Charles Krauthammer reminds us that, in the aftermath of the Mumbai massacre, we shouldn’t lose track of the remarkable, once-in-a-generation achievement in the Middle East: ratification of the status of forces agreement between the U.S. and its fledgling ally Iraq. He continues:
Also largely overlooked at home was the sheer wonder of the procedure that produced Iraq’s consent: classic legislative maneuvering with no more than a tussle or two — tame by international standards (see YouTube: “Best Taiwanese Parliament Fights of All Time!”) — over the most fundamental issues of national identity and direction.
That any of this democratic give-and-take should be happening in a peaceful parliament just two years after Iraq’s descent into sectarian hell is in itself astonishing. Nor is the setting of a withdrawal date terribly troubling. The deadline is almost entirely symbolic. U.S. troops must be out by Dec. 31, 2011 — the weekend before the Iowa caucuses, which, because God is merciful, will arrive again only in the very fullness of time.
Moreover, that date is not just distant but flexible. By treaty, it can be amended. If conditions on the ground warrant, it will be.
True, the war is not over. As Gen. David Petraeus repeatedly insists, our (belated) successes in Iraq are still fragile. There has already been an uptick in terror bombings, which will undoubtedly continue as what’s left of al-Qaida, the Sadrist militias and the Iranian-controlled “special groups” try to disrupt January’s provincial elections.
The more long-term danger is that Iraq’s reborn central government becomes too strong and, by military or parliamentary coup, the current democratic arrangements are dismantled by a renewed dictatorship that abrogates the alliance with the United States.
Such disasters are possible. But if our drawdown is conducted with the same acumen as was the surge, not probable.
Every conventional wisdom has been turned on its head in the course of the Iraq War. And political ironies abound. The vilified George Bush did largely accomplish his goal of liberating an entire nation. A democratic regime can function in the Middle East. And there was in fact a military “solution”–one that preceded the political reconciliation. Each of these propositions was hotly disputed by the man who is now President-elect, who rose to power on the promise to end the “disastrous” war. After defeating the man who championed the successful war strategy, he will now preside, if he is competent, over a great diplomatic and military victory.
So President Obama can go wherever he chooses for his address to the Muslim world. But the most critical message has already been sent –via General Petraeus and George W. Bush. The Middle East need not be a bastion of extremism, violence, and anti-Americansim. Radical clerics don’t have the last say unless the population passively consents. There is another route, one which Muslim countries can freely choose for themselves. What more need be said?