After summarising the generally gloomy prospects for IraqPaul Krugman writes in today’s NYT
much of U.S. policy in Iraq – delaying elections, trying to come up with a formula that blocks simple majority rule, trying to install first Mr. Chalabi, then Mr. Allawi, as strongman – can be seen as a persistent effort to avoid giving Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani his natural dominant role. But recent events in Najaf have demonstrated both the cleric’s awesome influence and the limits of American power. Isn’t it time to realize that we could do a lot worse than Mr. Sistani, and give him pretty much whatever he wants?
He’s right, but it’s important to look ahead to the next step. Sistani has rejected violent resistance to the American occupation, but has always opposed the occupation and has refused to meet with the Americans or their representatives. Assuming elections go ahead and a Shia majority government is elected, it will be under intense pressure to demand the withdrawal of US troops, regardless of the security situation.
Among the possible responses to this, the really stupid one (and therefore the one the Bush Administration will probably pick, if Bush is re-elected) would be to invoke Article 59 of the Transitional Administrative Law approved by the unelected Iraqi Governing Council, which allows for US troops to remain in effective control of the country until a permanent constitution is in place.
A more plausible solution, but one that would probably be unacceptable even to a Kerry Administration, would be to hand over command of a scaled down (but still mostly American) force to a UN commander, operating subject to the control of the elected government. The Iraqi government would probably accept such a compromise.
The final option would be to pull out as requested, and leave the Iraqis to sort out the resulting mess. It’s looking increasingly likely that this will be the actual outcome, and perhaps it would be better than what we have at present.