Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Iraq: Prescriptions and Predictions

Great piece in Newsweek by Fareed Zakaria and well worth reading to understand not only what we should do in Iraq at this point, but also what we will do.

As I argued last week, there's a struggle right now between the architects of the war (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld) and the rest of the Republican party (anyone running for reelection; its elder statesmen, like Jim Baker). After November 7, I expect the balance of power in this struggle to tilt decisively away from the architects. The architects are frightened for their legacy; the rest of the party is frightened for its future.

"Stay the course" is dead, as even the administration admits (all the while trying to explain that by "stay" they always meant "continually adjust"). After November 7, therefore, expect to see some combination of the following options:

1) timelines, timetables, milestones -- that is, what the Iraqi government is expected to achieve, and by when;

2) engagement with Syria and Iran to find common interests in stabilizing Iraq;

3) a reduction in US troop strength, and a redeployment to garrisons, perhaps in Kurdistan.

The Bush administration has endorsed some sort of milestones already, albeit with all sorts of silly linguistic hedging (timelines are cutting and running; timetables are staying the course). A lot of smart people argue for engaging Iran and Syria, but I don't see much hope for stability in this direction. Iran and Syria know how badly hobbled we are by our misadventure in Iraq, so they have little to fear from us. As for finding common interests, a common desire to prevent chaos and refugee flows will probably be trumped by a desire to see further US humiliation.

1 and 2 give us political cover to get started on 3. Sure, maybe milestones and engaging Iran and Syria will substantively further stability, but even if they don't, we're then better positioned to say, "We've tried everything, and no longer owe the Iraqis our presence there. Their future is now up to them." Meanwhile, our shrinking military footprint offers hope of improving stability by forcing Iraqis to look more closely into the abyss they are approaching; is cheaper and therefore more sustainable; and is a step on the road to an even smaller force presence. And if or when the country really does start to violently split in three, we won't have to be right in the middle of it, with all the casualties that would entail.

One way or the other, expect our exit from Iraq to begin on November 8. Just don't expect the Bush administration to call it what it is.

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