Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Obama, Bush and the Iraq War

I recently started reading the German-language blog of German journalist Bettina Röhl, which has the catchy name of Sex, Macht und Politik (Sex, Power and Politics) and appears on the Web site of Die Welt Online.

She has been trying to poke holes in the excessive admiration she finds for President Obama in the German press. In Irak-Wahlen: Später Triumpf des George W. Bush! 02.02.2009, she suggests that Obama should thank our former Dear Leader Bush for the progress in Iraq. She praises the provincial elections that took place on Saturday and suggests that the elections are some kind of real-life rebuke to those in America and Germany - she mentions Obama, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD) und former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (Green) - who warned that the Iraq War could become another "Vietnam".

She writes that the removal of Saddam Hussein was "ein Segen für die Menschheit und ein Segen für den Irak und die von ihm ermordeten und geschundenen Menschen" (a blessing for humanity and a blessing for Iraq and the people who were murdered and mistreated by him). She goes on to say that "der Irak ohne Saddam Hussein einen erfreulichen Weg in die Gemeinschaft der zivilisierten Staaten macht" (Iraq without Saddam Hussein is making a joyous [!?!] way into the community of civilized states). She also has the impression that the results of last Saturday's provincial elections in Iraq show that "ein laizistischer Staat seinen Weg macht und islamistische Kräfte nicht mehrheitsfähig sind" (a secular state is making its way and Islamist forces are not able to win a majority).

I made comments there at her blog, which I'll recap here.

The Iraq War had two clear official purposes, specified in the Congressional Resolution of October 2002 authorizing war. (Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002) One was that war was the only remaining method of dealing with Saddam's (nonexistent) "weapons of mass destruction". The other was that the President must show that Saddam's government had a definite link to Osama bin Laden's Al Qa'ida.

Dick Cheney and George Bush made both claims repeatedly and publicly, especially on the "WMDs". Both claims were not only false but falsified.

And for that, we do have George Bush and Dick Cheney to thank.

Even disasters can have some positive consequences. But the purpose of the Iraq War was not to wage a "war of liberation" in Iraq, though Bush and his supporters were happy to call it that. The purpose was to deal with those two threats specified by Congress. Both of which turned out not to exist.

I'm happy about the Iraqi provincial elections this past Saturday. And that is also the case for all war opponents in America as also for the war's fans, I would think.

But I'm not such a great optimist as she about the situation in Iraq.

The elections on Saturday could only take place under the most stringent security measures. All private auto traffic was banned, for instance.

Political violence in Iraq has certainly not ended.

According to the early reports, the electoral participation was around 51%. High by American standards (as a percent of eligible voters). But nevertheless not an unqualified good sign.

There were thousands of eligible voters who say they were not allowed to vote. (Vote suppression isn't the exclusive province of American Republicans!)

The elections show, so it appears, greater voter support for centralist trends. But that also makes the risk even greater for conflicts between Arabs and Kurds.

And later this year comes the vote in Kirkuk over the future status of the province, which carries a big risk for conflict.

Also according to the early reports, the Da'wa Party of Nuri al-Maliki and their coalition partners have won this election. As one of the two large Shi'a parties there, Da'wa is very pro-Iran. That's not necessarily good for the Western democracies. The relative strengthening of Iran was an unavoidable consequence of Cheney's and Bush's Iraq War.

Da'wa is also an Islamist Party. Juan Cole calls it a cult-like organization. More secular parties seemed to have also done well. But it's not a stampede toward a secular state.

The provincial elections were not applause for the Americans. Cole writes, "It is not the US presence in Iraq that Iraqis are celebrating in this election but Washington's imminent departure."

I really do hope that the withdrawal of our troops goes relatively peacefully. And that things go that way in postwar Iraq, as well. But it is also realistic to recognize that new civil wars between Shi'a and Sunnis, Arabs and Kurds, Shi'a and Shi'a could develop. Regional wars with Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iran could also take place. Turkey already has a small war going with the Iraqi Kurds.

The Germans can be very glad that they didn't make Iraq into their problem. It is still very much a catastrophe for Iraq and fur the US.

Juan Cole has provided reporting, commentary and links on the provincial elections at Informed Comment posts of 02/01/09 and 02/02/09.

Bettina - or Frau Röhl, if we observe the formality her commenters did - left a comment responding to me and other commenters. She argued that her main point was not to oppose Bush-bashing or to defend Bush's Iraq policy, but rather to insist on a clear view of Obama and his Presidency. As she puts it, "Was Obama gelingt oder woran er scheitert, das hat Einfluss auf alle Menschen weltweit." (What Obama achieve or on what he fails, that has influence on all people worldwide.) True enough.

But her particular post turned on at least hypothetically accepting a view of the significance of last Saturday's elections in Iraq that is very, very optimistic.

In her post she also argues that Obama's decision to keep Bush's Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on at the Pentagon was an indication of his intention to maintain continuity with Bush's policies in Iraq. Now, I disagreed with Obama's choice of Gates. (As excited as I am about what he done so far, I'm not one of those starry-eyed Obama idolizers about whom Bettina is so concerned.) But my concern about Gates wasn't because I thought Obama intended to follow Bush's policies. I was concerned because Obama intended to pursue very different policies and that Gates might try to undermine them in some way.

As this report (Generals Seek to Reverse Obama Withdrawal Decision Inter Press Service 02/02/09) from historian Gareth Porter points out, the new Commander-in-Chief has different ideas about how to approach things than Bush. He's so far sticking to his plan of withdrawing all combat troops within 16 months.

More on those Iraqi elections last weekend:

Iraqi Election Success? Not So Fast by Michael Knights Foreign Policy Online

Elections Could be a Telling Signpost by Dahr Jamail, Inter Press Service 02/01/09

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