David Ignatius has the most provocative column I've read today. Ignatius has long been a sane skeptic of the long-term possibilities of the surge, for all the usual reasons. And you'd think he'd be claiming vindication. The surge's fundamental goal - national political reunification - has failed rather dramatically. On those grounds - the grounds the president himself set last January - the case for withdrawal is stronger than ever, it seems to me. But the case against withdrawal on exactly those grounds is also strong - that we will create a regional implosion, genocide and even worse chaos than the last four years have unleashed. (I'd bite that bullet anyway, if I had to, because the idea of committing over 100,000 troops to an endless occupation that is recruiting Jihadists and getting nowhere may well be worse than trying to leverage regional meltdown for our own advantage. Yes, I'm not sure that a wider Sunni-Shiite war, however unpredictable, is against the West's interests.)
But Ignatius notices the other major shift, and one that predated the surge but has been tactically aided by it. That is the Anbar Sunni Arab move against al Qaeda. This is indeed a big deal, because finding Arab Muslims willing to fight back against the Qaeda nutjobs is the key to winning the longer war. What David is saying is that the Democrats can indeed champion a version of this strategy. It would be honestly summarized thus: give up on a national Iraq solution; continue to acquiesce in ethnic cleansing and de facto partition; support each entity as long as they foreswear warring on one another; and draw down troops but keep enough to help the Sunnis keep al Qaeda on the run, and Kurdistan intact. This isn't far from the arguments of Peter Galbraith or Joe Biden. If the Dems can reframe the debate in this fashion, and seek to lead on Iraq in this positive light, they can do a service for the country.
I can certainly see the logic of, say, a five-year commitment for those limited purposes:
facilitating local stability and partition, leveraging Sunni hostility to al Qaeda, while releasing more troops for desperately needed priorities elsewhere.
The Obama Democrats have, it seems to me, been right about this war up till now. But changing dynamics can mean changing emphases and tactics. Saying "yes" to the right things now does not mean approving or legitimizing Bush's negligence and idiocy thus far. It means being responsible enough to save the country and the world from the worst consequences of his folly. Let's just say I think this is an argument worth exploring and debating further. David is thinking hard, pursuing the intimations of the current crisis. The Democrats and sane Republicans need to be thinking along the same lines. Americans know they haven't won; but they don't want an ignominious defeat either. Defining victory down is the only responsible way forward. It should take precedence over point-scoring.
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