Saturday, November 17, 2007
Time For A Friedman Unit?
Like most people (and all bloggers), I like to think I've got a developed analytical sense and an ability to parse through news coverage. But when a day after I suggested that for once a Friedman Unit might be warranted in Iraq, I then read this and this and go back to thinking that we're just putting off an inevitable meltdown, it makes me realize to what extent the media narrative influences my perception and hence my judgment. And while it's true that everyone's entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts, it's important to remember that in this case the facts are in Iraq, which is to say, far away and hard to pin down.
The assessment I based yesterday's post on seems somewhat less authoritative when stacked up against the available anecdotal evidence of just who we're pinning our strategic hopes on in Iraq. It gave me the impression that the Sunni's taste for civil war had been bled dry and that legislative reconciliation wasn't the only way to assess Sunnis' and Shiites' willingness to share power. But the articles cited in the posts I linked to above (and others from the past few weeks) suggest just the opposite: That everyone's just waiting until we're gone to get on with the killing, and that the failure to formalize a power-sharing arrangement poses a potentially fatal threat to stabilizing the country.
I still think that if ever a Friedman Unit was worth a try, it's now, when the cost in terms of lives lost has declined and the potential return in terms of stabilizing the country has risen. But I'm really past knowing whether circumstances dictate postponing firm withdrawal dates right now or not.
One thing does seem certain, though, as a result of the Anbar Awakening. Namely, that by eliminating the real threat of Al Qaeda establishing an Iraqi base, it weakens the strategic logic for what I'd previously considered to be the best course of action: withdrawing the bulk of American forces, but leaving behind a large contingent (50,000 strong) in non-engaged outposts around the country. The choice is now clearly between a full withdrawal or a full commitment. Nothing in between seems justified.
An all-out civil war might result from a full withdrawal, but I'm not convinced by the doomsday scenario that has it spreading conflagration throughout the region. If a bloodbath does break out after we leave, the Saudis, Iranians, Syrians and Turks all have enormous incentives to contain it within Iraq's borders. That bloodbath will be on our hands, though, and that's something to consider in deciding what to do next. The question is, Will we be able to make a better decision six months from now? For the first time, I think the answer is yes.