Feature

Iraq

Will a change of policy prevent chaos?

At last'”some indication that George W. Bush "may be willing to listen to grown-ups," said Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune. For three and a half years, the president has been in deep denial about Iraq. But now that the Republicans have paid for Iraq by losing control of Congress, the chastened president has changed his tune. He has fired dysfunctional Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and replaced him with Robert Gates, a former CIA chief during the presidency of Bush's father. A foreign-policy realist, Gates was among those who counseled Bush 41 not to push on to Baghdad at the end of the first Iraq war. This week, Bush met with the Iraq Study Group, and pronounced himself eager to hear the advisory panel's recommendations for salvaging Iraq. The group is headed by another pragmatic ally of his father's, James Baker. Gates and Baker are hardly infallible, but at least our "decider-in-chief" will now get some advice based on reality, said David Corn in The Nation. "By Bush standards, this is monumental progress."

Don't get your hopes up, said Monica Duffy Toft in The Washington Post. "Iraq is rapidly disintegrating, and there is no longer anything that can stop the disintegration." Iraq's military and police forces are now seen as an arm of the Shiite majority, and cannot stop the sectarian violence tearing the country apart in an endless cycle of revenge. The central government has no real authority; Iraq is now a Middle Eastern version of Yugoslavia, hopelessly divided into hostile and armed factions. That's a reality neither Bush nor the Iraq Study Group is willing to accept, said The Washington Post in an editorial. Leaks suggest that the ISG's report, to be released after Thanksgiving, will try to preserve Iraq by calling on an international conference to devise an intervention, with neighbors Iran and Syria playing prominent roles.

Before we go hat in hand to enemies such as Iran and Syria, said Robert Kagan and William Kristol in The Weekly Standard, let's try actually winning the war. The U.S. should send an additional 50,000 troops to Baghdad to clear the "vital center" of the country of insurgents and militias. With the country stabilized, Bush could, in about a year, begin handing off responsibility for Iraqi security to the Iraqis, with some reason for hope.

More troops aren't the answer, said Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's headstrong and dysfunctional government doesn't share U.S. goals in Iraq, and is actually undermining our troops' effectiveness by siding with the Shiite militias. Al-Maliki may even refuse to implement any of Bush's new pragmatic policy changes for Iraq, if they threaten Shiite domination. "America's only real leverage is the threat of withdrawal," and we have no choice but to use it if we want Iraqi cooperation. But if we use that threat, said Thomas Friedman in The New York Times, we must have realistic goals. The very best we can hope for would require reshaping Iraq into "a loose federation" of Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni states, with a weak central government in Baghdad and a small U.N. force to police the borders of the three zones. That's hardly the beacon of democracy and Western values that Bush envisioned when he invaded Iraq. But after squandering $340 billion and the lives of almost 3,000 Americans and at least 50,000 Iraqis, Bush will have to settle for the least-worst option. "Iraq has turned into a sucking chest wound for our country'”infecting its unity at home and its standing abroad. This can't go on."

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