I just got around to reading Tom Friedman's column from the other day about Kirkuk Iraq. It's odd in a number of ways, from his love of using jokes to make a point, to his blithe assumption that the U.S. military has "left a million acts of kindness" in the country, and his bizarre contention that Iraq is "100 times more important" than Bosnia (what is the point of a powder keg competition between the Middle East and the Balkans, anyway?). But this is what struck me most from Friedman's outlook:
Senior Iraqi officials are too proud to ask for our help and would probably publicly resist it, but privately Iraqis will tell you that they want it and need it. We are the only trusted player here — even by those who hate us. They need a U.S. mediator so they can each go back to their respective communities and say: "I never would have made these concessions, but those terrible Americans made me do it."
First, I have a hard time believing that Thomas Friedman can reliably attest to the private desires of most Iraqis (especially when he is writing from Kirkuk, but makes no mention that Kurds, who form a substantial part of Kirkuk's population, have a notably different outlook toward Americans). Second, I have an even harder time believing that six-plus years of military occupation has made Iraqis "want" and "need" more American help (something tells me that simply observing the diversity of American military personnel has not, as Friedman weakly argues, made an impression on Iraq's own ethnic politics). I don't believe for an instant that "those who hate us" trust the United States simply because it has been there for a long time.
Third, the United States is not the "only" purportedly neutral party in Iraq. The UN, I'd wager, has a lot more public support, and, more importantly, can lay a better claim to being an objective mediator. Rather than advocate what seems an entirely collapsible and unsustainable strategy of blaming concessions on "those terrible Americans," Friedman should consider the political reconciliation work that the UN already is doing in Iraq, particularly in Kirkuk, which he, again, oddly fails to mention. Rest assured that it does not involve sending Iraqi mediators home with the implicit point of blaming "those terrible" UN types.
(image from flickr user Charles Haynes under a Creative Commons license)