Friday, June 08, 2007

Scoff Flaws

Kevin Drum looks at the surprisingly frank assessment on the state of The Surge from our deus ex Czarina, Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, and wonders what such a stance might portend:

Question: Is the promotion of Lute a sign that the administration is making moves in the direction of abandoning the Maliki government and hitching its star to someone else?

Interesting question, though the options in terms of alternatives are limited: (1) a straight up coup would lead to a massive revolt on the part of the Shiites - who happen to make up 60% of the population (hint: the Sunnis are only 20%, and the Sunni-based insurgency has thus far proven insurmountable); (2) simply sacking Maliki and forcing the parliament as currently configured to choose a successor will likely result in a Maliki clone (as the replacement of the "unacceptably partisan" Jaafari chosen by the UIA/Kurds was....Maliki who is now "unacceptably partisan"); and (3) pushing for an alternative bloc made up of a heterodox coalition of Iraqi factions would likely result in a leader whose platform was harder for us to swallow than Maliki's Shiite chauvanism.

Let me explain by responding to Kevin's point and clarifying my levels of scoffery:

But while we're on the subject, it's worth mentioning that both Swopa and Eric Martin have scoffed at my suggestion that there's an emerging new political alliance that might manage to wrest control of the government from Maliki sometime in the next few months. After all, factional fighting in Iraq is Byzantine; it's hard to believe that any alliance could survive if it excluded the party formerly known as SCIRI; it seems unlikely that Sistani would countenance any alliance that increased the power of the Sunnis, and equally unlikely that Sadr would join such an alliance without Sistani's blessing...

...Still....I can't help but think that something has to happen. Maliki seems like a dead man walking, and eventually someone's going to make a deal that would have seemed unlikely on its face a week before — and I wouldn't be surprised if this includes some kind of weird volte-face from Sadr. I wonder if Lute is sending a signal that the Bush administration won't be too crushed if this happens?

It's true that I haven't been bullish on the prospect of an alliance forming between ex-Baathists, Moqtada al-Sadr and ex-CIA asset Ayad Allawi, for reasons that I have discussed ad nauseum. Still, it's possible. Maybe Sadr truly wants the US out of Iraq first and foremost, and is willing to take extreme measures such as forging bonds with Sunni insurgent groups to achieve this.

Alternatively, SIIC and Dawa could be pushing Sadr into a corner such that he feels forced to bolt. Despite this possibility, Sadr was singing a different tune earlier this week:

Sadr claimed that recent fighting between the Mahdi Army and the military wing of SIIC, the Badr Organization, was based on a misunderstanding.

"What happened with the Badr organization and the Mahdi Army in many parts of Iraq is the result of a sad misunderstanding," he said. " We have held discussions to stop this being repeated."

Additionally, Sistani himself could tire of this petulant youngster, or Sadr could feel constrained and overshadowed by his clerical superior such that he might decide it's time for a solo career. According to some reports, there has been some serious tensions - turning violent at times - between forces loyal to each cleric.

So on the Scoffery Scale, I'd give it 7 Jeers out of a possible 10 (it would have been more Jeers, but Cernig makes a compelling case, and there sure has been a lot of related activity lately).

But there is something else that Kevin alluded to in these two posts that's worth addressing: that the Bush administration might work to actively bring about the formation of the Allawi-Sadr-Sunni political bloc, and/or support it when it gained power. This, I'd give 9 Jeers.

As Kevin himself noted, the animating principle of this new coalition would be "anti-Americanism" - specifically, setting a timetable for withdrawal of all occupation forces. So for the Bush administration to support such a political animal would mean that the Bush administration was planning to head for the exits and thus could live with such a demand. Predicting the Bush administration's acceptance of withdrawal (or forced retreat) brings us to 9 Jeer territory (unless somehow the lure of power could lead Sadr and the Sunnis to table their withdrawal demands - but this is exceedingly doubtful and probably 9 Jeer territory in its own right).

The only reason I leave the possibility open is the remote chance that the Bush team views the Allawi-Sadr-Sunni political bloc as a vehicle to leave behind an Iraq that is not beholden to, or under the thumb of, Iran - which would give them one last fleeting go at relevancy. Still, the more likely read is that the Bush administration has no intention of leaving, and thus will be working against the formation of a strong political current dedicated to its departure.

They're shockingly incompetent, but they're not that incompetent. I think.

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