So I think we agree on what the problems are and the preferred solutions, but we are not sure whether the U.S. can implement them all, given a variety of wild cards that we might discuss: (1) the autonomous Iraqi government, (2) the political consensus back home, and (3) the region as a whole
1. We didn’t just establish rule by plebiscite, as some have alleged, but rather we helped to fashion a constitution that is both transparent and independent of us. So we are in a Catch-22 situation: we deal as equals (of sorts) with a new and weak but legitimate government, but that same government has empowered, or at least been too lax with, our enemies. Our leverage, as supporters of democracy, is to threaten to leave, cut off aid, or both. But that in turn might play to those in the Shiite-dominated government, and the region at large, who would like exactly that to happen.
2. The departure of Rumsfeld, Casey, and Abizaid, along with the appointment of General Petraeus, has tempered Democratic opposition. So too, as I suggested in a previous post, has the unspoken fear that there might be a sudden turn-around in Iraq that would embarrass shrill anti-war liberals. Nevertheless, by autumn, the verdict will be in, and if things are not quiet on the ground, the polls will reflect popular frustration, and new resolutions will come fast and furious in the shadow of 2008. Our counter-insurgency efforts might take longer than five years (successful ones usually do), but in this case it will be five years or nothing—and the enemy knows it.
3. If we fail in Iraq, gone is any notion of a comprehensive program for the Middle East based on liberalization and reform, an approach that might break up the wink-and-nod alliance of illegitimate autocracies and jihadists. To salvage things in that event, the U.S. would have to galvanize regional “moderate” dictatorships and corrupt monarchies in Jordan, Egypt, and the Gulf against Iran and Syria, withdraw to Kuwait and perhaps Kurdistan, seek to pressure Israel for concessions, and in general return to the sort of realism and appeasement of the 1980’s and 1990’s, whose ultimate dividend was 9/11. I pass over in silence the effects of such a failure on the reputation of U.S. ground forces, moderate Democrats, reformers in the Middle East, and principled Europeans who supported us.
So? I think the answer is that we must constantly and without interruption go on the offensive in Iraq, militarily, politically, and economically, with the understanding that the country, the region, and the entire framework of U.S. foreign policy and American prestige now hang in the balance.
I hope there is that sense of urgency in both Washington and at Centcom, a sense that the ante has been raised and that our success or failure in the next six months will determine the course of our policy and of the region for years to come.