Sanity on Iraq


We may be approaching a moment a little similar to the moment when Barry Goldwater was tasked to go to Nixon in 1974 and tell him it was over and he should resign. No, I don't mean Bush will quit if the elections are a disaster for the Rove strategy of "divide and terrify". I mean that the reality-based members of the Republican establishment, represented by James Baker, will step in and tell Bush he cannot stay in denial any longer about Iraq. All the options are grim - but the grimmest of all is the prospect of Rumsfeld, Cheney and Rove continuing their deranged idea that their "strategy" has been anything but a shambles. That's why it's so important that the GOP is given a drubbing next week. It will provide an opening for sanity. There are enough sane Republicans and patriotic Democrats to make the tough decisions now needed.

What would that mean? Almost certainly a radical redeployment within Iraq along the lines sagely laid out by Fareed Zakaria in a must-read essay in this week's Newsweek. We cannot leave prematurely, but neither do we have much chance of staying without making matters worse unless we threaten to leave in the near future. My own fear is that our only realistic option is the following, endorsed by Fareed:

There is one shift that the United States itself needs to make: we must talk to Iraq's neighbors about their common interest in security and stability in Iraq. None of these countries - not even Syria and Iran - would benefit from the breakup of Iraq, which could produce a flood of refugees and stir up their own restive minority populations. Our regional gambit might well lead to nothing. But not trying it, in the face of so few options, reflects a bizarrely insular and ideological obstinacy.

We may have to open up negotiations with Tehran and Damascus. Both regimes are despicable. But our interests in stabilizing Iraq are the same as theirs'. Call it realism's revenge. We don't have to prop these regimes up or provide more legitimacy to them than is needed to prevent mass ethnic cleansing and/or genocide in Iraq. But we are where we are. We have to rely on China to deal with North Korea; and no stability in Iraq is possible without the Iranians, Saudis, Syrians and, perhaps most critically, Jordan. Zelikow gets this. So does Rice, I think. Cheney and Rumsfeld stand in the way, as they did at the beginning. And I've become convinced that the only way to dispense with Rumsfeld and neutralize Cheney is a big Democratic victory next Tuesday.

So if you want to make the necessary hard choices in Iraq, you know what to do next Tuesday.

(Photo of Maliki: Wathiq Khuzaie/AFP/GETTY.)