The liberal media is hyping the notion that Iraq is on the verge of a civil war. It's not true. Much of the violence and bloodshed, deplorable and disgusting as it is, really represents maneuvering to gain advantage in these negotiations.
The Iraqis are dickering over the composition of a coalition/unity government. The negotiations are vital to all participants, since control of Iraq's oil revenues hangs in the balance. Just as Mafia dons might resort to assassinations to re-order the family structures, so the thugs in Iraq, on all sides of the equation, blow up mosques and kill innocent children in order to make their political points.
The current spate of violence simply underscores the truth of von Clausewitz's dictum that "war is the continuation of politics by other means."
When the French negotiate, they resort massive street demonstrations and general strikes like what we're witnessing in Paris today. When Americans negotiate, we shut down the government, try to impeach the president and introduce resolutions of congressional censure.
The Iraqis use overt violence. It's a different style, but the goal is the same: to use some variety of force to achieve political power.
How is this different from a civil war? Very different. In a civil war, the fundamental nature of the nation itself is at issue and the loser faces total destruction. Here, all sides accept the idea of a united Iraq embracing all three groups. The differences arise over issues such as the degree of local autonomy, the makeup of the Cabinet and procedures for amending the constitution.
The violence now playing out should not obscure the fundamental reality that American casualties are dropping. For the period from Jan. 1 to March 15, the Defense Department reports a 27 percent reduction in U.S. military deaths per day over last year's level.
We are, increasingly, the trusted intermediaries. It's a violent and vicious political fight but one that will lead to a government that will permit us to leave Iraq and leave it in relatively stable hands.
Unfortunately, success in Iraq is almost as messy as failure would have been. Up close and personal, seen through the eye of the news media, the killings can easily seem nothing more than clannish barbarism.
But remember what happened in Bosnia. That country faced not just a spate of bombings and attacks, but the systematic extermination of 250,000 Muslims by the Bosnian Serb Army, cheered on by Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. After the American bombing brought the Serbs to their knees, U.S. negotiator Richard Holbrooke imposed a constitution on the Serbs, Muslims and Croats that set up a tripartite government designed as much to keep the previously warring factions apart as to bring them together into a loose federation.
Few felt it would last. But it has for more than a decade. And now Bosnian, Serb and Croat leaders are getting along so well that they're scrapping the Holbrooke system and setting up a united government to further their chances of joining the European Union. This success story went mentioned in most newspapers; at best, it got buried deep inside.
And so it will probably go in Iraq: In 2015, deep inside the paper, we will read that the Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites are eliminating the controls of the current constitution to form a more lasting union. And even when the wisdom of his policy becomes apparent, George W. Bush will receive as little credit for his Iraqi success just as Bill Clinton is now getting little credit for the fruition of his Bosnia policy.