From the Wall Street Journal:
Varney: Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Stuart Varney, in for Paul Gigot.Now, when do you ever hear a voice like that in the mainstream media? The New York Times et al are busily making sure to dampen the positive impact of the Petraeus report in order to maintain the "all is lost" position of the Democratic Party.
As the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, prepares to deliver a much-anticipated progress report to Congress next week, many fear that military successes is some provinces are being overshadowed by political turmoil in Baghdad.
Fouad Ajami is a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins University and the author of the book "The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs and the Iraqis in Iraq." And he just returned from a three-week visit to Iraq, where he met with top U.S. and Iraqi officials.
Professor, welcome to the program.
Ajami: Thank you very much, Stuart, for having me.
Varney: Iraq is portrayed as a political failure. No accommodation between Sunni and Shia, a government that has not brought together all of the warring factions. Your opinion on that?
Ajami: This is the American perception of Iraq. We think that this is a hopeless land. We think that this is, all our sacrifices have been in vain. There's a kind of consensus, this is the shape of the Iraqi order of things. And Prime Minister Maliki is someone Americans don't know. He speaks not a word of English. He has no access to the United States. So we exaggerate the failure in Iraq.
Here is, if you will, the general sweep of things. For one, the Sunni Arabs have turned away from the insurgency, have turned away from al Qaeda, and we can talk about this. There have been gains in the Anbar province, which was a lost province; now it's been retrieved. So there is a turning away from the insurgency by the Sunni Arabs. And there's a change in the Shia order of things, where the young brigand Moqtada al-Sadr is really on the fringe of things.
Varney: But are Sunni and Shia getting together politically? Is there any form of consensus between them we can claim as a political success in Baghdad?
Ajami: That's a hard one, because in fact, as the prime minister of Iraq himself said at one point something really, I think, very descriptive and very telling. He said Iraqis are not living in the same time period in some way. For the Kurds, it's a time of taking. For the Shia Arabs it's a time of restitution, for the things they were due. For the Sunni Arabs it's a sense of loss and a time of loss.
But by and large we should not really exaggerate the impasse between the Sunnis and Shiites. Sunnis are part of the government. Sunnis are part of the political game. And money from the central government is going to these Sunni provinces. And the Sunnis are beginning to understand that al Qaeda and the insurgency and the armed--and the carrying of guns has really brought them no gains.
Varney: The Sunnis are always going to be a minority--
Varney: --in Iraq in terms of just numbers.
Varney: They used to be in power--
Varney: --exercising majority power, in fact.
Varney: Have they gotten used to the fact that they are a permanent minority?
Ajami: That's a good question. I think it's--they're beginning to accept it. See, because the Sunnis have a legend. The Sunni Arabs in Iraq have a legend that they are 42% of the population. And like all legends, it has to be precise. It can't be 40%; it has to be 42%. But gradually it's dawning on them that they are a minority in the country, that the age of Sunni supremacy is gone, and that the Arabs beyond Iraq--this is really of tremendous importance--that the Arabs beyond Iraq, the Jordanians, the Egyptian, the Saudis, the Gulf Arabs, will not ride to their rescue. That no cavalry is coming from the Arab world.
Varney: Is your position that there is political progress in Baghdad? We must give it time to come to fruition?
Ajami: As the man said, it's my story; I'm sticking to it. There is a sense of Iraqi nationalism. That great soccer victory by the Iraqis over the Saudis told the story. There is really a sense of Iraqi nationalism, and even in Kurdistan. People tell you that the Kurds want out of Iraq. They really don't want out of Iraq. They want a fair measure of autonomy. They want claims on the central treasury. So here is Iraq--it's held by the sense of nationalism, and it's held by the fact that this is a country that lives off oil income.
Varney: Yeah, but how long do we have to wait in America? There's a sense of frustration. Get on with it. Make an agreement about the division of oil revenues.
Ajami: Of course.
Varney: How long do we have to wait?
Ajami: Well, I think this is it. There has been--you know, America is not a terribly patient country.
Ajami: I mean, we are not we are used to all things being fast, from food to other things in life. And the Iraqi clock, the Iraqi calendar, is very different. We are rightly impatient with the Iraqis. We are rightly disappointed in the political progress and the pace of the political progress, but we should grant them the credit for what they have done.
We should also understand that they have been trying to run this country, they have been trying to build a political order in the midst of an insurgency and in the midst of a hostile Arab setting, when Saudis, Jordanians, Egyptians, Yemenis, people as far away as North Africa cross to Iraq bearing guns, bearing money, to commit deeds of suicide against both the Iraqis and the Americans. It's not easy.
Varney: I have heard talk a fatwa is going to be issued by leading Sunni and Shia clerics, including Ali Sistani, that that fatwa would be against violence, against terrorism, which would be an enormous political and theological step forward. Is that going to happen?
Ajami: No, you're absolutely right. At any rate, Sistani has always issued fatwas against violence. I mean, I happen to be, maybe, perhaps--I don't want to say I am the only American citizen who's seen them. I may be--
Varney: But he's not been joined by Sunni clerics, has he?
Ajami: They are coming around. They are beginning to understand. For example, during that bombing of the Golden Dome in Samarra in February of 2006, the Sunni clerics refused to condemn the bombing and insisted that it was an Iranian plot. Now they understand that they have carried violence too far and they have begun to step back from the brink. I talk to many Sunni clerics who understand that religion has been sullied there and has become an instrument for violence.
Varney: If I may, I would like to conclude with a personal question, if you don't mind, professor.
Varney: You're a Middle Easterner. You're a professor at a major university. You are vigorously pro-American. You take the American position in Iraq.
What's the reaction of your colleagues and friends and acquaintances personally to you as a pro-American Middle Easterner?
Ajami: I am not only pro American but I also have this odd, if you will, background. I am also a Shia. And in fact, when you go to Iraq, people are very, very pro-American. A university went up recently in Kurdistan, in Sulaymaniyah. I am on the board of trustees of this university. It's an American university with an American curriculum, and guess what the selling point is? The word American University of Iraq in Sulaymaniyah.
Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq, was asked, he said, What's the secret of the success in Kurdistan? He was asked by people in Anbar. And his answer was alliance with the United States. America is immensely popular in Iraq.
A man we bumped into on the streets of Baghdad looking at his car--dirty, dusty, old--he said, "Perhaps the Americans can get me a new car, because they can do everything."
Varney: That, sir, is breaking news.
Varney: Prof. Fouad Ajami, thanks very much for joining us.
Ajami: Thank you very much.
The fact is that remarkable achievements are taking place. Finally. There's no doubt that the United States prosecuted a successful war to remove Saddam Hussein. Job done. The huge mistake, which will have consequences for generations to come, was the "light footprint" approach to dealing with the aftermath of the war. It was clearly a mistake, as it allowed nations in the region, and especially Iran, to build significant influence that is now shown to be the major source of deaths of coalition forces.
Is there political progress? Of course there is - particularly in the Sunni regions such as Anbar (the largest region of Iraq) where tribal leaders have turned against Al Qaeda, with whom they were formerly aligned, and joined forces with the United States.
Is the fact that there's less political progress in Baghdad than desired less than ideal? Probably. It's a bad analogy but it's worth remembering that even countries like Italy have a chequered history in that regard. Chalk the positives up in the plus column and work on fixing the negatives. That's how progress is made.
How long will it take for Iraq to emerge as a solid, stable nation on the world's stage? Probably twenty years.