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August 28, 2007

One Last Chance for Iraq?

Dennis Ross offers us "one last chance for a stable Iraq," but doesn't produce anything of the sort:

we should do three things. First, we should declare the surge a success and announce that we will negotiate a timetable for our withdrawal with the Iraqi government. This would give Iraqis input into the timing and shape of the withdrawal and doesn't simply impose it on them. Second, we should set a date for the convening of a national reconciliation conference. Unlike previous such conferences, it should not be permitted to disband until agreement has been reached. Success in this conference would mean greater flexibility in our approach to the timetable on withdrawal, and a stalemated conference would produce the opposite. To increase the prospects of the conference working, we should suggest that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who has credibility across sectarian lines, play a brokering role in setting the agenda of the conference and its ongoing negotiations.

Finally, we should talk to Iraq's neighbors about how to contain the conflict. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Syria, and Turkey all have little desire to see Iraq either fragment or be convulsed to the point that they get increasingly sucked into the conflict. I have my doubts about whether the neighbors will ever agree on what they want for Iraq, but they can agree on what they fear about it.

That seems like a not-bad way of getting out of Iraq. Insofar as you need to leave with some level of rearguard flexibility and some type of plan that protects you from cut-and-run accusations, Ross's approach -- or retreat, I guess -- seems perfectly adequate.

But there's nothing in here -- genuinely, literally nothing -- that suggests any solution to the problems bedeviling that country. Nothing in here proposes a solution to the intra-Shiite fighting, and the battle between Sadr's Mahdi Army and the Badr Corps. Nothing in here solves the more serious problems of enduring enmity between Sunnis and Shiites. Nothing in here splits oil revenues, or disarms militias, or does anything at all. There's a promise to lock all the participants -- and I wonder who Roos means by that -- in a room and demand national reconciliation, but if it were really as easy as this McCain style "cut the bullshit," it would've been don already. This is the language and atmospherics of statecraft without an actual plan for resolving differences. That's probably a good idea for withdrawal. But it's not going to leave us a stable Iraq. If the only problem in that country were that no one had sought to hold a meeting, this issue would be considerably easier than it actually is.

Incidentally, Joe Klein's column this week is really very good on these issues...

August 28, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Agreed - except doesn't any kind of real reconciliation have to inherently come from Iraqis at this point?

It's all well and good to propose solutions at this point, but if they're not coming from credible sources (the author mentions Koucher), he (and Klein) can scream the most brilliant ideas all day, but they need to be brought from the right quarters.

Posted by: Byrd | Aug 28, 2007 8:33:12 AM

Dennis Ross offers us "one last chance for a stable Iraq," but doesn't produce anything of the sort... That seems like a not-bad way of getting out of Iraq.

Isn't that the brilliance of it? Politicians (and pundits) love to be able to say that this or that plan is the "last chance for Iraq." So if you can convince them to implement such a "last chance to save Iraq" plan which, by its nature, involves removing troops, which everyone is afraid to do, then you've left Iraq under the cover of "a bold new plan to save Iraq," which everyone wants to support.

Posted by: Tyro | Aug 28, 2007 8:36:14 AM

Right, it's a plan for withdrawal.

One interesting thing about the Iraq debate, now that I think about it, is that the Bushite narrative of "cut'n'run" could rebound badly against them as Democrats are able to paint their withdrawal plans, such as Ross's here, as "fixing Iraq" because the Republicans have wasted so much effort and media capital in depicting withdrawal as a sudden airlift of all troops in in the course of one afternoon.

The situation in Iraq isn't fixable, obviously. But time stabilizes things. Lebanon found some level of peace after several years of civil war, for instance. What things like a national conference do is stall, keep people talking and prevent some level of killing, while waiting out the march of time. That's the best we can hope for. It won't provide a solution, but it won't make things worse.

Posted by: DivGuy | Aug 28, 2007 9:04:47 AM

Fighting is a process for "resolving differences" and the referee never "wins" the game.

The rhetorical frame that suggests that "reconciliation" of the "sectarian" disputes is possible -- as if the chaotic civil war in Iraq is just a feud among neighbors -- is, itself, idiotic, and ignores most of the major factors driving violence, including the completely devastated social and economic structures of the country.

The U.S. cannot have a nice, neat withdrawal plan, because Bush is President. Bush created the chaos in Iraq, by his ill-advised invasion and his corrupt and incompetent occupation and reconstruction. He is not capable of executing even a minimally sensible withdrawal. It will have to be done, by a Democrat in 2009, or, if sooner, on a rigid timetable fixed by Congress.

The only policy choice open for discussion is whether a Democratic President conducts the withdrawal in 2009, or whether the benefit of sooner justifies a rigid and clumsy withdrawal.

Personally, I favor sooner.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Aug 28, 2007 11:04:02 AM

Joe Klein's reporting and commentary on Iraq has been very, very good lately.

And his explanation that the O'Hanlon/Pollack article "had the impact of crack cocaine on neoconservatives, producing a euphoric and slightly violent high" is great stuff.

Ross's plan seems to stake an awful lot on that conference producing a positive outcome, but obviously there's no failsafe, silver-bullet, 100% guaranteed pony plan at this point. And I do like the idea of bringing in allies like the French to get involved with crafting a diplomatic effort. Lord knows we haven't been able to do it.

Posted by: Elvis Elvisberg | Aug 28, 2007 11:07:24 AM

Elvis beat me to it. I was going to praise my namesake's felicitous turn of phrase vis a vis the neocons. My quibble, of course, is where the hell was Joe when his opinion might have made a difference. Now, I agree with Atrios, the Boy King is going to run out the clock and leave this problem to his successor. Staying equals victory, withdrawal defeat. It's that simple. It will fit nicely with the inevitable stab in the back assualt that the right wing is preparing.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Aug 28, 2007 12:22:25 PM

It's true that what Ross calls for doesn't outline a solution, but as a couple have pointed out, you can't do that in advance, or at least make it public in advance, with a plan like Ross's. The Iraqis have to at least be perceived to arrive at some solution themselves. Ross is thinking of the Dayton Acoords as a model, of course, among others, where leaders really were kept together until they came up with something. One problem with that is that it requires powerful leverage over the leaders, which it may be no one who is willing to back this plan has. But if it can be done, it may be a good idea (apart from how withdrawal fits into it).

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 28, 2007 2:34:16 PM

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Posted by: judy | Oct 11, 2007 6:53:21 AM

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