A dozen lousy ideas for what to do about Iraq

November 24, 2006|By Clarence Page | Clarence Page,Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -- What next for Iraq? The cover of the latest New Republic, a liberal-leaning magazine that went totally neoconservative in the run-up to the Iraq war, makes one's head spin with its menu of contradictory opinions by leading experts:

David Rieff: "Bring the troops home."

Robert Kagan: "Send more troops."

Peter W. Galbraith: "Divide Iraq."

Reza Aslan: "Keep it whole."

Larry Diamond: "Deal with the Sunnis."

James Kurth: "Crush the Sunnis."

Josef Joffe: "Ally with the Sunnis."

Peter Beinart: "Threaten to leave."

George Packer: "Save whomever we can."

Niall Ferguson: "Bribe the insurgents."

Michael Walzer: "Talk, talk, talk."

Leon Wieseltier: "Try anything."

What a mess this war is.

The Democratic victories in the midterm election tell us that American voters lean toward Mr. Wieseltier's "Try anything" option. Yet, polls also show that Americans are not united in leaving Iraq yesterday.

If The New Republic's experts agree on anything, it is the lack of great options regarding Iraq. "In the end, this struggle will be over the difference between a largely intolerable outcome and a completely intolerable one," the magazine declares in a contrite editorial.

True-blue neocons like Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman, Michael Rubin, William Kristol and the above-mentioned Kagan ("Send more troops") blame the White House for botching their grand plans for a Mideast makeover.

But finger-pointing pales in the shadow of the larger, more urgent question: Where do we go from here? Even former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, recently a backstage adviser to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, calls the Iraq war unwinnable if winning means what Bush wants: a stable Iraqi government capable of maintaining order throughout the country.

Contrary to a widespread belief, our war efforts are not being wasted. Reports on the ground indicate America's forces are the main reason that law, order and rebuilding in Iraq are functioning at all. So far, the new Iraqi regime has been too slow, corrupt or divided to take control of its own country.

Well, when all else fails, try diplomacy. Sen. Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, told the Chicago Council on Global Affairs this week that Iraq should convene a regional conference that includes Syria and Iran. A similar suggestion is expected to come soon from a bipartisan advisory panel led by Bush family friend and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, a Republican, and former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat.

The U.S. does not currently have diplomatic relations with Syria or Iran, but that could change. For all the deadly mischief that Iran and Syria stir up in the region, their leaders still respect the regime-toppling force of America's military. We should be able to work out a regional deal.

Mr. Obama also repeated his call for the U.S. to stop "coddling" the Iraqi government and begin reducing troops in the next four to six months. In the meantime, we can only hope that Iraqis will work out the differences between their warring factions.

Mr. Obama has once again carved out a political middle ground that has helped fuel his rock-star popularity. Americans appreciate the neoconservative dream of spreading democracy through the Middle East, but the Iraq disaster offers us a painful lesson on the limits of our grasp.

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun. His e-mail is cptime@aol.com.

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