Charles Krauthammer is not optimistic about the President's surge proposal. He thinks it's unlikely to succeed, because Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki won't act in good faith as long as he can count on US troops to keep Iraq from falling apart completely.
I find that hard to believe, since I think that domestic political realities in the US will force President Bush to chart a course to have US troops largely out of harm's way in Iraq by the time his successor in the White House takes office. After all, if the surge fails and Iraq remains a problem, the Republican nominee will lose in 2008, and the Democratic President will interpret the election result as a vote to pull out.
Thus, I think Bush will have to lay out the exit strategy - one way or the other - by early 2008.
Getting back to Krauthammer, he proposes a threat that can be used to force Maliki to act in his own interest: pulling US troops back to a few bases and strategic sites, and leaving most of the country to the Iraqi government. I think that this is ultimately what Bush will have to do before the next election, so I guess I agree with Krauthammer:
Its beginning was inauspicious. Months of wrangling produced a coalition of the three major Shiite religious parties, including that of Moqtada al-Sadr. Given Maliki's legitimacy as the first democratically elected leader of Iraq, however, he was owed a grace period of, say, six months to show whether he could indeed act as a national leader.
By November, his six months were up and the verdict was clear: He could not. His government is hopelessly sectarian. It protects Sadr, as we saw dramatically when Maliki ordered the lifting of U.S. barricades set up around Sadr City in search of a notorious death squad leader. It is enmeshed with Iran, as we saw when Maliki's government forced us to release Iranian agents found in the compound of one of his coalition partners...
The administration view -- its hope -- is that, whatever Maliki's instincts, he can be forced to act in good faith by the prospect of the calamity that will befall him if he lets us down and we carry out our threat to leave. The problem with this logic is that it is contradicted by the president's simultaneous pledge not to leave "before the job is done.''
In this high-stakes game of chess, what is missing is some intermediate move on our part -- some Plan B that Maliki believes Bush might actually carry out -- the threat of which will induce him to fully support us in this battle for Baghdad. He won't believe the Bush threat to abandon Iraq. He will believe a U.S. threat of an intermediate redeployment within Iraq that might prove fatal to him but not necessarily to the U.S. interest there.
We need to define that intermediate strategy. Right now there are only three policies on the table: (1) the surge, which a majority of Congress opposes, (2) the status quo, which everybody opposes, and (3) the abandonment of Iraq, which appears to be the default Democratic alternative.
What is missing is a fourth alternative, both as a threat to Maliki and as an actual fallback if the surge fails. The Pentagon should be working on a sustainable Plan B whose major element would be not so much a drawdown of troops as a drawdown of risk to our troops. If we had zero American casualties a day, there would be as little need to withdraw from Iraq as there is to withdraw from the Balkans.
We need to find a redeployment strategy that maintains as much latent American strength as possible, but with minimal exposure. We say to Maliki: you let us down and we dismantle the Green Zone, leave Baghdad and let you fend for yourself; we keep the airport and certain strategic bases in the area; we redeploy most of our forces to Kurdistan; we maintain a significant presence in Anbar province where we are having success in our one-front war against al-Qaeda and the Baathists. Then we watch. You can have your Baghdad civil war without us. We will be around to pick up the pieces as best we can...
As I have indicated, I think this is de facto the greatest presence that the US will be able to manage in Iraq by November, 2008 anyway. Once the debate over 'the surge' is settled, I hope that the White House gets to work on Krauthammer's fourth way.
Back to the top.