Saturday, September 17, 2005

From a Saudi friend: A Change of Approach in Iraq

A Saudi friend of mine e-mails his analysis of the current Middle Eastern scene to several acquaintances every week. But because he's close to some parts of the Saudi government, he doesn't put his name on these missives, lest his opinions be considered official. This is his latest, slightly abbreviated:

Many minds are preoccupied today with what to do next in Iraq. Finding a viable way out appears frustrating and intractable. Yet the most dangerous response of all would be to give in to this frustration and “make do” with the current approach. None of us has a perfectly sound vision of what should come next, but it is clear that the continuation of the American occupation has made a bad situation worse, with little hope of reversing that trend.

In the absence of clear solutions, it's tempting to opt for a wait and see policy, hoping that the Iraqi debacle will resolve itself over time. But time is almost certainly not on the side of stability in Iraq. Whatever we do, we must not give up on the idea that Iraq requires our intense and creative thinking. The current mess in Iraq is not good for Iraqis, it is not good for regional stability, and it is not good for America. There are some who take pleasure in seeing America injured and wounded. These forces should not be encouraged. America helped us get rid of a murderous dictator; now we must help Americas address the problem they face in Iraq. It is in the interest of us all—except of course the terrorists—to bring about a stable, united and independent Iraq.

The many Iraqis who are hoping for their country to hold together deserve our full support. Deep down Iraqis understand that their future is one, even if they are not quite sure what this will look like and how it will come about. Sunnis and Shia can work together, and they can both work with a Kurdish entity. We should keep this in mind when we consider our options in Iraq.

Overcoming the terrorists and securing an effective American withdrawal are of course the more thorny and urgent issues. The United States will have to withdraw eventually, and the sooner the better. The first question then is how to secure a safe withdrawal and a stable transition. Obviously the United Nations and Iraq’s neighbors will have to play a leading role.

Broadly speaking, it was clear from the beginning that Iraq’s transition would not go well without a strong role for the United Nations and the international community. Today America will finally have to come around to this idea. The circumstances have become far tougher but this does not mean that such a move should not be considered. By enlisting Iraq’s neighbors and putting together a credible UN-sanctioned force, composed mainly of Muslim and Arab soldiers, the situation can be transformed, although it remains a challenge.

America cannot abandon her commitment to supporting Iraqi unity and stability. Any international force would necessarily receive extensive material, financial and logistical support from the Americans, and indeed from the community of nations. A UN resolution guaranteeing Iraq’s unity, independence and territorial integrity should be passed, and all forces enlisted to help initiate a new phase and to stabilize Iraq.

The only thing we can be sure of today is that America will eventually have to withdraw and that this step is in fact essential to reestablishing security and stability in Iraq. We should hence apply our minds and our energies to considering how best to manage such a situation.

What we have today is unacceptable and it is threatening not only the future of Iraq, but the entire region and hence very directly the stability of the world economy. We must think creatively, reflecting on how the situation can be transformed rather than how intractable it appears. The responsibility belongs to all of us and failing the Iraqi people—and hence also ourselves—is not an option.
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