I certainly think doing what is necessary to win the Battle of Baghdad is important for the reason that Cliff argued in his piece today: American credibility — we said we were gonna do it, so now we have to do it. But I can’t get excited about Charles Krauthammer’s insistence on the importance of bringing the Iraqi government along for the ride. And I’m even less excited about the Wall Street Journal’s cart-wheels today over the fact that luminaries of the new Iraqi government don’t like the Iraq Study Group either. (A government that seems bent on close relations with Iran and Syria pans a report that says the U.S. should embrace Iran and Syria. Yippee!)
Seems to me we are paying undue attention to two subordinate matters, viz., maintaining the Iraqi government and winning the Battle of Baghdad, while continuing our mulish avoidance of the main problem: Iran (and, to a lesser extent Syria).
Iraq’s new government is popularly elected, not — as the WSJ maintains — democratically elected. The two things are not the same. Iraq’s ability to establish order, much less a real democracy, remains to be seen. Indeed, the desire of Iraqis to be part of a single Iraq remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, all this hyper-deference to the Maliki government is a bit precious. We are expected, above all else, to respect the sovereignty and “democratic” choices of the Iraqi people … except it’s okay for the Bush administration to twist arms off-stage to manipulate a new governing coalition that will get Maliki out from under the yoke of Sadr (as if it were clear that the problem is all Sadr and not Maliki.) Did the seats Sadr controls in the legislature fall out of the sky? No, the Iraqis we are supposed to be deferring to voted Sadr’s slate into power — and the elected Iraqi representatives chose to form the current governing coalition. So it’s not interference per se in Iraq’s sovereign affairs we object to; we’re evidently fine with the right kind of interference.
There is a farcical quality to all of this. I am not arguing that we should intentionally sabotage the new Iraqi government, but I really don’t think we should worry about it so much. It is anything but clear that a Maliki-led government will be a friend of the U.S. Meanwhile, we have things we need to accomplish — defeating al Qaeda, breaking the Baathists the jihadists are aligned with, and confronting Iran and Syria — that may prove very difficult to do if we continue to be obsessed at every step with the success and sensitivities of the current Iraqi regime.
As for Iran: Focusing on the Battle of Baghdad without acknowledging, let alone dealing with, the main destabilizing problem would be like worrying about a complex multiple-fracture in a cancer patient. In the short term, you can call in reinforcements — get your best surgeons to the table and make the damaged leg look good as new. But in the long run, if you don’t cut out the cancer, it’s not gonna make a lot of difference how pretty the corpse’s leg looks.