This week has been a busy one, with numerous speaking events in and around the Washington, DC area—opportunities to inform both media and government officials about the Kurdistan Region and what’s happening in Iraq.
It was poetic, however, that before delivering remarks on security in our Region to an audience of defense and security experts that the President of the United States bumped me!
Shortly before arriving to the Brookings Institution, where the speech was, I received word that Barack Obama had decided to use the venue to discuss domestic jobs creation. This was an acute reminder that a president’s domestic agenda will always take precedent over foreign affairs.
Undeterred, the event—a part of Brookings Executive Educations program—moved to an alternative location not too far away.
Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute at the Department of Homeland Security, and former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations for Mission Support, Department of Peacekeeping Operations spoke before me. Following me was Strobe Talbott, President, Brookings Institution—former Deputy Secretary of State and former Special Ambassador for the Soviet Union and Russia. More than 50 experts from the government—from offices such as the Department of Defense and Army—attended.
The tone at the Brookings event, and the audience’s continuing interest in Iraq, was decided different from another event I spoke at a few days earlier—which was summed up by one of my fellow panelists, Judith Yaphe, an American expert on Iraq:
“Anybody remember Iraq? You don’t hear about it much anymore. But that doesn’t mean it’s gone away and it doesn’t mean that everything is fine either.”
My sentiments exactly.
Judith joined me at the University of Maryland’s Knight Center for Specialized Journalism for a lively discussion on the Iraq issue—much of which dealt with the place of the Kurdistan Region. I’ve known Judith for years. She’s a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the U.S. National Defense University.
Judith went on: “Iraq now faces its greatest crisis since Saddam disappeared…. This is the most critical juncture in any revolution, and what Iraq has gone through and is going through is revolutionary.”
Again, I couldn’t agree more.
The problem is that this fact isn’t being recognized as the U.S. shifts its focus to Afghanistan and leaves us with mounting challenges and wishful thinking. It is the mistake of the American policymaker to believe or expect Iraq to be stable for the sake of stability, ignoring more than 80 years of history and oppression.
Our national culture—for Sunni, Shia and Kurds—is based on insecurity, which is preventing progress. Yet, at a time when several critical issues need to be sorted out, issues that will shape the very foundation and future of Iraq, we’re being rushed through it all.
Getting these issues right is more important than dealing with them quickly. Iraq cannot be expected to turn from dictatorship to democracy in seven years, and it will take a commitment on the part of the Americans to help us see it through.
During the conversation we had that morning, this was much of the thrust of what both of us talked about. With almost 30 reporters attending from traditional and new media publications, there were plenty of great questions. Click here to see some video of the event, or to review the Knight Center’s Twitter.