The 0% Solution
Regular readers of this blog know I am not one of those who view Joe Lieberman as some sort of demonic figure, or as a key factor in the Iraq mess, or as the incarnation of the DC Establishment. Lots of the attacks on him for allegedly stabbing Bill Clinton or Al Gore in the back are demonstrably misguided. Generally speaking, Lieberman has been a solid if occasionally heretical Democrat with one anachronistic flaw--his belief that George W. Bush or his party have done anything to merit "bipartisanship"--and one very large blind spot--Iraq.
After reading his Washington Post op-ed today calling for an escalation of troop deployments in Iraq, it's clear that blind spot isn't clearing up; if anything, it's getting larger. At best, it reads like the call for a tactic that might have theoretically made sense a couple of years ago. At worst, it represents a prescription for making the disastrous course of U.S. post-invasion policy in Iraq an even bigger disaster.
Lieberman's assessment of the situation on the ground in Iraq is wildly counter-intuitive and counter-factual. He would have us believe that al Qaeda and Iran are actively cooperating to thwart an emerging "moderate consensus" in Iraq that supports the current Maliki government. Iran, he suggests, is fully backing the Mahdi Army "extremists," who must be excluded, along with al Qaeda-backed Sunni "extremists," from a government based on "Sunni and Shiite moderates." An additional U.S. troop deployment--not a temporary "surge," it appears, but an expansion of the U.S. military presence until such time as "security" is assured, will do the trick. Otherwise, Iraq will descend into civil war.
Lord a'mighty, even the White House seems more realistic than Joe at this point. There aren't enough "Sunni moderates" left in Iraq to amount to anything. Maliki depends very explicitly on support from the Mahdi Army, and indirectly on support from Tehran. Iran's main client in Iraq is SCIRI and its Badr Corps militia, presumably a main factor in the "Shiite moderate" forces Lieberman is counting on. And by any definition--certainly the key one of whether the government has a monopoly on the use of force, or even on the use of force by its own employees in the police or the military--Iraq is already in a state of civil war.
At least those in the administration who favor the so-called "80% solution"--openly backing the Shia in an effort to crush the Sunni insurgency once and for all--are honest in admitting we have to choose between two threats at present, and favor an expansion of Iranian influence as less damaging to our long-term interests. Lieberman's approach--committing more U.S. troops to a new two-front war against the Sunni insurgents and the Mahdi Army, in support of a shaky pro-Iranian and pro-Sadr government--is a 0% solution, likely to do nothing more than increase the near-universal conviction of Iraqis that our presence is a plague that must be ended, preferably at the precise moment when their preferred faction is in ascendancy.
Having spent much of the last year investing as much rhetoric in attacking Tehran as in attacking al Qaeda, Joe Lieberman apparently can't bring himself to admit that there is no course of action, other than beginning troop withdrawals, that can maintain U.S. neutrality between the two threats. But no one else need follow Lieberman into the prison of his own logic about Iraq, or willfully accept his blind spot.
It's time for Joe to re-focus on global climate change, or health care, or tax reform, or oversight hearings into the Katrina disaster. Anything but Iraq. --