The editorial board of the Washington Post asks why Democrats appear to be rejecting the idea of an alliance with a friendly Shi’ite government in Iraq. While Barack Obama talks about unconditional talks with a hostile Iran, the Democrats have exhibited no enthusiasm for a partnership with a freely-elected Maliki government that has increasingly stood up to Tehran. Maliki, while assuring the Iranians that Iraq would not get used as a launching pad for an American attack on Iran, told them in no uncertain terms that the strategic Iraq-US alliance would continue for a long, long time, providing the kind of pushback against Iranian hegemony that both Democrats and Republicans say they want:
In effect, the Iraqi prime minister was saying that his country does not want to become an Iranian satellite but an independent Arab state that would look to the United States to ensure its security.
This would seem to be an obvious U.S. gain in what, according to Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) as well as President Bush, is the urgent task of countering Iran’s attempt to dominate the Middle East. It means that Iraq, a country with the world’s second largest oil reserves and a strategic linchpin of the Middle East, just might emerge from the last five years of war and turmoil as an American ally, even if its relations with Iran remain warm.
So it’s hard to fathom why Democrats in Congress have joined Ayatollah Khamenei in denouncing the U.S.-Iraqi agreements even before they are written. Critics such as Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) are professing to be outraged that the Bush administration might be forging a relationship with Iraq “that parallels the Korea-Japan history,” as Mr. Webb put it. They claim to be shocked by the suggestions of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that U.S. forces might remain in Iraq for decades without controversy if they did not suffer casualties, as has happened in Japan and South Korea. Yet the U.S. alliances with Japan and South Korea have been among the most successful in this nation’s history. While building a similar bond with Iraq may prove impossible, it’s hard to understand why Democrats would oppose it in principle.
In fact, much of the controversy over the negotiations is based on misinformation, some of it spread by Iran’s proxies in Iraq. There are claims that the Bush administration is seeking to establish scores of permanent U.S. bases. In fact, Iraq has merely asked that the agreement list the bases from which American forces would be permitted to operate. It is claimed that the deals would perpetuate the U.S. “occupation.” In fact, they would be a major step in the opposite direction, by placing American troops under the sovereignty of the Iraqi government rather than the United Nations.
If the US wants countervailing forces to Iranian ambitions, we can hardly do much better than a strong Iraq. The Shi’ite Maliki has built stronger ties with the Kurds and the Sunnis while marginalizing the Sadrist radicals over the past year. Their army has improved tremendously in the same period and looks as though they may become the most professional force in the region. Compared to the weakness of Afghanistan’s forces and the limited reliability of the Saudi military, the Iraqis look like the best bet.
So why haven’t the Democrats shown more enthusiasm? They would have to admit that they were wrong about the surge, wrong about Maliki, and wrong to declare defeat fourteen months ago. Democrats from Barack Obama down have insisted that the US should abandon Iraq as a failed mission rather than adjust to better strategies. Had the Bush administration listened to them, Iran would already be in charge of Iraq through Moqtada al-Sadr.
In fact, that’s exactly what can still happen, unless the US makes an effort to reach a quick accommodation on a security agreement with Maliki. As the Post notes, it would help if the media and the Democrats quit misrepresenting the negotiations under way now. The US is not asking for permanent bases in Iraq, but access to Iraq’s bases for American personnel. The security arrangments the US requested resemble those we have used with other nations, but we will have to adjust for Iraqi sensibilities on sovereignty, but that’s why we negotiate rather than dictate.
If we want to be serious about containment for Iran rather than fighting a war with them, the Iraqi alliance is an absolute necessity. For Democrats, who have disseminated conspiracy-theory accusations about the Bush administration’s propensity for war with the mullahcracy, they should have already realized this. The fact that they haven’t shows them to be embarrassingly unprepared for either containment or war.