The developments which I discussed and repeatedly updated over the last three days have become significantly clearer this morning thanks to a Robin Wright story in the Washington Post. Elements within the State Department, led by the now-departing Philip Zelikow, have definitely recommended abandoning outreach to the Sunnis and depending entirely on the Shi'ites and the Kurds--what they call the "80% solution." The military in Baghdad violently opposes this because they think that reconciliation with the Sunnis is the only way to end the insurgency. The leak of the November 8 Hadley memorandum thus emerges as an attempt to get the Administration on record as favoring reconciliation with the Sunnis (and evidently to put the fear of Allah into Prime Minster Maliki). Like most leaks, it evidently was an initiative in a bureaucratic battle inside Washington.
According to Wright's story today, the White House policy review team actually was coalescing around this vision as of last weekend, and Hadley's leak was therefore in the nature of a rearguard action. (As noted below, a "senior intelligence official" had discussed this option with the White House earlier this week.) (The Wright story is at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/30/AR2006113001710_pf.html .) Hadley's memo apparently induced Maliki to delay his trip to Jordan for a day to make a point. It also may well have precipitated Moqtar Al-Sadr's boycott of the government and parliament, which was announced hours after the memo was published. But President Bush's warm endorsement of Maliki as the right man for the job, and Maliki's offer to take over security within six months, suggests to me that Secretary Rice favors the pro-Shi'ite option and that the President is being won over to it. (Hadley's statement to reporters today that the White House is not in a panic and sees no need to make an immediate decision on policy also suggests that he is hoping to get the new course rejected with the help of the Baghdad Embassy, the US miltary in Baghdad, and, perhaps, Secretary Robert Gates.)
We seem, in short, quite close to a decision to back the Shi'ites. President Bush's rhetoric suggests that he would accept this decision, since he has consistently blamed all the sectarian violence on Sunni extremists and on Al-Queda rather than the long-standing sectarian divisions of which he was not even aware as recently as early 2002. We are indeed at a turning point in Iraq, but the question is not between staying or going, but between trying to bring the three ethnic groups together on the one hand, or allowing a war against the Sunnis to proceed on the other. The latter course, I think, will be catastrophic for the United States's image in the region, and it would be far better to work for the most peaceful partition possible--but that option has repeatedly been ruled out, most recently by President Bush himself. The Administration wants to be able to tell the American people that it has won in Iraq, and backing the strongest two out of three factions--"the 80% solution," some policy-makers call it--may appeal to it as a way to do so.