[B]y this point significant damage has probably already been done no matter how (and even if) the crisis is worked out. The prospects for the March 7 election to be a transformative event heralding a new Iraq, with fresh leadership, robust legal institutions and a post-sectarian complexion now seem scant. The legitimacy of the electoral process and the independence of Iraqi institutions have been thrown into serious question among both Iraqis and the international community. Sunni-Shia resentments have been rekindled, with such polarization evidently being seen as a winning electoral strategy in certain quarters. Sunni participation may well be depressed, though a full-out boycott is unlikely. The damage is likely to me measured in increments, not in a single apocalyptic collapse.
I have long had foreboding about this, and every moment we get some good news about declining sectarianism, we seem to get a dose of cold reality immediately thereafter. I particularly want to insist that the conventional wisdom that the surge worked be measured by the criteria by which we were originally asked to judge it.
It was designed not just to tamp down violence, but to tamp down violence explicitly to create a political framework for sectarian reconciliation and cooperation. It has had some success in this, especially on a local level, but this is Iraq. It was designed by the Brits to be riven with sectarianism for ever. The cynical work of colonialism is still salient. So is the mercurial and opaque nature of Iraqi politics that most of us cannot even begin to grasp.
I therefore find Biden's recent premature bragging about Iraq to be as idiotic as Cheney's once was. History tells us that just as you believe that what Churchill called the "ungrateful volcano" is dormant, it explodes again. And every time we think some crisis has been resolved, it often turns out it wasn't. The next few months are full of potential explosions and the Beltway's shallow notion that this is an old story is not reliable. This is not over by any means. And anyone who confidently says so is a fool.
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