Thursday, July 19, 2007
Thomas Freidman gets it.
Help Wanted: Peacemaker
By Thomas L. Friedman
I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I were the parent of a soldier in Iraq and I had just read that the Iraqi Parliament had decided to go on vacation for August, because, as the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, explained, it’s really hot in Baghdad then — “130 degrees.”
I’ve been in Baghdad in the summer and it is really hot. But you know what? It is a lot hotter when you’re in a U.S. military uniform, carrying a rifle and a backpack, sweltering under a steel helmet and worrying that a bomb can be thrown at you from any direction. One soldier told me he lost six pounds in one day. I’m sure the Iraqi Parliament is air-conditioned.
So let’s get this straight: Iraqi parliamentarians, at least those not already boycotting the Parliament, will be on vacation in August so they can be cool, while young American men and women, and Iraqi Army soldiers, will be fighting in the heat in order to create a proper security environment in which Iraqi politicians can come back in September and continue squabbling while their country burns.
Here is what I think of that: I think it’s a travesty — and for the Bush White House to excuse it with a Baghdad weather report shows just how much it has become a hostage to Iraq.
The administration constantly says the surge is necessary, but not sufficient. That’s right. There has to be a political deal. And the latest report card on Iraq showed that a deal is nowhere near completion. So where is the diplomatic surge? What are we waiting for? A cool day in December?
When you read stories in the newspapers every day about Americans who are going to Iraq for their third or even fourth tours and you think that this administration has never sent its best diplomats for even one tour yet — never made one, not one, single serious, big-time, big-tent diplomatic push to resolve this conflict, but instead has put everything on the military, it makes you sick.
Yes, yes, I know, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is going to make one of her quick-in-and-out trips to the Middle East next month to try to enlist support for an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference in the fall. I’m all for Arab-Israeli negotiations, but the place that really needs a peace conference right now is Iraq, and it won’t happen with drive-by diplomacy.
President Bush baffles me. If your whole legacy was riding on Iraq, what would you do? I’d draft the country’s best negotiators — Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, George Shultz, George Mitchell, Dennis Ross or Richard Holbrooke — and ask one or all of them to go to Baghdad, under a U.N. mandate, with the following orders:
“I want you to move to the Green Zone, meet with the Iraqi factions and do not come home until you’ve reached one of three conclusions: 1) You have resolved the power- and oil-sharing issues holding up political reconciliation; 2) you have concluded that those obstacles are insurmountable and have sold the Iraqis on a partition plan that could be presented to the U.N. and supervised by an international force; 3) you have concluded that Iraqis are incapable of agreeing on either political reconciliation or a partition plan and told them that, as a result, the U.S. has no choice but to re-deploy its troops to the border and let Iraqis sort this out on their own.”
The last point is crucial. Any lawyer will tell you, if you’re negotiating a contract and the other side thinks you’ll never walk away, you’ve got no leverage. And in Iraq, we’ve never had any leverage. The Iraqis believe that Mr. Bush will never walk away, so they have no incentive to make painful compromises.
That’s why the Iraqi Parliament is on vacation in August and our soldiers are fighting in the heat. Something is wrong with this picture. First, Mr. Bush spends three years denying the reality that we need a surge of more troops to establish security and then, with Iraq spinning totally out of control and militias taking root everywhere, he announces a surge and criticizes others for being impatient.
At the same time, Mr. Bush announces a peace conference for Israelis and Palestinians — but not for Iraqis. He’s like a man trapped in a burning house who calls 911 to put out the brush fire down the street. Hello?
Quitting Iraq would be morally and strategically devastating. But to just drag out the surge, with no road map for a political endgame, with Iraqi lawmakers going on vacation, with no consequences for dithering, would be just as morally and strategically irresponsible.
We owe Iraqis our best military — and diplomatic effort — to avoid the disaster of walking away. But if they won’t take advantage of that, we owe our soldiers a ticket home.