The Wonk's Dilemma

To return to the report referenced below on "Salvaging the Possible" in Iraq, I have sharply mixed feelings. Pollack and Pascual do a lot of analyzing of this and that, but there baseline conclusion is this:

The more time passes and as violence escalates, the harder it will be to achieve a political settlement. The United States must cooperate with regional players,
the UN and other international partners in order to create leverage over Iraqis who might rein in the militias and reach a political compromise. The chances for success are low, but this is one of the few options that has not been tried, despite the imperative suggested by international experience with civil wars. And failing to try essentially amounts to accepting civil war in Iraq.

The report goes into more detail about what they're proposing, but it's similar to Toby Dodge's implausible scenario. And reading Pollack & Pascual write about it, on some level I agree with them. As they say, probably if we made a big push for a UN-sponsored diplomatic settlement of Iraq's internal conflicts and related regional ones, etc., etc., our push would fail. On the other hand, if such a push succeeded, that would be very good. And the costs of trying for such a settlement and then failing would be low.

At the end of the day, though, the whole premise of a discussion like this is that Bush might read a Brookings Institution report and agree to a radical change in direction. That, of course, isn't going to happen. At the present day, the set of options that might plausibly occur between today and January 2009 are:

  1. Bush gets his way.
  2. Enough Republicans get freaked out that congress is able to force Bush to start withdrawing troops.

Under the circumstances, the political impact of things like this Pollack/Pascual report seem to me to be mostly pernicious. It mostly serves to obscure the real issues and choices in play. It lets people continue with the delusion that they're floating off on some worthy path between Bush and Bush's opponents. This nicely serves various people's sense of vanity and desire to avoid undue association with dirty fucking hippies, but it's every bit as detached from realities on the ground in America as Bush's policies are from realities in Iraq. Either the Bush steamroller is going to plow forward for 18 more months, or else congress is going to muster the votes to shut it down.

That said, in gossipy terms it's interesting that Pollack and O'Hanlon have responded so differently to the criticisms of their "War We Just Might Win" op-ed. O'Hanlon's basically double-down as a hawk, whereas Pollack's gone back to the relatively sensible views of his Things Fall Apart era.