We agree that it’s important to counter any misperception that the United States has desires for a permanent or even long-term military presence in Iraq.
Indeed, President Bush was quite clear on this in his June 28 address to the nation: “I recognize that Americans want our troops to come home as quickly as possible. So do I. … We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed, and not a day longer.” The president has made identical statements in numerous speeches over the last two years.
I just returned from Baghdad, and I did not hear the complaint that we have long-term military ambitions conveyed by any of the Iraqis—including Sunnis—with whom I met. And these were not people who were reticent about expressing their concerns. They are consumed with concerns about security, electricity, gas lines, and jobs, not our military ambitions.
But I have no doubt that the insurgents—and their apologists—worry about the timing of our troop presence or the prospect of military bases. They would view any U.S. presence as an obstacle to their objective: to turn Iraq into a regime run by some version of “Saddam” or the “Taliban.” American troops, trying to secure the institutions and the leaders necessary for post-Saddam Iraq, would be regarded as a threat to those trying to destroy these institutions and murder these leaders.
Furthermore, I do not believe that if we made even more declarations about troop presence the violence would suddenly slow down. It’s not our presence that bothers our enemies but rather our vision for a democratic Iraq and the fact that this appears to be the shared vision of a majority of Iraqis. Again, the insurgents and their supporters represent a tiny percentage of the Iraqi population.
As for your recommendation that we turn to the United Nations to assist in outreach to “credible Sunnis,” I’m not sure how the United Nations would make a critical difference with those in some of the troublesome tribes or more radical religious communities. While I welcome U.N. involvement and recognize the important contributions it has already made in the Iraqi political process, its involvement has not resulted in a dampening of the insurgency.
Recall that the process for choosing Iraq’s interim government was led by the United Nations’ Lakhdar Brahimi, an Algerian diplomat of Sunni Arab descent. His central role did not mean that the insurgency or its apologists viewed the Iraqi government with any more credibility. Or go back as far as mid-2003, when the insurgents blew up the U.N. headquarters and murdered some 20 courageous U.N. officials on the ground in Baghdad.
One separate point, Larry, about something you had raised in your second (Thursday) submission. You had talked about threats to women as a barometer for how all was not well with Iraq’s democracy. I’d like to share some additional thoughts. As you know, female representation in the National Assembly today is at a higher rate than in the U.S. Congress. This is a result of a mandate in the interim constitution and the genuine desire of Iraqi women to serve.
Such newfound political rights are not as easily reversible as you claim. A political constituency has been created in Iraq, which was exactly our intent. Once women—or any minority for that matter—get comfortable with political power, it’s not easy for Islamists to take it away without the risk of revolt.
The example being set by Iraqis on women’s rights goes beyond politics to myriad new women’s rights organizations and to women’s visibility in the press corps. There is nothing more revolutionary than an Islamist politician being grilled by an abayah-clad female Iraqi reporter under the bright lights of Pan-Arab TV cameras broadcasting to the entire region.
Sure, there will be threats from time to time to women and other Iraqis who are taking advantage of their new freedoms and trying—in the face of continued violence—to build a civilized society where power is kept in check. But despite all the setbacks and concerns that you cite, the momentum, perseverance, and progress continue to be on their side.