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Friday, December 01, 2006

The Split in the Administration

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.


Anonymous said...

Professor Kaiser,

Unless I'm mistaken, the sentence "The military in Baghdad violently opposes this because they think that reconciliation with the Shi'ites is the only way to end the insurgency" should refer to reconciliation with the Sunnis rather than the Shi'ites, to preserve the sense of the paragraph and indeed the sense of the situation in Baghdad and al-Anbar province. There's no acknowledged need for reconciliation with the Shi'ites in general, only with Shia elements, but the recent talk of pulling the Marines out of al-Anbar suggests reconciliation with Sunnis.

Thank you for your posts,

Gary Rambo

Anonymous said...

According to an article in La Repubblica (Rome), the US worked hand-in-glove with Mr. Chalabi and representatives of the Islamic Republic before the invasion. I also recall that the US was far too keen to destroy Fallujah. The US also strove to write a Constitution that completely disenfranchised the Sunni. Then the US holds 40,000+ Sunnis in outdoor prison camps. This isn't much in terms of documentation, but seems to me that the US has been objectively anti-Sunni from Day One.

But if the US is going to tilt to the Shi'a, isn't it odd that Philip D. Zelikow has resigned in his moment of triumph?

Anonymous said...

It is becoming like an old school Kremlology-session to keep track of the factions within the administration. I would suggest that the president is currently in the throes of the existentialist angst of the alcoholic waking up the day after a binge and remembering nothing.

As to Mr. Rambos comment that the pulling out of Anbar province is a sign of appeasement for the Sunnis, I`m not so sure. It could be that they are opening for wholescale ethnic cleansing and bombing, though I doubt it. My guess is that they simply at the moment have no plan whatsoever, and are panicking.

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