Michael: Grijalva Speaks on IraqIt will come as no surprise that Congressman Raul Grijalva (D – AZ) doesn’t agree with Bush’s Iraq policy. He voted against the war and has been a vocal critic from day one. Unlike Bush, Grijalva came to his district to face supporters and critics alike and explain his position on Iraq and take questions on the subject. From the tone of the some of the questions, it was clear that Grijalva faced critics as well as curious supporters and reporters.
There will be plenty of media coverage of Grijalva’s remarks, and I am posting his talking points here. In essence, Grijalva wants to see a withdrawal of American troops within a militarily feasible time period (Grijalva suggests that 120 days is sufficient, in contrast to Rep. Murtha’s 6 months).
Grijalva’s view favoring rapid withdrawal coincides with those a growing number advocates for withdrawal among military command officers, Foreign Service officers and foreign policy and military experts. American forces are contributing more to violence and extremism than they are to stability and security. Without a massive infusion of troops that is logistically, financially, and politically impossible, that trend will not change. Therefore, withdrawal to an over-the-horizon posture is widely considered preferable. Though such a posture, which necessarily entails in increased reliance on strategic bombing, presents its own difficult ethical and political challenges.
The wild card is that the Administration concedes that it would withdraw if asked by the Iraqi government. With elections two weeks away and a Shiite-Kurdish coalition likely to form the new government, our welcome seems contingent upon continuing to help suppress the Sunni resistance. As soon as the new democratic majority no longer sees American forces as an aid to that end, or worse, a check on the low-intensity ethno-religious civil war that is building, we could well be shown the door by Iraqis themselves. The only choice we may have ultimately is to either condone ethnic cleansing or leave Iraq.
Bush’s vow to fight to the end in defense of the newly ascendant majority might itself commit America to use our military forces to assist with genocide. That sounds extreme, but it may be the logical end of our policy to build a strong Iraqi military. The only effective Iraqi military forces in Iraq are the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Shiite militias, including the Badr Brigades who are accused of running anti-Sunni death squads. These are the only likely beneficiaries of American military assistance. The entire project of training Iraqi armed forces to “stand up so that we can stand down” is fallacious, argues former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski in an interview with the American Prospect:
Q. Do you think the Iraqi army is going to be ready soon?
A. I think our course with the Iraqi forces verges on the absurd: It is all about us training them. The question arises: Training them to do what? If it is a matter of knowing how to use a Kalishnikov in order to kill other people, I think most military-aged Iraqis don’t need our training. If it is a question of training Iraqis so they behave and act like American soldiers, that’s well and good. Except that is not what is needed in the circumstances we will be bequeathing them. What is needed is motivation based on loyalty to the powers that be. That will mean loyalty to various Shiite militias with a clerical connotation and loyalty to the two major Kurdish formations. Plus, perhaps eventually, loyalty to some Sunni militias based on a tribal allegiance. The motivation is not going to be created by American sergeants who are -- quote, unquote -- "training" them how to behave like American soldiers.
By building Iraqi forces, we may only be ensuring the effective destruction of any Sunni military resistance, and ultimately the destruction of the Iraqi Sunni community itself. By defining our military and political success by the complete prostration and defeat of a religious minority, we are setting our selves up for a nasty ethical blowback. By leaving Iraq, thus removing the excuse of fighting a foreign occupation, we could succeed in bringing Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds to the table to workout a sustainable political relationship. By remaining in Iraq and blindly backing the ‘democratic majority’, we have willy-nilly bound ourselves to the Shiite cause while pushing the whole country into an increasingly violent and extremist battle with a minority which refuses to be reconciled precisely because of our military support for the majority.
The basic futility of trying to secure Iraq’s political allegiance to the aims of the American government with an occupation army is something that Congressional leaders are just not yet prepared to accept. Many still conceive of the conflict in Iraq as a ‘war’ that we can win or lose based on our tactics and strategy. Too many have allowed the debate to be framed by the Administration: withdrawal equals defeat in the war. The reality of the situation is too bitter a pill for most politicians to try to feed to the American public, and too ironic to reframe with a straight face: the Administration already lost the war, right after they won it. Withdrawal is the only way to salvage what hope is left of even a marginally acceptable outcome in Iraq. As Zbig puts it:
Our congressional leaders are still inclined to dance around the issue or to find salvation in a formula that calls for American disengagement -- but gradually and without indicating what that means in terms of levels or dates. I’m not sure that’s a wise policy. Because once you begin to draw down your troops, it’s probably better to remove them rapidly. If you scale down your presence gradually, the reduced numbers are going to be in jeopardy. Moreover, it doesn’t have the psychological and political effect of shaking Iraqis into a realization that it is their responsibility to stand on their own feet. We need to scale down our definition of success and realize we’re not going to get a "democratic," secular, pro-American Iraq. We’re going to get an Iraq that is responsive to Iraqi nationalism and dominated by a combination of Shiites and Kurds with some proportion of Sunnis adjusting to that reality. It will probably be more theocratic in character than we would like to see. But it will be a regime that responds to current political realities. I think we need to bite the bullet and leave sometime in the next year.
Grijalva similarly recognizes that the ultimate result of our adventure into Iraqi politics is not going to result in an American-style secular democratic state. Moreover, he’s realistic enough to know that there isn’t much we can do militarily to avert that outcome. Instead, he advocates meeting our obligations to rebuild the country and to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people. Retaining and restoring the goodwill of the Iraqi people is key to the future of our relationship with Iraq, not boots on the ground. Grijalva adds a key proviso that every we dollar spent there, requires a matching expenditure on human needs here at home.
I asked Grijalva what role he thought Congress would take in investigating allegations of human rights abuses, torture, and violations of the laws of war in the ‘War on Terror’ and the aggression against Iraq. To his credit, Grijalva admitted that it would be little to none. He said, “we just don’t have the balls” to take the political heat that investigating the Administration, the Pentagon and the CIA would generate. He ruefully opined that Congress had completely abdicated its oversight of national security matters over the past 4 years, and that he apparently doesn’t expect that to change quickly.
Even if Democrats recapture the House or Senate in 2006, it seems unlikely that Democrats will have the intestinal fortitude to demand accountability for all the poor decisions and failures of leadership the Bush Administration initiated and allowed. A studied indifference to the lingering shame of this Administration’s excesses seems likely. However, I hope that Democratic leaders like Grijalva will demand accountability, rather than just sweeping these vile crimes under the rug of history. Certainly, if Democrats do manage to retake either chamber of Congress next election, they should take it as a specific mandate to bring the Administration to heel on national security issues by the power of investigation and the purse.
The GOP’s public disgrace and humiliation for the Bush Administration’s many crimes, and the Party’s acquiescence and participation in them, is the only hope of finally breaking the back of the GOP’s deeply reactionary coalition and restoring a more moderate and cooperative tone to American politics. If we are unable to demand accountability for Iraq through our elected representatives, democratic government will have become a meaningless ritual, devoid of the substance of freedom: the rule of law.