The latest Gallup Poll indicates that Americans continue to be deeply divided about Iraq. What’s been ignored in this bitter debate is the issue of political stability: How long should the United States stay in Iraq if the elected government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki fails to meet its commitments? Most Americans believe that while the United States should bolster Iraqi security, the government of Iraq must function on its own. The commander of U.S. Forces General David Petraeus acknowledges this: “A military solution to Iraq is not possible;” there has to be a political solution. The key to the future of Iraq is the Bush administration’s willingness to hold the Iraqi government accountable.
Accountability has been a prominent theme in the speeches of President Bush and conservative dogma. In his 2006 State of the Union address Bush observed: “Raising up a democracy requires the rule of law, and protection of minorities, and strong, accountable institutions that last longer than a single vote.” Unfortunately, Bush has not applied these standards in Iraq.
The Bush administration refuses to hold the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accountable for essential decisions: electoral reform, a formula for sharing oil revenues, control of militias, and stabilization of Iraq security forces. Writing in the New York Times, Iraq Study Group member Leon Panetta observed: President Bush “must make the Iraqi government understand that future financial and military support is going to depend on Baghdad’s making substantial progress toward the milestones Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has publicly committed to... Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, little progress has been made.”
Panetta goes on to list the specific milestones that have been missed. Many of these have to do with democratic reforms, provision for regional elections and constitutional amendments. A key issue still to be determined is regulation of the Iraqi oil industry and oil revenue sharing among the provinces. All the reconciliation issues have yet to be resolved: for example, the pending de-Baathification law to permit former members of the Baath party to participate in public affairs. There’s been no progress on laws controlling militias. And, on the vital issue of security the results have been similarly dismal; the Iraqis have not taken over control of the Iraq Army and seem unlikely to meet two key 2007 milestones: taking over civil control of all provinces and achieving “total security self-reliance.”
Rather than frame the Iraqi debate on how long our troops should stay in Iraq, it’s better to ask: When will the government of Iraq be functional? When will they be able to keep their commitments? President Bush is unwilling to view Iraq from this perspective; he continues to define “victory” as military success rather than as a function of the viability of the al-Maliki government.
Two weeks ago, the House and Senate passed military appropriations bills. The public debate focused on whether these bills went too far—restricting President Bush’s conduct of the war—or not far enough—denying funds for “surge” forces. Lost in this cacophony was the fact that these bills also call upon President Bush to hold the Iraqi government accountable for the reforms they promised.
The House Bill, HR 1591, directs the president to report to Congress by July 1 on three issues: militias, reconciliation, and “whether the government of Iraq and United States Armed Forces are making substantial progress in reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq.” By Oct. 1, President Bush must certify that the government of Iraq has met five milestones: “a broadly accepted hydro-carbon law that equitably shares oil revenues among all Iraqis;” establishment of “provincial and local elections;” new laws guaranteeing fair treatment of former members of the Baath Party; amendments to the Iraqi constitutions that guarantee the rights of women and human rights, in general; and the Iraqi government must begin to spend “$10 billion in Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects.” If President Bush finds that some of these efforts have not taken place, or if he fails to make the certification, “the secretary of Defense shall commence the redeployment of the Armed Forces from Iraq and complete such re-deployment within 180 days.”
The fundamentals of accountability are clear: negotiate with the other party in good faith; arrive at a set of measurable objectives; agree on what will happen if either party fails to keep their commitments; measure the results; and honor the terms of the agreement. The United States has negotiated an agreement with the government of Iraq. If the elected Iraqi leadership fails to meet its commitments then we have no choice but to hold them accountable and withdraw US forces. That’s what the Congressional legislation specifies and that’s what most Americans expect.
Nonetheless, President Bush remains unwilling to hold the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accountable. No wonder, because Bush is unwilling to be held accountable for his own mistakes. That’s why Congress must intervene to ensure that someone is held accountable for the tragedy of Iraq.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.