Was it only two weeks ago that Joe Biden explained that Iraq was on track to become "one of the great achievements" of the Obama Administration? Now Thomas Ricks, author of "Fiasco" and "The Gamble", warns us of the fragile stability in Iraq and the possible need for a delay in US troop withdrawals:
IRAQ’S March 7 national election, and the formation of a new government that will follow, carry huge implications for both Iraqis and American policy. It appears now that the results are unlikely to resolve key political struggles that could return the country to sectarianism and violence.
If so, President Obama may find himself later this year considering whether once again to break his campaign promises about ending the war, and to offer to keep tens of thousands of troops in Iraq for several more years. Surprisingly, that probably is the best course for him, and for Iraqi leaders, to pursue.
The best course politically? Yikes! I don't even want to imagine the reaction of Obama supporters who equate peace in Iraq with an absence of US troops (No, I don't know why that means we don't have peace in Darfur...). So, does "peace" mean "No US troops", or a stable (and democratic, bless us!) Iraq? Biden firmly straddled this two weeks ago:
I am very optimistic about -- about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration. You're going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer. You're going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government.
When might Obama be obliged to announce a delay in the pace of withdrawals?
By late summer, the Obama administration could find itself in the uncomfortable position of reconsidering its vows to get out of combat in Iraq by August and to remove all troops by the end of next year. This will be politically difficult for the president, but he has shown admirable flexibility in his handling of Iraq. My impression is that the American people now wish they had never heard of Iraq, but understand just what a mess it is and are willing to give the president a surprising amount of leeway.
Late August or early September? Like, two months from the election? I don't see Obama making an announcement like this, unless he has a subtle political strategy that relies on every liberal in America sitting out the 2010 election. Of course, it is a bit late for Obama to pursue his 2007 strategy, which was to lose and blame Bush.
Ricks admits to great uncertainty:
The political situation is far less certain, and I think less stable, than most Americans believe. A retired Marine colonel I know, Gary Anderson, just returned from Iraq and predicts a civil war or military coup by September. Another friend, the journalist Nir Rosen, avers that Iraq is on a long-term peaceful course. Both men know Iraq well, having spent years working there. I have not seen such a wide discrepancy in expert views since late 2005.
Ricks could be wrong about the need to leave our troops there longer. And if Ricks is right the media won't cover it.