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The Illuminated Freefly

Foreign Relations: Maliki and the US

I have not said anything about these negotiations, but "foreign relations" is one of the things I was brought on board to write about.  So, I'd like to offer my thoughts.

There is an important concept needed to understand the negotiations -- both formal ones, and those using the press as a proxy -- between the US and Maliki on the long-term security agreement between our countries.  The real issue is not which bases we will maintain, or surrender.  It is not whether we will stay for 16 months or ten years.  The real issue is whether Iraq is a genuinely sovereign power, with the full authority to negotiate its interests as an equal with America.

It is vitally important to our counterinsurgency efforts that the answer to that question be "Yes."  In order for Iraq to survive its internal pressures, the central government must be accepted as legitimate by the people.  This is the capstone of the counterinsurgency effort, the point at which the move from war to law will be complete.

America has poured vast effort into that cause -- by helping to make sure that the constitution drafted was widely accepted, by overseeing free and fair elections, by careful encouragement of the so-called 'benchmarks,' by encouraging the upcoming provincial elections, and so forth.  We've also invested money, CERP and other funds, in order to help the Iraqi government with outreach programs in its more distant regions until its own resources came online.  We have used US military equipment to ferry central-government figures out to the provinces for negotiations, until the roads became safe.  All of this is about making the government work, for all Iraqis, so that they could trust it enough to move to politics instead of war.

There is one final matter to make it real:  our own influence.  The Iraqis must see that their government is in fact theirs.  It cannot be a puppet; it must be theirs in fact.

Here, then, is the concept:  Iraq must appear to "win" in the negotiations with the United States.  In public, Maliki must appear strong and confident, able to command even America within the bounds of Iraq. 

Greyhawk and Matt are perfectly correct that Maliki's statements in the past have always been overconfident of his capacity to ask America to leave.  It's also clear that his current situation favors a continuing presence of US allies, to continue to train his security forces in the short term; his air force in the medium term; and to provide a useful alliance and security guarantee v. Iran and others in the long term.  You can trust the man to understand these matters, but in public, he must appear strong and defiant in order to retain the confidence of his governing coalition, and the broader Iraqi public.

If we recognize that, we will come to an arrangement that suits both our peoples, and can be sustained in the long term without political stress.  Success in COIN requires a state of the type Iraq is starting to appear to be:  strong, independent, and a legitimate voice for the interests of its population.  That is how you get them to turn to politics as a way of expressing their interests.

The other thing successful COIN requires is the maintenance of popular will to sustain the effort.  "An arrangement that suits both our peoples, and can be sustained in the long term" is just what we need to make a free Iraq concrete and permanent.  This is the way to get it.  What is done in private is one thing, but in public, Maliki and Iraq must be seen to "win." 

The US does not need to "win."  This is the government we have so carefully nurtured, and at such cost.  We will win -- if they do.

[Editor Note:  Welcome Instapundit readers!  You may find the latest piece about Iraq by Grim interesting as well.]