Wednesday, October 25, 2006

"Partisan Bickering" and Getting Out of Iraq

David Ignatius has a column in today's WaPo titled "The Hard Way Out", outlining what he sees as the two "promising paths" for exiting Iraq. The column is worth reading, if only because it vividly illustrates the inability of many "elite" pundits to think clearly about America's options in Iraq.

Here is the first promising exit path indentified by Ignatius:
The first path is a more federal Iraq -- with power devolved to the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions. But this presupposes a national government strong enough to formulate rules for, say, the sharing of oil revenue. If such a national framework existed, Iraq wouldn't be such a mess in the first place. Another tricky problem is stabilizing the Sunni areas that would be a potential safe haven for terrorists. If the Iraqi army can't control these areas, the only alternative may be, in effect, a Sunni militia drawn from the ranks of the insurgency. U.S. officials have been meeting secretly outside Iraq with insurgent leaders in an effort to draw them into such a framework. (Emphasis added)
Why does Ignatius find this path "promising," given his acknowledgment that it presupposes an Iraqi "national framework" that does not exist? What are the prospects for creating such a framework, which Ignatius recognizes is a necessary condition for the success of promising path number one? He doesn't say.

Promising path number two:
The second exit ramp passes through Iran and Syria. Talking with Tehran and Damascus could be helpful in stabilizing Iraq, but we should recognize at the outset that their influence is limited -- and that it may carry an unacceptable price. Iran's goal in Iraq is a decisive Shiite victory and Sunni submission, but that's a formula for continuing civil war -- and in any event, it's not an agenda the United States should endorse. Syria could be helpful in curbing al-Qaeda in Iraq, but there are limits and drawbacks to Syrian power -- as was clear during its long and brutal occupation of Lebanon.(Emphasis added)
So the second promising path passes through Tehran, which Ignatius says has as it central goal in Iraq a "decisive Shiite victory" that America should not endorse and that amounts to a "formula for endless civil war." And in any case we need to acknowledge at the outset that its influence is limited. How does that remotely constitute a "promising path?" Plainly, it doesn't.

Now consider Ignatius's conclusion:
The real opportunity presented by the Baker-Hamilton process is that it's bipartisan. To get most American troops out of Iraq over the next year will require more patience at home, and a lot less partisan bickering. And our politicians will need strong stomachs: They must manage an orderly retreat under fire. There is a path out of this mess, but we will be lying if we call it victory.
So, to summarize: there are two "promising paths" for getting U.S. troops out of Iraq, both of which Ignatius acknowledges are unrealistic, and what's required in order to accelerate the progress of U.S. troops along one or both of these unrealistic promising paths out of Iraq is "more patience at home" and "less partisan bickering." This is pretty incredible stuff.

Ignatius skates right by the core reality determining America's options in Iraq at this point: the United States does not have the ability to control the political outcome in Iraq, and is losing its remaining influence at an accelerating rate. The U.S. can begin redeploying troops (along the lines of the Levin-Reed or Murtha plans, or the substantially similar plan I assume Baker-Hamilton will propose after the November election) sooner or later. The main reason for beginning redeployment later rather than sooner is to give political cover to the White House and its Republican "stay the course" backers. That isn't a legitimate reason to postpone redeployment, and it isn't a consideration worthy of "patience at home". If pointing this out is "partisan," fine. Let's have more partisanship. Phony "bipartisanship" is one of the factors that made Bush's Iraq fiasco possible in the first place.

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