Is Sadr calling the shots?
Three perspectives on the subject of Maliki's order to withdraw the cordon from around Sadr City. First, Jules Crittenden at the Boston Herald argues that its time to deal with Sadr and why the heck haven't we dealt decisively with him before?
On the streets of Baghdad, where the Shiites are celebrating the removal of the coalition cordon, Moqtada al-Sadr has another victory, and al-Maliki has demonstrated he is no U.S. puppet. Let them have their fun. High fives all around. For now. ...
Al-Maliki has been increasingly defiant of the United States in recent weeks. To some extent, this is to be expected. Al-Maliki must maintain his credibility with Iraqis. But his coddling of the Shiite militias goes beyond that. Maliki, as other observers have noted, senses the danger of a U.S. abandonment, and also senses that militant Shia is the ultimate source of power in Iraq. His own ticket to the future. The United States can speak privately or publicly to al-Maliki, indicate its patience is not endless and that money can be cut off. But the ability of the United States to force al-Maliki’s compliance in fighting the militias is limited, and he knows it. The United States cannot, for example, replace the elected prime minister of Iraq with someone who will do what needs to be done, without undermining a central tenet of the war, Iraqi democracy. What to do?
What should have been done long ago. Demonstrate that sectarian thuggery is not the future of Iraq. With or without al-Maliki’s cooperation, call Moqtada al-Sadr in his game of chicken. Provoke a fight with his forces, and destroy them.
Then there's Andrew Sullivan's and the reaction to Andrew Sullivan. The Confederate Yankee posts Sullivan's view and offers a detailed rebuttal.
As seems to be his pattern lately, Andrew Sullivan suckles onto one fact and uses it to fatten up a dishonest charge he cannot support:While the media is obsessed parsing the ad libs of someone on no ballot this fall, something truly ominous has just happened in Iraq. The commander-in-chief has abandoned an American soldier to the tender mercies of a Shiite militia. Yes, there are nuances here, and the NYT fleshes out the story today. But the essential fact is clear.
What Andrew Sullivan obtusely states as "fact" is nothing of the sort. ... (various arguments follow)
I think Crittenden is strategically correct, but am tactically agnostic on the subject of whether the US translator was abandoned to the Shi'ites. The emergence of an independent Iraqi government complicates and simplifies things. It simplifies things in that the US can focus more on advancing its own national interests and less on the interests of the Iraqi government. We have given them a hand, now we must give ourselves a hand. And the question is, whatever Maliki thinks of the Shi'ite militias, is it in America's best interests to see them flourish? Do they hold an American soldier and can we let them? Those are the relevant questions. And strategically the answers to those questions must be answered in the best American interests.
However, as Crittenden also points out, the men on the ground have a variety of means at their disposal. Threats, money and finally guns. As long as it is clear that an American interest is being pursued, then the men on the ground should be allowed to use whatever means they think best to achieve them. If that means giving in some directions and taking in others, then so be it. I am not against lifting the blockade per se. So long as we break America's enemies we should leave the details to the pros. The problem is that I have no positive way of looking inside the decision circle and knowing this is the intent.
There has been little detailed discussion on how to deal with the Shi'ite militias in official documents. It has the aspect of a taboo subject, along with the question of weapons smuggled in from Iran and probably the question of its uranium enrichment. The Sadr question is probably tied up with a whole lot of other things. Therefore the militias have always been treated as criminal, rather than political elements as an issue-avoidance strategy. But that fiction is wearing thin. As Crittenden says, its a problem we can't avoid for much longer. Unfortunately the answer to the question has to be much larger than simply shooting Sadr. That part's easy. It's the encore that's hard. So the question is: are we willing to see this through or not? Sullivan criticizes the decision to lift the cordon but adds, to the end of every one of his posts the injunction to 'vote independent or Democrat or abstain' and as far as I can tell, than means lifting the cordon not only around Sadr city, but moving the cordon in Murtha's immortal words, to Okinawa. What I'm wondering about now is how much of a difference there truly is between Republicans and Democrats on this issue.