Meet the Iraq War
On Meet the Press this past Sunday, Russert led a roundtable with Thomas Ricks, Richard Engel (one of the few Western reporters to speak Arabic and live in the Middle East), and Michael Gordon.
Ricks says that, like all Shakespeare's tragedies, there are 5 Acts. And Iraq has not yet reached Act IV.
Act I: Invasion
Act II: Post Saddam (Purple Fingers, CPA, Bremer, Insurgency, Casey-forward base mode)
Act III: Petraeus and Surge
Act IV: Post-surge (Baker-hamilton?)
Act V: Post US effect on the Middle East/region.
Ricks believes that Bush will draw one brigade (5,000 troops) per month from March through October of next year. That will then leave the US force back to its pre-surge levels (circa 130,000). Bush will then keep the troops I believe in surge-lite mode. Will continue the Petraeus strategy of embedding, counter-insurgency, and so-called national reconciliation.
I think only the next US president will start Act IV. Unless the Senate Republicans and the Senate Democrats agree to legislate Baker-Hamilton as the Law and force a constitutional crisis. But Reid will want timetables and the Republicans I think would ultimately punt on such a situation.
I think therefore we are looking at another 5-10 years in Iraq. This is why commentators were pointing out that the surge was not so much a surge as an escalation and further entrenching of the military in Iraq.
But as Ricks points out, all discussion should start from realization that there are no good options and every option has major dark sides that could be exploited.
Whether Bush, legislated, or the next (Dem?) Prez, if a Baker-Hamilton like position is adopted, Act IV will basically be (in Ricks' words) about 3 NOs: No Genocide; No Regional Conflict; No Safe haven for Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
And as Ricks contends that strategy will be as equally unwinnable (another Fiasco) as the current one was. For Ricks, the two most likely outcomes are the breaking up of Iraq and/or control by Sadr. But neither of those will end the violence only opening up a new phase (possibly more violent).
Moving back to bases and training/advising, fighting al-Qaeda will give space for an explosion of the civil wars. More Shia death squads, bodies on the street in the morning. So that policy doesn't work. Even a soft-partition only reduces some kinds of violence. Moving back to bases will lead to massacres/genocides.
Engel points out that Iraq will probably not just break up into three but probably something more like 5 fiefdoms. A major Shia civil war will take place between Sadr and SIIC/Hakim. Engel is also right that Maliki's gov't will fall. Not a question of if but when. And Engel predics (correctly I bet) that a series of gov'ts will rise and fall.
Engel basically calls for a dictator/strongman. He thinks new elections should be called (don't know if that is a good idea). Provincial elections which the Sunnis didn't participate in, giving the Shia disproportionate power at the provincial levels. And the US soldiers will not be happy with the return to the base model.
[Gordon adds nothing really other than the administration/military line. How local reconciliation is happeing, how the Sunni tribesman model could be a model for other groups across the country. How that would work is never explained.]
The hardline right (Hewitts of the world) are already lining up their narrative that if and when the Dems begin Act IV and the violence rises (as it will and must), that this is Vietnam all over again. The "stab in the back" from the Democratic Congress that lost the war which we were just on the verge of winning.
To combat that will require more than saying Bush got us in, Bush screwed up the post-invasion, etc. They will have to attack not the surge but the strategy of a central government. And not just criticizing al-Maliki. Levin and Clinton are too stupid to realize this won't matter and stop the Hewitt line.
Change the rules of the game. Admit that no matter what violence will occur. Admit that there are no good options left, instead of scoring cheap political points on Maliki or Bush.