Where To Find Political Progress In Iraq

Michael Yon has another dispatch on Iraq showing where true political progress is being made in Iraq:

False advertising is afoot. I write these words from Indonesia, soaking wet, having just returned from photographing rice paddies in a pouring rain, wearing a Florida Gators shirt. That means there is a green alligator on my chest. While supporting my team, my shirt perpetuates the myth that alligators are green, when in fact they are black when wet, gray when dry.The mantra that “there is no political progress in Iraq” is rapidly becoming the “surge” equivalent of a green alligator: when enough people repeat something that sounds plausible, but also happens to be false, it becomes accepted as fact. The more often it is repeated—and the larger the number of people repeating it—the harder it is to convince anyone of the truth: alligators are not green, and Iraqis are making plenty of political progress.

There may be little progress on political goals crafted in America, to meet American concerns, by politicians who have a cushion of 200 years of democracy. Washington might as well be on the moon. Iraqis don’t respond well to rules imposed from outside their acknowledged authorities, though I have many times seen Iraqi Police and Army of all ranks responding very well to American Marines and soldiers who they have come to respect, and in many cases actually admire and try to emulate. Our military has increasing moral authority in Iraq, but the same cannot be said for our government at home. In fact, it’s in moral deficit because many Iraqis are increasingly frightened we will abandon them to genocide. The Iraqis I speak with couldn’t care less what is said from Washington but large numbers of them pay close attention to what some Marine Gunny says, or what American battalion commanders all over Iraq say. Some of our commanders could probably run for local offices in Iraq, and win. To say there has been no political progress in Iraq in 2007 is patently absurd, completely wrong and dangerously dismissive of the significant changes and improvements happening all across Iraq. Whether or not Americans are seeing it on the nightly news or reading it in their local papers, Iraqis are actively writing their children’s history.

The Iraqi Constitution is much like the original Articles of Confederation — the central government is relatively weak, and the regions are relatively strong. While Prime Minister al-Maliki holds his emergency summit and tries to get the deeply dysfunctional central government together, the real action isn’t in Baghdad but in individual Iraqi communities.

As I’ve said from the beginning, “democracy” without the bedrock of civil society leads to factionalism — and looking at the last few years, I wish I’d been stronger on that point. The temptation to rush things has always been there, and now we’re living with the consequences.

The right way to democratize is slowly and from the ground up. The central government in Baghdad is certainly dysfunctional — however, that doesn’t serve as much of an indicator as to Iraq’s overall political situation. The Sunnis walked out of Parliament not because they want to haul off an join al-Qaeda, but because the central government has been doing enough to fight terrorism. The whole point of the surge is to lay the conditions for political progress — when neighborhoods no longer have to turn to sectarian militias for their protection, the sectarian militias end up losing their popular support.

As always, the key word is patience: democratization is a process, not an event. For those who think that cutting and running is the solution, Iraq is the model for the sort of conflicts we’ll be facing throughout the 21st Century. If we establish the principle that the United States is too casualty-averse to fight — as we did at Mogadishu — future Presidents, including Democratic ones, will pay the price. There is political progress in Iraq, just not where the media chooses to look for it. We cannot abrogate our responsibilities in Iraq by leaving and erasing every bit of progress that has been made.

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