Friday, November 16, 2007
There are a couple of paradigm-shifting formulations in Stephen Biddle's latest assessment of Iraq over at CFR, enough to make me reconsider my skepticism and reticence with regard to recent reports of real progress. To begin with, he replaces discussions of sectarian violence and casualty levels with the language of civil war. In a nutshell, the Sunnis basically lost the Battle of Baghdad, realize that their broader insurgency would likely suffer the same fate, and are now ready to accept a powersharing arrangement. The Shiites, for their part, while they are not yet comfortable enough to formalize any deal (ie. oil revenue-sharing legislation), are willing to conduct themselves as if one was in place (ie. voluntarily distributing oil-revenues proportionately).
In other words, the various parties are convinced that they can they can no longer achieve a better outcome through armed conflict, which is a prerequisite for any negotiated resolution to a civil war. Biddle conditions future progress on a continued US force commitment, since it's only in the context of the security guarantees provided by an American presence that everyone feels safe enough to run the risk of trusting each other.
My sense is that there are disincentives for a return to civil war even if the US withdraws. Covert Saudi aide for the Sunnis combined with Shiite infighting could level the playing field. There are also major caveats. Biddle is a former advisor to Gen. Petraeus, and one of the major causal factors he cites in all the progress is just dumb luck.
But I wonder if the Democrats' retread war budget maneuvers aren't a little tone deaf to the major shift in dynamics in Iraq, whether real or perceived. If there's ever been an argument for giving this disaster of a policy a little time to play out for the better, now -- while casualties are down and Iran is cooperating in cutting the flow of weapons into the country -- would be it.
Instead of playing a rerun of six months ago (does anyone think they won't cave again this time?), the Democrats should instead be thinking about ways to internationalize the endgame. Try to get the UN back into the country, if only in a civil capacity. Mandate a major diplomatic campaign to internationalize the peacekeeping force. Don't just withdraw American forces. Replace them with UN Blue Helmets.
If the security situation is really as improved as everyone says, it shouldn't be such a hard sell. If, on the other hand, no one's willing to step up, it's a measure of how much Bush has isolated us within the international community, or how bad things still are over there. Or both.