I was surprised at the consensus on our panel yesterday (among three people who have never discussed the issue before, and from much of a very knowledgeable and experienced audience based on post-session conversations) about where Iraq was heading: towards a warlord state, along a Basra model, with power devolved to local militias, gangs, tribes, and power-brokers, with a purely nominal central state.Based on past experience, I'd say we're going to stick with the radical disconnect model of doing business. At least for the next 15 months, anyway.
....This kind of fragmentation might help the US in its tactical maneuvers at the local level, and buy local stability in the short term. But it is absolute anathema to any kind of national deal....Whether such an outcome, if combined with a local Sunni power structure hostile to al-Qaeda, would pose a threat to American national interests is a debate worth having. It would certainly mean a major climbdown from initial American goals, but, then, a lot has happened over the last four years and it's quite clear that the US doesn't have the power to achieve its original goals. And it would hardly be optimal for Iraqis, since they would be condemned to live in a Hobbesian environment, and the refugee crisis would likely never be resolved. Should the US simply acknowledge the reality of the institutional and political environment it has created in Iraq, or maintain its current radical disconnect between its stated objectives and what it is actually doing?
Marc also has an interesting post about the latest bin Laden tape. Apparently the jihadis are seriously pissed at al-Jazeera for airing only the part of the tape that makes it sound like bin Laden was criticizing al-Qaeda in Iraq and calling for reconciliation. Turns out he wasn't. ("It's as if Bush gave a speech bashing Congress, and then CNN had only run clips suggesting that he had attacked Republicans, driving an entire news cycle dominated by "Bush attacks Republicans" and then nobody changed their story after the whole tape aired elsewhere.") More here.