At last weekend’s Foreign Policy Initiative conference in Washington D.C., I asked Senator John McCain a two-part question. First, I asked if he was concerned about corruption in Iraq’s government.
Second, I asked him if he was aware of any efforts on the part of America to support Iraqi liberal politicians - or those who champion rule of law, free press, and human rights. These individuals, including Sunni liberal politician Mithal al-Alusi, and Iyad Jamal al-Din, a Shiite, lost big in the last election, and that they tell me this loss is attributable to Iranian meddling.
In my question to McCain I added that, in light of the sacrifices of our troops, it seems to me unacceptable to all but abandon the people in Iraq who are championing the values we have sought to nurture there.
McCain, who had just remarked that the U.S. should do more to support pro-democracy Iranians, did not directly address my question about aiding Iraqi liberals. Regarding Iran’s efforts to influence the Iraqi elections, he did acknowledge corruption, but he claimed “overall Iranian influence was not as much as we feared.”
He cited $100,000 spent in the election that could be traced directly back to Iran (my sources tell me it was far more).
He emphasized that the U.S. should encourage Iraqis to “accept their elected government,” adding, “The major challenge for this government is to prove its legitimacy.” He added that there is a “1000-year-old rivalry between Persians and Arabs” and “as Wikileaks has shown, Iranians engaged heavily in the military battle against Iraq.”
It was a great opportunity to ask questions, face-to-face (albeit as a member of the press within a large crowd) of Senator McCain, whom I’ve always respected as a champion of human rights and an American hero. I did appreciate his acknowledgment of Iranian meddling in Iraqi affairs, including the Iraqi elections. But I was disappointed that he seemed to downplay the extent of Iran’s involvement. Even his answer reflected the reality of this widespread corruption without directly acknowledging it. For instance, why, if Iraq’s government reflects the will of the people, is it now a major challenge for all parties to urge ordinary Iraqis to accept its legitimacy?
I hate to say it, but it seems as if nearly everyone - even a patriot like McCain - wants to gloss over the corruption in Iraq’s government so our troops can just get the h#@$ out of there.
After the fact, I spoke with Alusi about this and he commented that McCain’s comments are understandable. Even a well-intentioned pol like McCain may be limited, at this time, in what he can do, politically speaking, given the push to leave Iraq.
One would hope, however, that while efforts to support Iraqi democracy may be limited now, the U.S. will not abandon its truest allies in the region as a part of the drawdown. To do so would be to betray the principles that characterized the finest part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and our service members’ sacrifices.
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