Arming The Sunnis

Anbarpatrickbazafpgetty

I can see the rationale, and it's hard to second-guess ground-operations. In general, giving local commanders the flexibility to exploit rifts between our enemies is a good thing. I wish we'd done more of it in the past, as Glenn Reynolds has consistently recommended. I'm also encouraged, like so many others, that Sunni tribes in Anbar are turning on al Qaeda. But directly arming them is a high-risk strategy, it seems to me. It's high risk because they could turn around and use those weapons against U.S. troops in a heartbeat (we're already training Shiite militias to do the same thing). And it's high risk because any sign that the U.S. is decisively siding with any faction or militia in Iraq's civil war carries the risk of alienating the other sides and factions and multiplying our enemies and intensifying their hostility. Right now, we are hated because we're occupying. But deeper enmeshment in the civil war could add two more reasons to despise us: because we're backing Sunnis or, from the alternative view, Shiites. It also strikes me that the Anbar tribes turned on al Qaeda for their own reasons and purposes. That's a very good thing - and many Sunnis, as happened in Jordan, will turn on al Qaeda eventually. I think the best approach is to let them decide this on their own and with their own armaments. Then we have a pressing obligation: to get out of their way.

(Photo: Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty.)