A New Phase

“I’m not disparaging new ideas; I’m welcoming new ideas. [But] no one I know has come up with a silver bullet.” The words are from Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, and they strike my ears as a characteristic understatement from an administration that has for so long dismissed constructive criticism in favor of hubris and naive optimism. And yet I believe he is earnest. The unforgiving onslaught of reality has forced the administration (save the incorrigible Cheney) to acknowledge that the status quo is not sustainable and that America is losing in Iraq. (The re-think explains the rising stock of the long-ignored Philip Zelikow at State.) It is clear we are entering a new phase in Iraq.

The most notable characteristic of this new phase is that most senior voices on either side of the aisle are not calling for immediate withdrawal. Even though the Democratic Party may have a “bring ’em home” base, if you look at the statements of potential party nominees in ’08 you do not find much support for such a move. The concept is roundly rejected across the broad center of the American polity. “A pullout is not a plan, it is a reaction,” says potential candidate Joe Biden.

True enough, but hope and faith are not policies either (whatever George W. Bush might think). As such, the voices for change (now that “staying the course” has become something like a dirty phrase in the American lexicon) seem to be congealing around the idea that more pressure should be put on the Iraqi government to crackdown on the militias and, so the thinking goes, thereby calm the sectarian violence that has been ravaging Baghdad. It is undeniable that the Iraqi government under Maliki is failing but the critical question is whether this failure reflects a lack of will or a lack of capability. People far more knowledgeable than I disagree on this matter. I am not shocked to learn that the Shiites and Kurds are using the US military in such a way as to insulate themselves against having to make difficult compromises. As Fareed Zakaria outlines in a very perceptive and informative cover story in the current issue of Newsweek, “While they will occasionally say the right things, as Maliki did in his first week in office, their reluctance to fund projects in Sunni areas, or to investigate death squads, suggests they have little appetite for broader national reconciliation.”

But learning in recent months about the staggering record of incompetence that has been the hallmark of this administration’s Iraq policy, I can’t repress the more than sneaking suspicion that the US government has been grossly negligent in training and equipping an indigenous security force capable of extricating Iraq from the mire of sectarian violence that looks like it will sink this entire enterprise.

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  1. […] Amidst all the chatter that constitutes this new phase of American involvement in Iraq very little is heard about the fate of the primarily nameless and faceless Iraqis who want to live in a secular, democratic country. The status quo is undeniably grim. As Gary Kamiya writes in Salon: […]


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