President Bush speaks bravely about the need to "finish the job"
in Iraq. The consequences of leaving that violence-torn country in
the grip of a messy civil war are indeed grave. But reality suggests
that he is taking a risk for the last time on any major US military
The surge of some 21,500 new US troops into Baghdad will take
place, but unforthcoming seems the political solution from the
factionalized Iraqi government that many argue must go hand in hand
with the military operation.
At home, too, in the United States, politics are not going the
president's way on Iraq. The Demo- crat-controlled Congress is
demanding a specific end to the US military presence. Some
Republicans, especially those facing reelection challenges next
year, are tetchy and rebellious. Antiwar rallies such as the one we
witnessed in the nation's capital this past weekend are somber
reminders of the clamor against the Vietnam War in its last phases.
Public confidence waning
Polls show that public confidence in the president is sharply
down. American will on the war is waning. Even columnist David
Brooks, installed on The New York Times Op-Ed page as the paper's
token conservative successor to William Safire, has just written a
couple of columns forsaking unity, and promoting "soft partition" of
Iraq between Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites.
In order to avoid a political debacle for the Republican Party in
next year's elections, Mr. Bush will almost surely slash the US
troop presence in Iraq to a modest force by mid-2008.
Of course, there are some slender straws to grasp at. In a speech
to his parliament last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
vowed that his crackdown in Baghdad will leave militants nowhere to
Then a representative of the Mahdi Army, the largest military
force in Iraq after the US military, is reported to have put out
feelers to senior British and US commanders for a kind of stand-
down. Rahim al-Daraji, mayor of Sadr City, the Shiite militia's
stronghold, reportedly declared militiamen could be instructed not
to carry their weapons in public, if the US military could guarantee
better security for Sadr City.
Though this sounds marginally interesting, does it mean that the
Mahdi Army is in a more cooperative mode? Or does it mean that the
Mahdi Army is fearful of engaging the US military machine, commanded
to clear Baghdad of insurgents, and will simply fade into the
woodwork, reemerging once the American soldiers have gone? …