Baghdad Issues Watered-Down, GOP-Friendly Reconciliation Plan
Prime Minister al-Maliki issued his long-awaited reconciliation plan for Iraq today, and reflecting the reality that it was written in Washington rather than Baghdad, it was a watered down version of a plan that was leaked late this week. What really matters of course is whether or not it will work, not who gets credit for it. But this plan shows that no matter what al-Maliki thinks he has to do to get the Sunnis aboard his government, he apparently cannot maneuver too far from the leash that Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and the Bush Administration have on him.
Gone from the plan is an amnesty for insurgents who have fought the occupiers. Although I am against any amnesty for those who have killed our troops, there are many rational people on the opposite of that debate who believe that you will not reconcile the divisions in the country until you recognize the difference between fighting occupiers and killing innocent Iraqis. Although such an amnesty was in the plan being developed last week, the final plan shows that the Bush Administration pushed the prime minister to remove it, calling into question how effective it will now be on getting insurgents to lay down their arms.
But more detrimental to the cause of getting the home-grown insurgents to come aboard the government is the removal from the plan of any requirement for foreign forces to leave Iraq. This was viewed as the critical piece to get the insurgents to take the new government seriously as an independent entity committed to Iraqis, rather than an extension of the Bush Administration. Yet according to the BBC, unlike what the Times of London said Friday, the final plan says nothing about foreign forces leaving Iraq under the supervision of the UN Security Council. This is what the Times of London said Friday about what would be in the plan:
The Government will promise a finite, UN-approved timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq; a halt to US operations against insurgent strongholds; an end to human rights violations, including those by coalition troops; and compensation for victims of attacks by terrorists or Iraqi and coalition forces.
Those first two elements were stripped out by the time al-Maliki made his plan public today.
As the BBC notes today, the final plan instead now doesn’t call for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq, seemingly so as to not undermine the GOP’s fall campaign against the Democrats. As I noted Friday, it would be disastrous for the GOP on Capitol Hill and the White House to fight any Democratic calls for a date-certain withdrawal as “cutting and running” only to see the Iraqis themselves turn around and tell us to get packing. Sometime between Thursday and this morning, the Bush Administration took full control of al-Maliki on this issue, so that there is nothing in this plan on withdrawal that would undermine the GOP’s midterm election strategy. Once again, the question remains how effective will this plan be in getting the insurgents to lay down their arms if the plan suborns that issue for the sake of propping up the White House’s image to “stay the course”?
As the New York Times noted this morning, while the GOP was bashing the Democrats this week for even talking about withdrawing forces from Iraq, the Bush Administration was working behind the scenes with the commanders on the ground to plan for exactly that. General George Casey has developed a plan to withdrawal sizeable forces from the country by the end of 2007. The Bush Administration wants to control perceptions and take credit for withdrawing troops, and not be dictated to by Congress. Secondly, it is Washington and not Baghdad that is driving what happens in Iraq, for purely political purposes tied to propping up the GOP’s fortunes in the midterm elections.
This means Bush is solely responsible for the success or failure of Iraq and what happens to our troops on the ground. We can now safely move beyond any White House rhetoric about “standing down when they can stand up” or any notion that what the Iraqis want will drive what we do. The White House’s political priority to keep control of Congress outweighs what the Iraqis think is necessary to move forward. And more than ever, the “Pottery Barn” rule is in effect, and Bush’s responsibility for the (at least) 50,000 Iraqis killed is more clear than ever. Whatever is good for the GOP will be the future path for Iraq.