Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Thank God for granting me this moment of clarity, this moment of honesty:
Apropos of yesterday's post on Iraq, here's a key line in Eli's story today:

An administration official yesterday said the president has been insistent that no new strategy for Iraq would abandon the elected government in Iraq, despite that government's failure to stem anti-Sunni violence from some Shiite militias. "This war will be won if understand it in terms of the government against those reject it. It cannot be won if this is Sunnis against Shiites," this official said.

To that end, the State Department has already informed the Jordanian and Egyptian foreign ministry of a scenario whereby Mr. Maliki would stay in power, but Mr. Sadr would be marginalized.

Clarity: a government of SCIRI, the Kurds and a Sunni faction increasingly alienated from its base. At the gates will be the Sadrists, the Sunni rejectionists, and al-Qaeda. Taking the scenario a bit further, Baghdad increasingly becomes a garrison. In symbol as in substance, this new Iraqi government represents the country only in theory.

What then? To say the war "will be won" in this scenario is to suppose that a serious problem facing the U.S. is one of clarity: who's the enemy? The Badr death squad in the street? The Sunnis fighting the U.S.? etc. No doubt you can't win a war when you don't know who the enemy is, but that's not to say you can win it IFF you do. With the government garrisoned in Baghdad and cut off from its bases of support, this scenario seeds the bed for a multi-directional assault. Sadr has his Mahdi Army in the Shiite areas, and they start fighting if SCIRI attempts to move on them. The South is quickly in flames. Similarly, the U.S. moves against the Sunnis; the Sunnis see Tariq Hashemi's complicity; and pretty soon the Sunni-al-Qaeda alliance of convenience is back on. Everyone can still fight everyone else -- it would take a lot more than this for a Sadr/al-Qaeda rapprochement -- but everyone also fights the government, with the U.S. as its handmaiden.

These are the sort of plans one concocts when won is simply not prepared to face up to the fact that a war is already lost. It's like Hitler demanding his generals send non-existing divisions to repel the Red Army at the entrance to Berlin. Desperation can make a potent incentive to the concoction of ever-wilder and ever-subtler schemes. But it never wins a lost war.

--Spencer Ackerman
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