David Ignatius says that the administration is coming up with a new plan for Iraq:
"President Bush and his senior military and foreign policy advisers are beginning to discuss a "post-surge" strategy for Iraq that they hope could gain bipartisan political support. The new policy would focus on training and advising Iraqi troops rather than the broader goal of achieving a political reconciliation in Iraq, which senior officials recognize may be unachievable within the time available.
The revamped policy, as outlined by senior administration officials, would be premised on the idea that, as the current surge of U.S. troops succeeds in reducing sectarian violence, America's role will be increasingly to help prepare the Iraqi military to take greater responsibility for securing the country."
Cool! Training the Iraqi army! Why didn't we think of that before? While we're at it, why not train the police force too?
When this brand new strategy fails, maybe we can come up with some other as yet untried strategic initiatives, like, oh, maybe "Clear, Hold, and Build". Maybe if we're really lucky, we'll get to switch to counterinsurgency again. I just hope we don't opt for a reprise of 2003's "Insurgency? What insurgency?" approach.
Ignatius also tells us that one motivation behind this "new" strategy is a recognition that the surge will not produce the desired political reconciliation after all:
""Sectarian violence is not a problem we can fix," said one senior official. "The Iraqi government needs to show that it can take control of the capital." U.S. officials offer a somber evaluation of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: His Shiite-dominated government is weak and sectarian, but they have concluded that, going forward, there is no practical alternative."
Since enabling that reconciliation to occur was the point of the surge, this means that the surge is failing:
"The administration's exploration of "Plan B" alternatives in Iraq tracks a similar discussion that has been taking place among top military leaders. The U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, recently gathered top counterinsurgency experts, such as Col. H.R. McMaster, in Baghdad for a critical review of the surge strategy. There's a growing recognition in Baghdad, sources said, that the United States lacks a strong local partner because of the weakness and sectarian base of the Maliki government. In addition, the new head of Central Command, Adm. William Fallon, has publicly stated his view that the surge strategy is just "chipping away at the problem" and that "reconciliation isn't likely in the time we have available.""
We spent a lot of time in Vietnam pursuing the misguided idea that if we just replaced the South Vietnamese government, things would work out. The obvious lesson of that experience was: it's really, really important to distinguish cases in which one particular government is the problem from cases in which the situation in a country is so screwed up and divided that no government (no elected government, at any rate) would be the sort of "strong local partner" our strategy requires. Personally, I think Iraq is plainly in the second group, and thus I find the emphasis on Maliki's personal weaknesses and failings slightly troubling.
Ignatius saves the funny part for the end, though:
"The wild cards in this new effort to craft a bipartisan Iraq policy are the Republican and Democratic leaders, President Bush and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They both say they want a sustainable, effective Iraq policy, but each is deeply entrenched in a partisan version of what that policy should be. America is in a nosedive in Iraq. Can these two leaders share the controls enough that Iraq will become a U.S. project, rather than George Bush's war? There's a bipartisan path out of this impasse, but will America's leaders be wise enough to take it?"
(1) Is there a "bipartisan path out of this morass"? I don't think so.
(2) If there were a good option on Iraq (where 'good' means: one that would allow us to leave behind a stable Iraq that's largely at peace), I would of course support the Democrats' signing onto it. I think that when we leave, there will probably be a serious increase in violence in Iraq; if there were a way to prevent this, of course we should take it. But since there isn't, and since Democrats were not consulted while Bush created our present fiasco, I cannot imagine why they would try to help make this "a US project, rather than Bush's war."
(3) But that doesn't matter. Since the only kind of bipartisanship on Iraq that Bush seems to be interested in is having Democrats sign onto his policies in their entirety, the answer to Ignatius' question is: "no, America's leaders will not be wise enough to take it."