Know When to Walk Away and Know When to Run


Thomas Friedman wants Bush to talk to America's top negotiators:

“I want you to move to the Green Zone, meet with the Iraqi factions and do not come home until you’ve reached one of three conclusions: 1) You have resolved the power- and oil-sharing issues holding up political reconciliation; 2) you have concluded that those obstacles are insurmountable and have sold the Iraqis on a partition plan that could be presented to the U.N. and supervised by an international force; 3) you have concluded that Iraqis are incapable of agreeing on either political reconciliation or a partition plan and told them that, as a result, the U.S. has no choice but to re-deploy its troops to the border and let Iraqis sort this out on their own.”

The last point is crucial. Any lawyer will tell you, if you’re negotiating a contract and the other side thinks you’ll never walk away, you’ve got no leverage. And in Iraq, we’ve never had any leverage. The Iraqis believe that Mr. Bush will never walk away, so they have no incentive to make painful compromises.

Friedman claims to believe that Bush's reluctance to do this is baffling. I'm not sure if that's just a columnists gamesmanship, but my fear is that Friedman is genuinely baffled. But here we are, over four years after the invasion, and it's time to face up to the possibility that the Bush administration's policies in occupied Iraq haven't been driven exclusively by a sincere and idealistic commitment to the well-being of the Iraqi people and the principles of liberty and democracy. Shocking, yes. But not to put too fine a point on it, it's the imperialism, stupid.

Bush won't adopt a bargaining strategy that involves walking away as an option, because he's not willing to walk away. The objective is to retain Iraq as a platform for the projection of American military power in the region, to continue a larger regional struggle against Iran and Syria, to maintain physical control over Iraq's oil resources, etc. That means Bush can't walk away and can't "let Iraqis sort this out on their own." To accomplish his objectives, the United States needs to be intimately involved in Iraqi affairs to give us leverage and prevent the possibility of the dread "Iranian influence." It's unrealistic war aims that launched this war, it's unrealistic aims that have made it last so long, and it's unrealistic aims that prevent it from ending.

Defense Department photo by Specialist Elisha Dawkins, U.S. Army