It was in the last week of November that I first noticed the rumors that an Administration faction was arguing that we should simply back the Shi'ites in Iraq because they constituted the majority of the population. Today the New York Times has a story on the first page of the Week in Review that finally fleshes out the tale. Interpreting the daily press is like interpreting dreams: one must focus on the information that immediately looks new or inexplicable, even if it's buried in the tenth paragraph. That's all I did three weeks ago, and the story has gradually leaked out since then.
Today's story traces the proposal to Vice President Cheney's office, calling it the "Darwin option," that is, choosing survival of the fittest. The author, Helene Cooper, carefully avoids actually attributing it to the Vice President himself. As I noted in my review of State of Denial, Cheney is obviously the Hillary Clinton of this Administration--the one person everyone is truly afraid of--and no one would tell Cooper on the record that he is backing this course, but that is the clear implication. In one ray of hope, Cooper mentions that a few Administration officials have figured out that Iraq is almost certain to break up and wants to prepare for good relations with the new Kurdish and Shi'ite states. In another counsel of despair, the story concludes by saying that some Adminstraton officials are quite willing to unleash a regional civil war between Shi'ites and Sunnis because the Sunnis--up until now our allies--are more numerous overall, albeit a miority in Iraq, and thus will eventually win. Apparently the cure for playing god is playing god some more.
An early Washington Post story on all this claimed that the pro-Shi'ite option came from the State Department, and specifically from Phil Zelikow, who has now left office. That seemed weird then, and today's story says that Condolezza Rice is on the other side, pushing for the "Hadley option," reconciliation between "moderate" Shi'ites and "moderate" Sunnis to outflank both the insurgency and Moqtar Al-Sadr. That certainly is the way that President Bush is talking, and seems more like "staying the course," but which way we will go seems to be an open question.
As I am convinced that some kind of partition is the only option for Iraq I am going to regard the glass as about 10% full because there still are Administration officials brave enough to defy Tony Snow ("Partition. . .is a non-starter") and endorse it. But they probably will not prevail. It makes sense that Cheney would side with the Shi'ites; he believes in nothing but power, and they have it. And while their victory would favor Iran in the short run, he hopes to attack Iran, too, and solve that problem. See the longer post from yesterday, below.
The Times story can be read at: