Wednesday, July 18, 2007

We Must Say To Iraq: If You Go on Vacation, Stay on Vacation

NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who has been consistently right about Iraq from day one, finds it outrageous that U.S. soldiers will be sweltering in Baghdad's 130-degree August heat — so that the Iraqi parilament can be on holiday!

In his syndicated column published today, the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner writes:

"So let’s get this straight: Iraqi parliamentarians, at least those not already boycotting the parliament, will be on vacation in August so they can be cool, while young American men and women, and Iraqi Army soldiers, will be fighting in the heat in order to create a proper security environment in which Iraqi politicians can come back in September and continue squabbling while their country burns.

"Here is what I think of that: I think it’s a travesty — and for the Bush White House to excuse it with a Baghdad weather report shows just how much it has become a hostage to Iraq."

In the last paragraphs of his column, Friedman says that Iraq needs to decide — NOW — on one of three choices: either oil- and power-sharing; ethnic partition supervised internationally; or immediate pull-back of U.S. troops to the Iraqi border. He blames President Bush for not forcing the Iraqis to make this choice sooner.

True enough. But Bush's malfeasance does not excuse self-serving Iraqi "leaders" twidling in indecision while larger chunks of their homeland explode and thousands more die.

If Iraq's parliament goes on vacation, they have made their choice. At that juncture we need to accelerate Friedman's conclusion: "We owe our soldiers a ticket home."

I quote Friedman's closing paragraphs below. The complete column is posted at

"President Bush baffles me. If your whole legacy was riding on Iraq, what would you do?

"I’d draft the country’s best negotiators — Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, George Shultz, George Mitchell, Dennis Ross or Richard Holbrooke — and ask one or all of them to go to Baghdad, under a U.N. mandate, with the following orders:

"'I want you to move to the Green Zone, meet with the Iraqi factions and do not come home until you’ve reached one of three conclusions: 1) You have resolved the power- and oil-sharing issues holding up political reconciliation; 2) you have concluded that those obstacles are insurmountable and have sold the Iraqis on a partition plan that could be presented to the U.N. and supervised by an international force; 3) you have concluded that Iraqis are incapable of agreeing on either political reconciliation or a partition plan and told them that, as a result, the U.S. has no choice but to re-deploy its troops to the border and let Iraqis sort this out on their own.'

"The last point is crucial. Any lawyer will tell you, if you’re negotiating a contract and the other side thinks you’ll never walk away, you’ve got no leverage. And in Iraq, we’ve never had any leverage. The Iraqis believe that Mr. Bush will never walk away, so they have no incentive to make painful compromises.

"That’s why the Iraqi parliament is on vacation in August and our soldiers are fighting in the heat. Something is wrong with this picture. First, Mr. Bush spends three years denying the reality that we need a surge of more troops to establish security and then, with Iraq spinning totally out of control and militias taking root everywhere, he announces a surge and criticizes others for being impatient.

"At the same time, Mr. Bush announces a peace conference for Israelis and Palestinians — but not for Iraqis. He’s like a man trapped in a burning house who calls 911 to put out the brush fire down the street. Hello?

"Quitting Iraq would be morally and strategically devastating. But to just drag out the surge, with no road map for a political endgame, with Iraqi lawmakers going on vacation, with no consequences for dithering, would be just as morally and strategically irresponsible.

"We owe Iraqis our best military — and diplomatic effort — to avoid the disaster of walking away.

"But if they won't take advantage of that, we owe our soldiers a ticket home."

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