Wednesday, May 17, 2006

THE SCHOLAR VS. THE USED CAR SALESMAN: winning or losing in Iraq?

The Bush policy in Iraq is, to my mind still a great
big WHY?

Yet, whether we are winning or losing is debated below
by Dan Senor-- a propagandist PR man and spokesman for
the CPA in Baghdad, and Larry Diamond, the polisci
scholar specialized in democracy-building. In fact,
neither knew much about Iraq to begin with. But while
Senor spent his time inventing sophistic
justifications for his master, Paul Bremer, Diamond
learned what makes Iraqis tick. The exchange below
between Diamond and Senor, in my opinion, goes a long
way to explain why so many military and civilian US
Gov. officials, who spent years in Iraq, STILL haven't
got a clue (perhaps because they saw their job as
justifying not understanding), while academics like
Diamond seem to have grasped the essence of how Iraqis
see this war. Do you also find that Senor seems like a
used car salesman and Diamond like a doctor worried
about his patient?

I would be so greatful for the learned opinions and
analysis of members of this list. So, please, please,
please, read this Diamond-Senor exchange and comment
on it. Thank you.

Has America Failed in Iraq?

From: Larry Diamond
To: Dan Senor
Subject: We're Doomed Unless We Take These Four Steps
Wednesday, July 20, 2005, at 12:28 PM ET

Can four steps stop this?


In a number of specific respects, the United States
has failed in Iraq. We failed to plan effectively for
the postwar era. We did not put in nearly enough
troops to secure Iraq once Baghdad fell. Despite
numerous warnings, we failed to anticipate the rise of
an insurgency mobilizing both secular nationalist and
religious fundamentalist sentiments, with extensive
funding and support by surviving Baathist diehards. We
left the borders wide open to infiltration by foreign
jihadists who have come to offer themselves up for
suicidal terror in Iraq, or¡Xas we have learned
recently from a leaked CIA report¡Xto be trained for
terrorist attacks on Europe and the United States. We
didn't secure the weapons depots.

The biggest American mistake in Iraq was to have
established an occupation administration of the
country. Iraqis are a fiercely proud and nationalistic
people. By operating in a manner that was so often
arrogant, imperial, ill-informed, isolated from Iraqi
realities, and simply incompetent, we lost the
confidence of the Iraqi public, and we fed a violent
resistance that was probably inevitable but became
much more extensive, deadly, and crippling as a result
of our mistakes. Most Iraqis believe we are there for
our own strategic interests¡Xto secure access to
Iraq's vast reserves of oil and to establish a
permanent military foothold in the region¡Xnot to
build democracy.

Although America's postwar engagement in Iraq has been
badly bungled, and in this sense our stunning military
victory has been squandered, the cause of building a
more decent (and hopefully democratic) political order
in Iraq is not lost. One very positive recent
development is that Sunni tribal, political, and
religious groups have been organizing to come into the
political process; they do not intend to repeat their
calamitous mistake of January, when they boycotted the
elections and disenfranchised themselves. The Bush
administration has been right to pressure the Iraqi
transitional government to bring the Sunnis into the
constitution-making process and give them a stake in
the political future. But we need to build more boldly
on this initiative.

If Iraq is going to be stabilized, and if democracy is
to have any chance of emerging, the terrorist and
insurgent violence must be diminished. As senior
American military officers keep insisting, this cannot
be done through military and intelligence means alone.
It requires political steps as well to widen the
circle of Iraqis who have a stake in peace and order,
and to take the nationalist steam out of the

Four steps are now urgently needed. First, the Bush
administration must declare that the United States
will not seek permanent military bases in Iraq. Its
refusal to do so has aroused Iraqi suspicions that we
seek long-term domination of their country. Second, we
should declare some sort of time frame (but not a
rigid deadline) by which we think we can withdraw
militarily¡Xif Iraqi groups that are supporting or
tolerating the violence will instead help build the
new political order. Third, we need to talk directly
to the (largely Sunni) political groups connected to
the insurgency, some of which have been seeking to
talk to the United States for more than a year now.
Fourth, we need an honest broker to help mediate these
discussions and build confidence in the process. This
role could be played by a small international contact
group consisting of a high-level representative of the
United Nations and perhaps one or two of the European
ambassadors now resident in Baghdad.

Both the terrorist violence and the postwar political
mobilization have deepened ethnic tensions and
insecurities in Iraq. Ultimately, an inclusive and
federal democracy is the best way of containing these
tensions. Even if we take the above steps, there is no
guarantee that such a viable democracy will emerge in
Iraq. However, if we do not depart more sharply from
our imperial posture in Iraq, we are doomed to fail.

From: Dan Senor
To: Larry Diamond
Subject: Who Is Behind the Campaign for Failure?
Wednesday, July 20, 2005, at 5:09 PM ET

Failure in Iraq would be characterized by any of the
following disaster scenarios:

Iraqis' rejection of their democracy.
Democratic institutions scrapped by a strongman
("Saddam lite") or an Islamist radical.
Leaders drastically thrown off their political
Security training thwarted by intimidation of
A nation inflamed in civil war.
None of these have occurred. We can dwell on mistakes
of the occupation, as you and others have done. Every
successful military campaign and postwar
reconstruction is guilty of making mistakes. But these
do not always result in an overall failure to meet
strategic objectives. Yes, the jury is still out on
Iraq. Violent hurdles are thrust upon us and the
Iraqis every day. But we're nowhere near losing Iraq.

Iraqis have not rejected their democracy¡Xinstead
they've embraced it by risking their lives to vote.
Iraq's first free election did not produce a strongman
or an Islamist radical, but rather a leader who is
committed to the protections of individual and
minority rights enshrined in the interim constitution.
Iraqis have not been thrown off their political
schedule but have actually met every deadline. Iraqis
have not been deterred by the almost daily
slaughtering of Iraqi army and police
recruits¡Xinstead they continue to line up to serve in
the face of this violence. And, while there is
certainly sectarian tension in Iraq, for the most part
it is not being addressed through violence.

Indeed, a promising model for channeling sectarian
tensions has survived through all this bloodshed: the
evolution of the Sunni political strategy over the
past year.

The United States handed over sovereignty to a
government that included six Sunnis. Feeling like they
had too much to lose in Iraq's first election just six
months later, the Sunni political leadership
successfully called for a boycott. Thus, no Sunnis
were elected. But the Shiites¡Xwho won
convincingly¡Xproduced a government with about
one-fifth Sunni representation.

Some of this new momentum was lost when only two
Sunnis were chosen for the committee to draft the
permanent constitution. But the two sides soon reached
a compromise with the addition of a number of Sunni
positions and a commitment by the Shiites to approve
the new constitution by consensus only. Just this
week, two Sunni members were assassinated, but if the
last two years provide any guidance, Iraqis will
overcome this tragic hurdle, too.

You would be hard-pressed to find another political
system in the region where decisions are reached by
consensus with minorities. Sunnis are increasingly
advancing their agenda through politics rather than
violence. Every Sunni political leader I have spoken
to over the past two weeks told me that Sunnis will
turn out in large numbers in the next election.

In assessing Iraq, it is important to consider just
who is behind the campaign for failure. If Iraqis from
all walks of life were sympathetic to the insurgency,
we would be in big trouble. But the insurgency has
virtually no support from the vast majority of the
Iraqi people. It is not an indigenous rebellion of the
disenfranchised¡Xon the contrary, Iraqis recognize
that the terrorists seek to take away their hard-won
democratic gains. Unlike Hezbollah and Hamas, which
provide social welfare services and have political
wings that seek a role in local government, the
largely foreign insurgency in Iraq does not even
attempt to gain popular support.

This is not to downplay the violent, chaotic, and at
times very depressing situation in Iraq. Indeed, I
just returned from a trip to Baghdad last night and
found all these things to be true. But despite the
daily horrors, Iraqis¡Xand American troops¡Xcontinue
to overcome the precursors to failure.


From: Larry Diamond
To: Dan Senor
Subject: Was There Fraud in the Jan. 30 Elections?
Thursday, July 21, 2005, at 12:04 PM ET

The United States waited too long to incorporate the


We agree on several things. The fate of Iraq's
transition is yet to be determined, and the possible
outcomes range from democracy to civil war. It is
strongly in the American interest, morally and
strategically, to help Iraq build a democracy. That is
what the majority of Iraqis want (though they have
vastly different visions of "democracy"), and many
have risked or given their lives in that quest.

There is progress in incorporating Sunnis. But the
United States waited much too long to pursue this and
has paid a heavy price for this miscalculation. You
reflect a common misunderstanding that incorporation
is just a matter of numbers. Sunnis do not find
comfort merely because there are "six Sunnis" in the
government. The question is which Sunnis, chosen by
whom? They must be chosen by and seen to represent the
principal Sunni political, tribal, and religious
constituencies. That is only beginning to happen now.
As for Iraq today being such a model of "consensus
with minorities," why then are religious minorities,
particularly Christian minorities, so fearful for
their status? Why are Iraqi women protesting in the
streets over proposals to roll back their hard-earned
rights to equality and to impose Islamic Sharia law in
family and personal matters?

I think President Bush (and many of his officials)
wants in principle to promote democracy in Iraq and
the Middle East. But it is hard to convince people of
that when we scheme and manipulate to shape the
election outcome; when we obsess about keeping to a
fixed transition schedule, and then panic at the
prospect that the schedule will tilt the electoral
playing field to anti-American political forces.

How can the administration parade the Jan. 30 election
results as a great American triumph for democracy in
Iraq when¡Xas Seymour Hersh reports in this week's New
Yorker¡Xit tried to secretly funnel large amounts of
campaign cash to the flailing electoral campaign of
the interim prime minister we chose, Iyad Allawi?
Hersh's account raises disturbing questions that must
be answered: Did the administration (or some rogue
piece of it) proceed covertly to pour money and
technical help into Allawi's campaign, despite our
professions of faith in Iraq's democratic process and
congressional objections to our interfering in this
way? What was the scope of electoral fraud, and what,
if any, involvement did covert American operatives
have in it? We need an independent congressional
investigation to determine these answers. And we need
the Congress and the American media to exercise more
vigorous oversight if the quality of our own democracy
is not to become a casualty of our effort to "build
democracy in Iraq."

There is another way we could fail in Iraq. That would
be for the pro-Iranian Islamic fundamentalists (the
most militant among the ruling Shiite alliance) to
conquer power through political force, intimidation,
and intrigue, like the Leninists of a previous era.
That has begun to happen in Iraq, with the steadily
rising power of SCIRI (the Supreme Council for the
Islamic Revolution in Iraq¡Xso named for a reason) and
its 15,000-man militia, the Badr Organization (trained
in Iran by the Revolutionary Guards). Adding to the
danger is the growing mobilization of other militant
Islamist militias. Perhaps that was one reason why the
administration tried covertly to rescue Allawi's
campaign. It is another sign of this administration's
incompetence and duplicity that the very prospect it
has most feared has been advanced by its bungling. To
your list of possible disastrous political outcomes,
one could add the prospect of the United States giving
more than 2,000 lives, spending hundreds of billions
of dollars, and hollowing out our military readiness
so that pro-Iranian Shiite theocrats could seize power
in Baghdad.

Yes, Dan: The jury is still out. I don't know which
way Iraq will tilt. But the American public needs and
deserves a full and truthful account of what we have
done, what we are doing, and what our strategy is for

From: Dan Senor
To: Larry Diamond
Subject: Iraq's Ripple Effect
Thursday, July 21, 2005, at 5:19 PM ET

Your quest for the "right Sunnis" implies that Iraqis
are being blown up on a daily basis because the
insurgents (or their representatives) want to join the
government. This premise is backward: The insurgents
and their advocates have never wanted to be in the
government; they are against any sort of democracy and
want to destroy it.

I'm concerned that you believe that we can co-opt the
insurgency by empowering the "right Sunnis." This
ignores the potential for revolt from the Iraqi
majority¡Xfrom the very communities holding the center
in Iraq today and keeping the country's democracy on

The coalition tried a similar backfiring approach last
spring with the establishment of the Fallujah Brigade.
The goal was to transfer meaningful responsibility in
Fallujah to general officers from Saddam's army. Soon
after, however, irate Shiite leaders pointed out that
we had empowered a senior general involved in the
massacre of 5,000 Shiites in Karbala in 1991.

We need to be very careful about how we try to solve
problems in Iraq and to whom the Iraqi government
grants authority in that pursuit.

Sure, there must be truth and reconciliation if
failure is to be averted. But nothing would guarantee
failure more than immediately bringing Sunni
insurgents and Saddam loyalists to power.

What matters most is that the Sunni population¡Xnot
the insurgents¡Xsee that democracy includes them and
will increasingly represent them the more they
increase their participation in the system.

And that is exactly what is happening. Last January,
the vast majority of Sunnis took a pass on the
election. And they soon regretted that they did not
have a seat at the table. The lesson was clear: If
Iraqis want to have influence, they must vote. Better
this be the message than rewarding those Iraqis that
have been murdering their fellow citizens.

Sure enough, every Sunni leader I have spoken to¡Xmost
of whom sat out the last election¡Xexpects Sunnis to
turn out in the next election.

As for minority rights of Christians and women, I
share your concerns. While there is much work ahead in
this area, I am encouraged by something you point out:
Iraqi women are responding by publicly protesting the
government¡Xsomething that they are not allowed to do
in almost every other part of the region.

Larry, we should not measure our success based on a
handful of overzealous politicians abusing their
power. This dangerous combination of ideologues and
opportunity for corruption exists in some of the
world's healthiest democracies. Rather, the success of
Iraq's democracy should be measured by whether we have
created the space and institutions for average
citizens¡Xespecially minorities¡Xto hold their
government accountable. Iraq may not be a perfect
democracy just six months or so after its first
election. But the space for democracy does exist and
the institutions continue to develop.

And with this space and these institutions,
post-Saddam Iraq is stimulating a ripple effect of
reform throughout the Middle East that is advancing
U.S. interests.


Has America Failed in Iraq?
From: Larry Diamond
To: Dan Senor
Subject: Why Are We in Iraq?
Friday, July 22, 2005, at 11:41 AM ET

The wages of fear


You have posed really the most crucial question now:
Who is causing all this murder, mayhem, and terror,
and what do they want?

In your first response, you identified the insurgency
as "largely foreign," with no interest in gaining
popular support. Yesterday, you said, "The insurgents
and their advocates have never wanted to be in the
government"; all they want to do is destroy.

Let me be clear: I find all the insurgent and
terrorist violence morally repugnant. But we can't
succeed in Iraq unless we sharply reduce this
violence, and we can't do that unless we understand
who is waging it and why.

It is a common (if not deliberate) misperception to
portray the violent resistance in Iraq as all of one
piece¡Xor as largely foreign. The overwhelming
majority of the roughly 10,000 detainees are Iraqi,
not foreign. So are the vast majority of the
insurgents who are planting roadside bombs, killing
American troops, assassinating officials, and
obstructing the transition.

The most spectacular terrorist acts¡Xthe suicide
bombings¡Xappear to be staged mainly by foreign
Islamic extremists, like Abu Musab al Zarqawi. With
these zealots, there is no negotiating. Similarly,
Saddam's surviving top loyalists, who finance and
orchestrate much of the destruction, have nowhere to
go in the new order except jail or the gallows. These
two diehard groups must be killed, captured, or at
least cut off and expelled from where they are hiding.
But they represent only a small slice of the

These two groups are tolerated, used, and supported by
a wider circle of Iraqis (mainly, but not exclusively,
Sunnis) who wage a more diffuse violent resistance.
They represent a diverse mix of tribal, political, and
religious groups. The spinal cord of the insurgency
consists of surviving elements of the Baath Party and
former Iraqi army officers. Cooperating with them are
myriad other political, tribal, and religious
elements, many of them radical Islamists (including,
at times, Muqtada al Sadr's Shiite militia, the Mahdi
Army). These groups have sharply diverging
philosophies, but they share two key aims. First, they
feel excluded from the emerging political order, and
they want in. Second, they feel that their country is
under indefinite occupation, and they want it back.

For at least a year and a half now, representatives of
a number of the Sunni-based insurgent groups have been
signaling through intermediaries a desire to talk to
the United States and a potential readiness to end the
violent struggle through negotiation. While some talks
have occurred, these have mainly been at a low (local,
tactical) level. The Bush administration has been
halfheartedly probing possibilities and adjusting its
posture but has not yet seized the initiative.

The political steps needed to widen the political
arena and wind down the resistance have been clear for
some time, and I mentioned them on Wednesday. The
indigenous Iraqi resistance is not demanding immediate
American withdrawal. But they want a schedule by which
they can look over the horizon and see, even if three
or five years hence, a time when Iraq will be free of
foreign troops. We do not need to commit to a fixed
timetable in order to articulate some time frame by
which we expect to be gone, if those who are waging
the resistance will cooperate in building the new
political order. This then shifts the burden to the
insurgents and their supporters to rein in the
violence if they really want American troops gone. But
it also puts the burden on us to renounce the pursuit
of long-term military bases in Iraq.

Dan, why has the administration repeatedly skirted
this issue of long-term bases? Will you address it in
closing this dialogue? What are we in Iraq for: to
build democracy¡Xwhich requires not only freedom but
order, and thus a dramatic reduction of this
violence¡Xor to secure the long-term projection of
American military power from Iraqi soil, which most
Iraqis will not accept?

I share your hope for democracy in Iraq, Dan, and the
belief that it is possible. But it requires now a
dramatic new initiative from the Bush administration
to join with the Iraqi transitional government and
international mediators, including the United Nations,
in a concerted effort to negotiate with the Iraqi
resistance groups.

Some will object that this would bring Baathists into
the government, offending the Shiites. But, there are
important Shiites whose leaders grasp the imperative
of dialogue and inclusion and are now pursuing it even
with the Baathists. Moreover, if the Baathists do come
into the political game, they won't win more than a
handful of seats. A reconstituted Baath Party
participating in elections would be profoundly
illiberal in many of its beliefs and proposals¡Xbut so
are many of the parties now competing in Iraq. To
slightly paraphrase Lyndon Johnson, "I would rather
have my enemies inside the tent spitting out than
outside the tent spitting in."

From: Dan Senor
To: Larry Diamond
Subject: New Rights Are Not Easily Reversible
Friday, July 22, 2005, at 5:01 PM ET

We agree that it's important to counter any
misperception that the United States has desires for a
permanent or even long-term military presence in Iraq.

Indeed, President Bush was quite clear on this in his
June 28 address to the nation: "I recognize that
Americans want our troops to come home as quickly as
possible. So do I. ... We will stay in Iraq as long as
we are needed, and not a day longer." The president
has made identical statements in numerous speeches
over the last two years.

I just returned from Baghdad, and I did not hear the
complaint that we have long-term military ambitions
conveyed by any of the Iraqis¡Xincluding Sunnis¡Xwith
whom I met. And these were not people who were
reticent about expressing their concerns. They are
consumed with concerns about security, electricity,
gas lines, and jobs, not our military ambitions.

But I have no doubt that the insurgents¡Xand their
apologists¡Xworry about the timing of our troop
presence or the prospect of military bases. They would
view any U.S. presence as an obstacle to their
objective: to turn Iraq into a regime run by some
version of "Saddam" or the "Taliban." American troops,
trying to secure the institutions and the leaders
necessary for post-Saddam Iraq, would be regarded as a
threat to those trying to destroy these institutions
and murder these leaders.

Furthermore, I do not believe that if we made even
more declarations about troop presence the violence
would suddenly slow down. It's not our presence that
bothers our enemies but rather our vision for a
democratic Iraq and the fact that this appears to be
the shared vision of a majority of Iraqis. Again, the
insurgents and their supporters represent a tiny
percentage of the Iraqi population.

As for your recommendation that we turn to the United
Nations to assist in outreach to "credible Sunnis,"
I'm not sure how the United Nations would make a
critical difference with those in some of the
troublesome tribes or more radical religious
communities. While I welcome U.N. involvement and
recognize the important contributions it has already
made in the Iraqi political process, its involvement
has not resulted in a dampening of the insurgency.

Recall that the process for choosing Iraq's interim
government was led by the United Nations' Lakhdar
Brahimi, an Algerian diplomat of Sunni Arab descent.
His central role did not mean that the insurgency or
its apologists viewed the Iraqi government with any
more credibility. Or go back as far as mid-2003, when
the insurgents blew up the U.N. headquarters and
murdered some 20 courageous U.N. officials on the
ground in Baghdad.

One separate point, Larry, about something you had
raised in your second (Thursday) submission. You had
talked about threats to women as a barometer for how
all was not well with Iraq's democracy. I'd like to
share some additional thoughts. As you know, female
representation in the National Assembly today is at a
higher rate than in the U.S. Congress. This is a
result of a mandate in the interim constitution and
the genuine desire of Iraqi women to serve.

Such newfound political rights are not as easily
reversible as you claim. A political constituency has
been created in Iraq, which was exactly our intent.
Once women¡Xor any minority for that matter¡Xget
comfortable with political power, it's not easy for
Islamists to take it away without the risk of revolt.

The example being set by Iraqis on women's rights goes
beyond politics to myriad new women's rights
organizations and to women's visibility in the press
corps. There is nothing more revolutionary than an
Islamist politician being grilled by an abayah-clad
female Iraqi reporter under the bright lights of
Pan-Arab TV cameras broadcasting to the entire region.

Sure, there will be threats from time to time to women
and other Iraqis who are taking advantage of their new
freedoms and trying¡Xin the face of continued
violence¡Xto build a civilized society where power is
kept in check. But despite all the setbacks and
concerns that you cite, the momentum, perseverance,
and progress continue to be on their side.
Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover
Institution, advised the Coalition Provisional
Authority in Baghdad from January to April 2004. He is
the author of Squandered Victory: The American
Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy
to Iraq. Dan Senor was the chief spokesman for the
Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and a senior
adviser to Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III. Senor served
in Iraq from April 2003 through June 2004. He is the
founder of Senor Strategies.


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