Foreign Policy Blogs

The Price of the Surge by Steven Simon

A recent article by Steven Simon in the Foreign Affairs journal is quite an interesting read. It can be read here at RealClearPolitics.

The main points of the article are as follows:

  • There should be a distinction made between the Iraqi Sunni insurgents who are nationalists and Al-Qaeda members who poured in from foreign countries at the start of the US invasion. Initially it was a ‘marriage of convenience’ as Simon put it, but eventually the two factions broke off from each other. This was mostly due to the fact that AQ had hijacked the nationalist movement and advance their leadership of the Sunni movement (of Iraq) in general. When AQ created the Islamic State of Iraq to separate and isolate the Sunni movement, the Sunni nationalists balked. This political isolation from the rest of Iraq would cut them off from the oil revenues (by cutting them off from the central government) and also spur the secessionist aims of the Shi’ites and Kurds.
  • The surge, as enacted by the United States, has revitalized tribalism by empowering sheikhs and other tribal leaders. This allows them to contest state authority and therefore weakens the central government in Baghdad. The United States has not brought the tribes into the fold properly.
  • The US arming of the Sunni tribes has been perceived by the Sunnis as the US re-empowering them and restoring them to their former supremacy. Once they realize that reconciliation means different things to them than to the Kurds and the Shi’ites, they may well turn on the US.
  • “Public commitment to a phased withdrawal” by the US may draw the international community to truly help stabilize and bring Iraq forward. Such a commitment where the international community engages in multilateral efforts not overtly “stage-managed” (as Simon puts it) by the US could have the influence needed to revitalize top down political dialogue.
  • A remedial effort may be to hold provincial elections as soon as possible to to solidify tribal leaders empowered by the US and bring them to connect with the federal government in Baghdad. Most of all, the tribes must be “weaned” off of US support and have them fully dependent on Baghdad as their source of support and patronage. This is vital in subordinating the tribe to the state.

The article makes several good points, and has a good argument for troop withdrawal although it's still very risky. I agree with the point that short term stability in Iraq is no indicator of the long term or even near term future. It can be argued that the lull in violence is pretty much over as of 2008.

If anyone has scanned the great cartoon depictions of the Sunni/Shi’ite/AQ/US timeline, please let me know. I looked on the Foreign Affairs website and couldn't find them. The drawings are great visuals of how the sectarian violence has progressed and the US’ involvement in the mix.