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Bush Is Right to Push Jan. 30 Elections in Iraq

As Iraq’s Jan. 30 elections approach, a dense gloom is descending over public attitudes about U.S. prospects in Iraq. But the Bush administration is right to push for the elections to take place on time. [IMGCAP(1)]

A delay would only reward the savage insurgents who want to reduce Iraq to utter chaos. What really counts is what happens after the election — whether majority Shiites treat minority Sunnis well and whether the Iraqi security forces fight for their country.

The doomsayers were out in force last week, notably at a Capitol Hill lunch discussion on Thursday featuring two former White House national security advisers, Republican Brent Scowcroft and Democrat Zbigniew Brzezinski. Both men believe the U.S. cause in Iraq is virtually lost unless Europeans can be induced to join in the combat — a highly unlikely prospect.

The session was sponsored by the nonpartisan New America Foundation, usually a font of crisp new ideas for solving the nation’s problems. At the moment, NAF seems to be dedicated to a reversal of Bush’s “neo-conservative” foreign policy and a return to the “realism” associated with Bush’s father and increasingly favored by many Democrats.

While repairing relations with Europe strikes me as a worthwhile thing to do — in fact, Bush is scheduled to make a fence-mending trip there next month — Scowcroft and Brzezinski seem to prefer currying favor with Europeans and Arabs mainly at the expense of Israel.

In a November op-ed in The Washington Post, Scowcroft, who served as NSC chief for Bush’s father, argued that the United States “should insist that Israel stop construction of its wall on the West Bank” and not only to withdraw from Gaza, as it plans to do, but also to “evacuate” the West Bank.

Scowcroft argued that the security Israel currently derives from the fence it has built — a barrier that has largely stopped suicide bombings in Israel proper — should be replaced by international peacekeepers from Europe. It’s an idea that Israel will never accept.

Brzezinski puts the matter in even starker terms, declaring that, in the mind of the world’s Muslims, the United States has joined Israel in a “war against Islam” and that the way out is to join Europe in pressing Israel for a peace deal with Palestinians and with Iran, whose nuclear program Israel deems a threat to its existence.

Bush’s “global war on terror,” Brzezinski said at the luncheon, “lumps all terrorists together and all Islamic terrorists together. Wise strategy lies not in uniting your enemies, but dividing them.”

When I asked Brzezinski, who was Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, whether he meant that the United States should take a benign attitude toward anti-Israeli terrorists like Hamas, he said, “I don’t mean that we shouldn’t condemn terrorism,” but “let’s not universalize Islamic terrorism. … Let’s recognize there are varieties of Islamic terrorism.”

If “realism” in foreign policy means selling out an ally like Israel to curry favor with inconstant friends in Europe and the Arab world, it can’t be good. In fact, it would send a message to militant Islam: “Aha, the leader of Western civilization has lost its nerve. Terrorism pays. We’re on the march.” Fortunately, officials at NAF say they don’t support this definition of “realism.”

On Iraq, Brzezinski virtually said that all is lost and that, if Europe won’t help militarily, then the quicker the United States withdraws, the better.

To prevail, he said, the United States would need 10 years of effort, a force of 500,000 troops, expenditure of $500 billion and resumption of the military draft — costs which America lacks the will to pay.

And, the best that could be hoped for is “a Shiite-dominated theocracy, not what we would normally call a democracy.” He said independent, self-confident countries like Ukraine can become democracies, but “democracy can’t be imposed with bayonets.”

Scowcroft, too, said he thought that stabilizing Iraq would take a decade. And he gloomily forecast that the June 30 elections were likely to “deepen the conflict” between Shiites and Kurds on the one hand and Sunnis on the other, resulting in “an incipient civil war.”

He didn’t call for postponement of the elections, but, like Brzezinski, he urged Bush to ask Europe and the United Nations to take over management of Iraq so that the United States is not seen as its “occupier.”

But Bush has asked in the past and has been told “No.” A senior White House official told me that it would be a mistake for Bush to raise false expectations that his February trip to Europe could lead to expanded international participation beyond debt relief and military training.

There’s no question that, as the “realists” claim, Bush and his “neocon” advisers have set the United States on a perilous course in Iraq — going to war on bad evidence, underestimating the strength of resistance and failing to provide adequate security.

But the answer is not to pull out or even talk about “exit strategies,” which amounts to abandoning Iraq and its courageous leaders and soldiers to certain destruction at the hands of ruthless nihilists.

The elections have to go forward, with as much Sunni participation as possible. Even if violence or boycotts make that participation small, Sunnis will be represented in Iraq’s new government, and the United States should fight any charge that it is somehow “illegitimate.”

What matters then is how well the majority Shiites treat the Sunni minority that brutally oppressed them under Saddam Hussein. If the Shiites are vengeful, the country faces endless strife. If they are magnanimous, a country can be built.

As columnists Charles Krauthammer and Thomas Friedman have written, “civil war” in a sense is inevitable in Iraq: a civil war pitting Iraqis who favor stability against those who favor chaos. The whole future of the country depends upon whether the forces of stability are as dedicated to the struggle as are the insurgents.

As long as the Iraqis themselves are willing to fight for their future, the United States has to stand with them. Abandoning allies is not “realism.” It’s craven — and strategically disastrous.

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