Exactly a year ago, reading an analysis of the results of the last Iraq election, I commented that they showed that the attempt to create a unified and democratic Iraq had failed, since the entire population had voted according to ethnicity. Today's New York Times, in an analysis of the background to and scene of Saddam Hussein's execution, confirms that result. Not only are the key branches of the government almost entirely in Shi'ite hands, but the Sunni political establishment has almost disappeared. Most of its leaders are among the nearly two million Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria, and Sunnis are almost unrepresented on the city council that runs Baghdad. The debate in Washington on "unleashing the Shi'ites" is beside the point. So are the arguments voiced two days ago by Senator Lieberman in the Washington Post that we have to remain in Iraq to encourage moderates--they are gone. We have no leash to hold the Shi'ites; we are fully occupied fighting the Sunni insurgency, albeit without any significant results to report. It was about six weeks ago in November that I pointed out our escalating casualties and predicted that the fourth quarter of the year would end with about 304 coalition killed in action, and the official figure is 301. (Seriously wounded are somewhat lower than I anticipated, mainly because the official figures were corrected by subtracting 103 extra from that category some weeks ago, but they will still total more than 700.) The Times today says ied's still cause most of the casualties, and adds that some of them are now strong enough to penetrate an Abrams tank, let alone a Humvee. A "surge" of troops will presumably mean more patrols, more ieds encountered, and more casualties, while the Shi'ites continue to expand their position in mixed areas.
We are hearing more and more from conservative commentators to the extent that we must remain because the consequences of our leaving will be so bad. To them I am inclined to reply that the consequences of the war they advocated are already horrific and that, more importantly, there is not the slightest chance that I can see that remaining indefinitely will help. We are also hearing that an independent Sunni area will be haven for Al-Queda, but I frankly see no reason to believe that. The Iraqis have shown they are fiercely nationalistic and I don't see why the Sunni insurgent leaders would want an alien state within their state. Al Queda, meanwhile, has apparently established a new nuclear-protected safe haven in Pakistan anyway. But Al Queda, although capable of terrorist acts against the US, was never the major issue in this war. The war was designed spectacularly to reverse the decline of American influence in the Middle East--and instead, as I have pointed out, spectacularly accelerated it. The region desperately needs a halt to the Shi'ite-Sunni fighting before it spreads. The only way Americans could help bring that about is to advocate peaceful partition of Iraq. Meanwhile, a real political and constitutional crisis looms in the United States, as the President prepares entirely to disregard the opinions the voters expressed in the last election. In weeks to come I plan to try to formulate words in which a new President might signal the world that the United States has truly changed course. But meanwhile, we face more difficult years.