Keywords: Democrats; election; George W. Bush; Iraq Study Group; Robert Gates; George Friedman; Iran; Donald Rumsfeld; Iraq government.
So the Democrats are going to rule for a while – at least in the House. They can’t do much about Iraq, even if they could agree about what to do, which they don’t. The mess belongs to President George W. Bush, who had already organized a committee, the Iraq Study Group, to solve the problem. Now he has fired Rumsfeld, after saying a few days ago that he would not. If he had done so a few weeks ago, the Republicans might have won the election.
And he’s appointing Robert Gates as Rumsfeld’s replacement — the same Gates who is already on the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan team composed largely of a people who served in the administrations of Reagan, Clinton, and the senior Bush. They are the Republicans James Baker, Alan Simpson, Rudy Giuliani and Edwin Meese and the Democrats Lee Hamilton, Vernon Jordan, Leon Panetta, William Perry, and Chuck Robb. Their recommendations are forthcoming, and will surely be decisive in charting the US course in Iraq.
What will they do? No one knows — all we know is that there are no good options available — but I am impressed with the guesses of the Stratfor honcho, George Friedman, who has Iran on his mind. Surely they will not forge ahead in the “stay the course” mode of Rumsfeld, whose dismissal definitely signals that a change is in the works. But they won’t immediately recommend removing the troops from Iraq either. Even the Democrats, in their confusion, do not intend to press for that. Instead, Friedman thinks they will propose a turn in the mission of the US forces in Iraq — no longer trying to save the pathetic Iraqi government from its own internal conflicts or put down the insurgents.
Instead, they will turn their attention to preventing any military incursion by Iran into Iraq. Presumably the US troops will hole up within relatively safe enclaves and let the Iraqis sort out their own conflicts, while damping down the growing aspirations of the Shiites for greater power, as bolstered their allies in neighboring Iran.
Friedman also throws out a bold speculation: that Bush will change course enough to negotiate with Iran on their terms, not his. Iran has been wanting to negotiate with the United States, but not about its nuclear program, whereas Bush has refused to talk to them unless all issues, especially the nuclear one, are on the table. It will amount to a major loss of face if the US administration caves in on this point. Yet if there are no negotiations on the other political matters, there can be no major improvement in the Americans’ position. They are trapped in a place where they no longer want to be, and they cannot leave unless they reach some kind of agreement with the Iranians, whose new dominance in the region is entirely their own fault. As Friedman writes,
“This is going to be the hard part for Bush. The last thing he wants is to enhance Iranian power. But the fact is that Iranian power already has been enhanced by the ability of Iraqi Shia to act with indifference to U.S. wishes. By complying with this recommendation, Washington would not be conceding much..”
Oh, but it would. It would amount to a huge concession: a capitulation to the power of Islam. This will not be easy for any American administration. The only reason for believing that it will happen is that there are so few other options. The US electorate says it wants change. Bush has said he is ready to make some changes. What else can he do?