the provinces that were once the heartland of the insurgency.
While the U.S. media exaggerates Baghdad gridlock and sectarian politics in Iraq, in truth, the real contest for power in Iraq (as put forward by Sam Parker of USIP and other respected Iraq specialists) is between the powers that be (PTB) and the powers that aren’t (PTA). The passage of a special election law not only shows progress in negotiations between the rival factions of the PTB, but the growing political power and influence of the PTA. Unrepresented communities like Iraq’s tribal leaders (both Sunni and Shia), secular Iraqi professionals in Iraq’s urban centers, many Iraqis in rural areas, and minority communities such as Iraq's Chaldean and Assyrian Christians are demanding free and fair elections that give them a competitive chance of winning seats on Provincial Councils and eventually in the National Parliament.

Real representation from the grassroots up trumping sectarian (read: partisan) party lists and political insiders (dominated by former political exiles in the case of Iraq)? That’s change that both Americans and Iraqis can believe in.

At the same time, we’re all looking for more intellectual honesty and less knee-jerk partisan rhetoric. The McCain-Palin camp ought to offer more “straight talk” about U.S. shortcomings in Iraq and the region (especially surrounding the displacement and vulnerability of millions of Iraqis). The Obama-Biden ticket ought to explain how their administration will withdraw U.S. forces in a way that leaves sustainable security and continuing political progress behind, and it's hard to do that without being honest and forthcoming about where U.S. efforts have done some good. The first candidate who breaks out of the partisan framing of the “Iraq issue” will be the first to look truly Presidential in the eyes of thoughtful American voters.

So here’s the hard-to-swallow pill that the Washington Post prescribes to Obama:
...it's now clear that the political progress that the Bush administration hoped would follow the surge of U.S. forces in Iraq has finally begun. How can the next president preserve that momentum? Democrat Barack Obama continues to argue that only the systematic withdrawal of U.S. combat units will force Iraqi leaders to compromise. Yet the empirical evidence of the past year suggests the opposite: that only the greater security produced and guaranteed by American troops allows a political environment in which legislative deals and free elections are feasible.
Indeed, it’s time for both sides to reckon with the realities of Iraq no matter how inconvenient to old partisan narratives. Do that and you’ll be offering change we all can believe in.
 
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