May 20, 2004

Salvage Job

Jim Hoagland, taking in the current Iraq situation, thinks the U.S needs to go to salvage mode in Iraq.

He comes perilously close to pushing the Les Gelb/Peter Galbraith tripartite partition scenario I've blogged about before here and here (have nearly 800 U.S. soldiers, scores of coalition forces and myriad Iraqis died so that we can preside over population transfers to create ethnically homogenous para-states in Iraq?).

But Hoagland is smarter than that, and sees the 'partition' scenario as merely temporary:

"If the only way to achieve this is to accept a temporary, de facto partition of Iraq into three zones of autonomy with differing security responsibilities, so be it.

The United States should not set the partition of Iraq as a formal policy goal. But neither should it go back, even covertly, to supporting territorial integrity enforced by state terrorism wielded by a Sunni strongman.

Formal partition, which would permit an independent Kurdistan, brings too many diplomatic costs and problems with Iran, Turkey and the Arab countries. Moreover, Iraq is a viable unitary state that will achieve its own internal balances of survival over the long haul. The ideal of unitary Iraq must be kept alive.

But the deployment of U.S. resources and power in Iraq should increasingly reflect the possibilities of an alliance with the Kurds in the regional war against terrorism, the need for a low-visibility working relationship with the Shiite religious establishment in the south, and the imperatives of reducing violence in the Sunni Triangle for Americans and Iraqis by all available means."

I've got issues with lots of this--but here is just one: temporary partitions, of course, often have a way of becoming pretty permanent (see Bosnia, Kosovo).

Meanwhile, Richard Cohen has a depressing (and rather damning) piece on Colin Powell:

"In this region, Powell is seen as a much-diminished figure who is more a spokesman for policies he opposes than a policymaker with real clout at the White House. His once immense stature and popularity are gone -- and not without regret. Had he gotten his way -- on Iraq, on the Israeli-Palestinian problem -- U.S. prestige in the Arab world would be far higher. Things may change, but for the moment the antipathy toward America, and Americans, in this region is downright palpable, and Colin Powell is thought not to matter very much at all.

Powell started here with a formal address. "Let me, for a moment, take off my diplomat's suit and put back on the uniform that I proudly wore for 35 years, as a soldier of the American people, as a soldier in the United States Army," he said. Then he described his shock at what he had seen in the photos from Abu Ghraib, the prison where Iraqi detainees were sexually humiliated and physically abused. As someone who met Powell back in his Army days, I found his contrition -- his shame -- moving. This was an awfully proud soldier talking about the institution that had taken a black kid from the streets of New York to the highest levels of the U.S. government. His apology, and it was that, could not have come easily.

Yet his audience was stone cold. What it expected from him is hard to say. But the anger at the United States is so great -- along with the strong feeling that the prison abuses had to be sanctioned at the top -- that no mere apology could suffice. In this part of the world, only a high-level resignation will do: Rumsfeld, obviously, but he, after offering an apology, swiftly visited Abu Ghraib. All over the Arab world, Rumsfeld was seen on television embracing the prison's personnel. One Arab diplomat I talked to could not contain his dismay. The "optics," as he called it, were awful."

Read the whole thing.

It's a depressing read, isn't it?

Right now, I fear, key administration players don't have the energy, fortitude, ingenuity, policy insights (however you want to put it) to a) tell the public honestly that we may very well be approaching a tipping point in Iraq that requires major corrective action (spare me the going gets rough pre--sovereignty handover and all will be swell post June 30th empty cheerleading) and b) key Adminstration figures do not appear fully cognizant of this reality.

With all due respect to these major Beltway players, I can't help thinking: a) Powell is simply running out the clock; b) Rumsfeld is in damage control mode looking to save his own skin; c) Wolfy's reputation is at a low ebb given how many neo-con hypotheses have proven grossly inaccurate and is fending off myriad assaults and knives being thrust in his back, d) Condi is simply involved in protecting the President as the election nears; e) Cheney/Bush are entering election mode (read: no risky Middle East initiatives and active spin, rather than an honest accounting, re: going forward Iraq policy).

Put differently, we need new blood in elite policymaking circles (McCain? Lugar? Sam Nunn?) [ed. note: Sounds like you want a new team in Washington? Why not simply vote for Kerry?]

If Kerry makes Richard Holbrooke his Secretary of State (I'm a big Dick Holbrooke fan given my time in the Balkans and his efforts in Dayton)--I'd admit to a second thought or two.

But I'd remain hugely concerned about other positions (NSC, Defense, Under and Assistant Secretaries at State/Defense) who, collectively (and despite the Holbrooke bulldozer/rollercoaster show), would likely have us ending up with policies that would prove pretty feckless in general orientation and effect.

Developing, as they say.

Posted by Gregory at May 20, 2004 06:25 AM
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