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Quietus for the status quo

July 29, 2006

I’m going to do what no would-be pundit should ever do. Stand back, Jeanne Dixon. I’m going to make a prediction.

President Bush famously declared back in March that when American troops leave Iraq will be “decided by future presidents.” The statement was widely interpreted to mean troops would be there for at least 2 and a half years. In point of fact, the plural “presidents” meant troops would be there for at least six and a half years.

Conventional wisdom in the mainstream media has agreed for a long time, that our GIs will be tied down in the Green Zone for at least a decade.

On the other hand, John Murtha, whose humint within the military runs deep and wide, predicted in January that troops would be drawn down under 100,000 by midsummer. Murtha underestimated the Administration’s capacity for bullheadedness; likewise its fear of doing anything that looks like cut-and-run prior to the fall elections. But strong signs are beginning to justify his analysis, if not its precise timing.

First, we have one of the rawest-throated of the war cheerleaders, former Dubya speechwriter David Frum, saying that it’s time to take Murtha’s advice, and pull troops over the horizon (to Kurdistan, rather than Murtha’s more logistically informed Kuwait). Not that Frum admits it’s Murtha’s advice, of course; nevertheless his capitulation to the reality based is complete.

Second, we have the Reuters report a week ago Friday, that the Iraqi parliament has begun quiet negotiations on the partitioning of Baghdad into a Sunni quarter west of the Tigris, and a Shia quarter to the east. That would be the trickiest – and in the event of an expanded civil war, the most lifesaving – element of the three-way partition some (like Peter Galbraith in the NY Review of Books) have been urging for some time as the only way to salvage some kind of stability in the end.

Okay, my prediction. The status quo simply cannot possibly be maintained beyond the end of 2006. By then, at least one of the following three events will have occurred:

  1. Open and public negotiations begin for the country’s partition. Omnia Babylonia in tres partes divisa est.
  2. Evacuation of most American troops out of the Green Zone to some set of over the horizon bases.
  3. A massive air campaign against Iran.

The Administration will do everything in its power to prevent either of the first two from happening before the congressional elections. Since any Republican bounce due to yet another war will last for weeks at best, the third is also likely to be postponed until at least late October; but should facts on the ground turn clearly desperate, it will be the fallback.

The three options are not mutually exclusive. No doubt the gang that can neither shoot straight, nor refrain from shooting, would like them to occur in the order mentioned. In particular, should the third precede the second, the Green Zone’s southern logistic lifelines would be snapped, and the carnage on our troops would make Iraq Part Deux look like a Sunday School outing. But the gang tcnssnrfs is not exactly in full control of events any longer.

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