Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Regional peace should accompany withdrawal

Regional Peace Should Accompany Withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

Today, Al-Qaeda is fighting America in Iraq, as it fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, its home base in the 1980’s. Ironically, Al-Qaeda then was in partnership with the US fighting the Sovietization of Afghanistan. Now, an international coalition of Al-Qaeda has joined local Iraqi insurgents in fighting what they perceive as the Americanization of Iraq.

The victory over the Soviets encouraged Al-Qaeda to continue its form of “Jihad” worldwide. As the Soviet empire collapsed, Al-Qaeda next turned its aggression to the US which it now considered “satanic”, for its military presence in the Islamic world.

In September 2001, Al-Qaeda attacked the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Naturally, the 9/11 events hurt the US deeply and inflicted an emotional wound on America that generated deep and far reaching retaliation. In effect, the response to 9/11 started a third world war on the Jihadist and Jihadism.

The US attacked Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan; but instead of liquidating Al-Qaeda then, the Bush administration opened another war front in Iraq, thus diverting its attention from the source of global terrorism. As a result, Al- Qaeda was able to rehabilitate itself and continue its aggression against the US in Iraq. Al-Qaeda gained added strength by joining forces with Saddam’s retreating army, now a guerilla militia. This militia’s opposition to the US, as invader, provided the motivation for the alliance with Al-Qaeda.

Political developments in the Middle East and especially in Iraq continue to baffle the distant observers. We witness in Iraq mounting carnage, disintegrating communities and growing uncertainty of a future with no winners and no losers. Debate over our country’s future in Iraq rages on and public opinion is deeply divided.

Republicans want our troops to dig in. They argue that to stay the course in Iraq is to fight for “goodness against evil”, the “patriotic, American way.” With some validity, they argue that withdrawal risks a worsening conflict in the future. Democrats want our troops to pull out. They advocate phased withdrawal and criticize the administration’s surge strategy; yet they are not clear on the alternatives to war.

In the meantime, public patience with the war (and its partisan politics) weakens. Politicians increasingly interpret Iraq in ’08-election calculus. Legislators who are eager to withdraw troops don’t mind washing their hands of Iraq. They argue that the Iraqis need to shape up politically, to unite, and to defend their country. The US has sacrificed too much already, they say. It is “up for Iraqis to continue.”

Some Iraq-war critics reveal mental fatigue. Many call for splitting the country into three states as if the political knife can out perform the gun. In effect, this split would add three quasi ethnic/religious states -- Sunni-stan, Shia-stan and Kurdistan.

In the Middle East, US behavior in Iraq has elevated ongoing Arab political paranoia to new heights. Arabs associate the present US-Iraq strategy with the US-Lebanon strategy of support of sectarian and non-credible rulers: e.g. the ideologically divisive US troop deployment in 1958 and again in 1983. Now, as sectarian tensions resurface in Beirut, the Arab world suspects an American/Israeli plot to fragment the entire region.

The dynamics of Iraq’s civil war are confusing, but it is a mistake for Americans to label the Muslim-to-Muslim killing as a “sectarian” civil war. Though Iraqis are tribal by background they are not as sectarian as portrayed in the US media. In normal times, Iraqi Shiite and Sunni citizens were proud Arab nationals. The high rate of mixed marriage between Shiites and Sunnites is a sign of this social integration. If the dream of a just political solution were fulfilled, Iraqis from all backgrounds would be eager to make peace. Every society has some level of religious or ethnic tension; Iraq is not an exception.

The fighting in Iraq is between thugs from different religious communities, but the local war is not about religion. It is not clear to what extent the Iraq thugs participate in civilian and religious targeting. The Sunnis’ targeting of Shiites in Iraq is mainly engineered by international Al- Qaeda agents who flooded into Iraq in the wake of the US invasion. These Al- Qaeda agents would love to see the US dragged into a new war with Iran. Will today’s Washington neo-cons forgo negotiations and launch an attack on Iran and by doing so fulfill the dream of Al-Qaeda?

Going back to the debate in the US on the timing of the withdrawal of US troops, both sides have valid arguments: immediate withdrawal opens Iraq to Al-Qaeda and worsening of civil war; staying the course deepens the quagmire. To find a solution, we need to think of widening the debate beyond withdrawal guidelines or conditions.

There is need for a new strategy that shifts foreign policy from unilateralism to multilateralism, from coercion to soft diplomacy, and from moral confrontation to cultural cooperation.

I suggest a strategy of three simultaneous operations: withdrawing troops in phases, building an international coalition for conflict resolution, and organizing a regional response to simmering and explosive crises.

If Arabs and Iranians could cooperate with the US in Iraq, an orderly and phased US troop withdrawal would motivate Iraqis to find a political solution. For this scenario to succeed, Iran should be offered strong incentives to cooperate with the US in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Lebanon.

Al-Qaeda should be confronted with a stronger multi-national force at its home base. Afghanistan and Pakistan’s border areas remain the source from which Al- Qaeda receives its support, training and planning.

The strategy requires limiting US military leadership. US troop participation in Afghanistan should not be disproportional in order to allow for more American involvement in deep economic empowerment. Under NATO coordination and mixed heavy European and Arab participation, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda would have no chance to survive in Iraq or in Afghanistan.

With regional support, Iraqis would be able and willing to defend themselves against insurgents, to fight Al- Qaeda intruders, to unite across ethnic lines, and to rebuild their country.

For these measures to work, several regional peace processes have to be activated and fostered by the US and international diplomacy. India and Pakistan should energize the debate on Kashmir. A better US-India-Pakistan partnership would effectively halt the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban movements.

The continued attention to Middle East peace efforts must include Israel, Syria and Palestine. Syria and Israel are due for restarting negotiation on the Golan status; and on the Jewish normalization with the Arab community. Palestine and Israel should accelerate the talks on the two-state solution

The fixation of the debate on surge in deployment vs. withdrawal is too narrow a focus. Phased withdrawal from Iraq is necessary but not sufficient. When international diplomacy prevails the world’s Muslim community is the best partner for the US to fight Al Qaeda in its home base.

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