Grassroots reconciliation: A new bogus talking point
With the Washington establishment of both political parties giving up on Maliki’s government, supporters of the surge in Iraq have launched a new talking point: if the central government cannot pull the various peoples of Iraq together, a bottom-up movement of Iraqis from different ethnicities and sects will somehow come together and agree to disagree. Or something like that. Bush referred to this strategy at a recent speech. Charles Krauthammer mentioned this strategy in his latest anti-Maliki column. Lindsay Graham elaborated a bit further:
Graham predicted that Maliki’s personal political flaws would be overshadowed by events on the ground. Breaking with mounting congressional skepticism about Iraq’s future, he said that a new momentum from the streets to reconcile, stop the killing and reject both al-Qaeda in Iraq and Iran was reaching the point that “all Maliki has to do is get out of the way,” he said.
Graham also said that the August break taken by Iraq’s parliament, which sparked deep controversy in Washington, had been a “blessing in disguise” because so many lawmakers went back to their districts and “got an earful,” he said.
What is all this talk of “grassroots reconciliation” or “bottom-up” reconciliation all about? Clearly, it’s a response to the obvious failure of the Maliki government to bring the country together. But where is the evidence that this bottom-up reconciliation is actually happening? Even Graham himself acknowledges that Sunni rejection of Al Qaeda does not mean they have turned toward support for the Shi’ite government. As the Post paraphrases him, “But the Republican legislator, who has served in the Air Force Reserve for 25 years, said the growing rejection of Islamic extremism should not be confused with minority Sunnis embracing democracy or national political reconciliation. Like Warner, he was also critical of the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.”
So where is the evidence of this desire among ordinary Sunnis to work together with Shi’ites? Where is there evidence that Sunnis have accepted their status as a minority in a Shi’ite run democratic Iraq? None of the proponents of this talking point have provided any evidence of it at all. The dishonest among them conflate turning against Al Qaeda with turning toward reconciliation with the Shi’ites. But neither Graham nor Krauthammer made that fallacious move. Rather, they’ve just simply made it up out of whole cloth it seems. Bottom-up reconciliation is even more bogus than top-down reconciliation, considering that the people most likely to accept a multisectarian Iraq have been participating in the government from the beginning on the Sunni side; and those same people quit the government in disgust at the obvious sectarianism of the Shi’ite ruling class. We’re supposed to believe that the people even more insistent that the Shi’ites are nothing but tools of Iran – or worse, infidels – are more willing to make peace with them than those who actually worked inside the Shi’ite-run government? It doesn’t pass the laugh test.
We have to remember why so many Sunnis turned against Al Qaeda. It wasn’t because of AQI’s brutality against Shi’ites. It was because of AQI’s brutality against Sunnis. Again, Lindsay Graham was explicit on this point, citing the smoking ban as an example of AQI excess (though I’m sure there was much worse). The interview with the Islamic Army of Iraq (a powerful anti-AQI Sunni insurgent group) that I referenced last week made the same reference to the intolerable life under AQI rule. The implication is clear: Sunnis have rejected Al Qaeda, but they have not embraced either Maliki, Shi’ite rule, or their own minority status in Iraqi governance. Until clear evidence emerges that the Sunni Arab street in Iraq is willing to accept a minority position in any future Shi’ite-dominated democratic government, then we should reject all Administration talk of grassroots reconciliation as wishful thinking at best, and mendacity at worse.