Play It As It Lays
It's an article of faith among many that "Iraq is lost"; that since the chance of establishing a moderate, stable country has effectively been lost, none of the Administration's efforts should be supported. Robert Novak says that the Democrats have effectively bet the farm -- and much else -- on that premise.
The self-confident Democratic leadership is uninterested in being cut into potentially disastrous outcomes in Iraq. It wants to function as a coordinate branch of government, not as friendly colleagues in the spirit of bipartisanship. Pelosi and several Democratic committee chairmen are leaving for Iraq on Friday. ... The Democratic leadership is beyond consultation on Iraq, as demonstrated by the selection of Sen. Jim Webb to deliver the party's response to the president Tuesday night. Webb, whose unexpected election in Virginia last year gave Democrats a Senate majority, is a hard-edged critic of the war not interested in bipartisanship. Discarding staff-written talking points, professional writer Webb declared: "The president took us into this war recklessly."
But whatever one may think of Iraq today, it is undeniable that the events of the last four years have fundamentally altered the landscape in Iraq. New groups have been empowered in addition to the new enmities created. There is no way back to the antebellum state. This snippet from the Canadian Press for example, contains references to current issues between political groups, none of which existed during the Saddam era.
The mayor of Baghdad's Sadr City says he has reached an agreement with political and religious groups to keep weapons off the streets of the heavily populated Shiite militia stronghold and has presented the deal to U.S. and Iraqi government officials in an apparent attempt to avoid a military crackdown on the area. ... Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has promised the operation will focus on militia violence as well as Sunni insurgents amid criticism that his reluctance to confront his political backer al-Sadr contributed to the failure of previous attempts. Asked if the Mahdi Army militia was among the groups that promised not to carry arms, al-Darraji said, "all the groups with no exception."
Those immense and irrevocable changes must compel even critics of President Bush to consider what an adjustment in strategy should constitute. And the problem is that any reasonable vision of a stable Iraq will contain many of the elements the current Administration has been trying to build: a working mechanism for reconciling the concerns of the ascendant Shi'ites, the battered Sunnis and the Kurds; some way of apportioning oil revenues; a working security apparatus responsible to all three major ethno-cultural groups in Iraq. In a summary, practically any conceivable solution requires a working Iraqi Government and Army. It requires disarming militias and neutralizing terrorist groups. How much of what has been built should be thrown away? How much of what the current administration is trying to achieve can be "safely" undermined?
Many of the administration's critics naturally long for a Way Back Machine. Some method of waking up in 2002 and persuading a nation then considering the invasion of Iraq to change its mind. But unfortunately that is impossible. Saddam is dead. His party and his supporters are scattered and their traditional enemies have been empowered. Nearly every air traveler is familiar with the concept of the Point of No Return, that calculated position in an airplane's path where it requires more fuel to turn back than to continue onward. Even those who have decided to give up on the President as a bad job and who think bipartisanship is dead must ask themselves which parts of the airplane, whose design they obviously hate, can be safely sawed off and jettisoned in flight. Because they will perforce have to rely on much of this airplane -- the past administration's infrastructure, the institutions it has built, the programs it has started -- when it assumes the control it aspires to.
And parenthetically I received an email from someone whose opinion I deeply respect which asserts that despite all that we hear, many of the people on the ground in Iraq (where he writes from) don't believe that "we are losing". That the despair is not only overblown; it is misplaced. And despite the tendency to regard such opinions as the naive enthusiasm of junior observers, there is always the possibility these men on the spot might be right. All the more reason to be careful about what America intends to jettison and what promises it plans to break.