Austin Bay

It's a tale of two clocks, or perhaps three. The vague echo of Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" has resonance, with Baghdad and Washington being the two 21st-century capitals, and Iraq's uncertain revolution the historical conflict.

Baghdad's and Washington's clocks tick at very different speeds. Though both are erratic, Washington's runs fast, Baghdad's agonizingly slow. Failure to synchronize will have dangerous consequences.

During a press phone conference last week, I asked Multi-National Force-Iraq's new chief spokesman, Brigadier-General Kevin Bergner, about Iraq's and Washington's variant timelines.

Senior U.S. military officers are loath to comment on questions that tread into politics, and U.S. constitutional restraints are the guiding reason. Civilians control the U.S. military. The executive branch commands it, and the legislative branch funds it.

But I cast the question in this manner: If a decade from now I were to write a history of the effort in Iraq, I'd argue the competing clocks played a central, strategic role. The "war cycle" in Iraq is not synchronized with the "political cycle" in the United States.

"Everybody accepts that there are two clocks," Bergner replied. "General (David) Petraeus has talked about it a number of times. It's just the reality, the strategic reality we are dealing with."

Bergner described coalition political and security efforts designed to create "simultaneous pressure" on Al Qaeda and create more secure conditions that would forward the Iraqi political process, to include Iraqi parliamentary steps. "I guess what I'm trying to tell you is we understand the difference between the clocks," Bergner said. Bergner argued that the Iraqis understand this strategic situation on both the political and military levels. "They want to make progress," he added. "They are not unmotivated, and they are not uninformed about the clock difference(s). Iraqi forces are concerned about it. … People here get that (the clocks are different). Most importantly, here on the Iraqi side."

Democracy attempts to resolve conflicting political visions and the political aspirations of politicians with elections. It's a tough process in times of peace, but during wartime, accusatory grandstanding has deleterious military and diplomatic consequences.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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