December 19, 2004

Stay or Go

An interesting take on the Kristol/Rumsfeld flap, courtesy of Justin Logan:
Rumsfeld wants out of Iraq, and the neocons are scared to death that he'll succeed.
Except at this point, it's hard to figure out how much control Rumsfeld has over troop levels in Iraq anymore. If, over the next few months, Shiite politicians campaign on a "USA Must Go" platform—perhaps spurred on by the threat of Moqtada al-Sadr denouncing elections—and then actually ask the U.S. to leave, then the Bush administration won't have much choice but to draw down troops. On the other hand, if the Shiite leaders realize that the entire competent wing of the Iraqi security force is smaller than the entire Sunni insurgency, and don't like their chances in a real knife-fight, they'll ask the U.S. to stay.

Here's where things get tricky. The Shiite leaders probably can't ask the U.S. loudly and openly to stick around—the backlash from Moqtada and others would be fierce. So perhaps they do it quietly; but in that case, they can't put public pressure on the president to stay in Iraq, and Rumsfeld has the upper hand in making this call behind the scenes. Disaster!

So… enter Iyad Allawi. According to wire reports, the Shia are thinking about keeping him around. Swopa—who usually has a fine ear for these little developments—thinks it's just a sop to keep the wily old Ba'athist from causing havoc in the January elections, and Allawi will never get to sniff a leadership role in the new Iraq. But here's the thing: What if the Shiites know they need the Americans to stay, and want Allawi to make the announcement? He already has a reputation for being a sock puppet, so he wouldn't have to worry about the Sadr backlash. In fact, he might be the only politician who could publicly drive the Bush administration into a corner and force the US to stay, even over the wishes of Rumsfeld.
-- Brad Plumer 3:13 PM || ||