Some quick pundit house-keeping on last week. It strikes me that there was one critical development. That was Jafaari's withdrawal from the PM slot in Iraq and the selection of Maliki in his stead. One thing we've learned from Iraq: it's obviously unclear at this point what this signifies. It has to be good news that the deadlock is broken; but it's still sobering that Maliki is expected to take up to another month to staff a government. All the reports - and I got some updates in person in London - are that each day that goes by without a national government, the power of the militias grows - and the influence of Jihadist Shiites in the South waxes. These are very hard and very dangerous trends to reverse, and could prove fatal for the prospects for peaceful self-government in Iraq. Omar is unimpressed:
[W]ill the real problem be solved by this agreement on the top posts?
I guess not because if any of the two new candidates gets to be the new PM, Iraq will - in my opinion - continue to descend for the next four years in the same way it's been doing since the interim government was installed last year. And after all, the UIA's decision to replace Jafari with al-Adeeb or al-Maliki is a solution designed for preserving the brittle unity of the UIA and not for the creation of a unity government because they know very well that the rest of the blocs were hoping to see Abdul Mahdi replace Jafaari. Maybe the UIA is twisting arms with this new nomination and betting on splitting the lines of the anti-Jafaari mass, thinking those would not be willing to prolong the deadlock by refusing the new candidates.
The NYT's analysis is here; Time's is here. One benefit of taking a breather is that I don't have to have an opinion on this stuff every day and can get a little more perspective. One thing lingers in my head, when all is said and done: Iraq was always going to be a very tough project, and, despite the criminal negligence - even malevolence - of Rumsfeld (more later), it is far too soon to come to any settled judgment on the outcome. We now look at Kurdistan as a success story. But it was effectively liberated well over a decade ago (by our no-flight zones) and endured a very nasty civil war thereafter. Moreover, in the absence of any really good options against Iran, Iraq is still the best potential lever against Ahmadinejad. If we can achieve a unified, reasonably democratic, and stable Iraq in the next few years, especially among Shiites, we will have shifted the dynamics in the Middle East in our favor - and in favor of freedom - profoundly. We will have achieved something good proportionate to the evil of 9/11. As time passes, our rage at the defense secretary (and the president who retains him) should grow. And our conviction that we must prevail - with or despite them - should deepen.
(Photo: Yuri Kozyrev for Time.)