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April 08, 2008

Who You Gonna Call?
Posted by David Shorr

As I was looking through David Corn's Mother Jones column of questions he collected, one of them jumped out at me as placing a slightly different emphasis on Iran's recent mediating role. Retired Army Colonel, and blogger, Patrick Lang suggested Petraeus should be asked:

Why did the Iraqis go to Qom for mediation of the recent crisis at Basra?

Most of the attention has been put on Iran's links to multiple factions or whether Tehran is closer to Maliki or Sadr. Then there's the irony of the peacemaking role played by someone on the official US terror list. And of course, the "who won?" question.

But this is different. The answer, of course, is obvious. Same as in any mediation, Qom has the trust of the parties. And so (depressingly) obvious, too, is the virtual irrelevance of the US occupation that made Iran's role so critical. It might actually be heartening if we learned that Amb. Crocker had some connection and involvement in Iran's mediation effort. (Ah, what strange times we live in.)

This angle on the issue is sort of like the did-Maliki-share-his-plans-with-us question. Gee, with so many American forces there, shouldn't we be involved in major moves like this? It's even closer to Gordon Adams' excellent set of questions in the same David Corn piece:

Why do you and the administration continue to plan policy as if we have any leverage in Iraq? Don't American forces have precious little to do with the "frozen" character of the conflict? Sunni peace is dependent on the sheikhs, not us; Shiite peace is in question because of the decisions of militia we have little influence over; and Baghdad has already purged its mixed neighborhoods, which has solidified the barriers between hostile neighbors. A dysfunctional government we prop up has virtually no impact on the country's security or economy outside Baghdad, and 70 percent of the people want us to leave. It seems the U.S. is completely unable to influence the fundamentals of the situation. So why should anyone assume that more or fewer U.S. troops are the key factor in Iraq's future?

I mean, we're not being too wonkish to wonder about America's leverage, are we?


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This is also a good question for the Democratic candidates, both of whom say we need to continue to defend our Vatican-sized embassy in Baghdad. What's the embassy for, if we have so little influence over the government, and how can it even be defended with a "small reserve force"?

BTW, it's clear that the Basra operation was planned with our cooperation. The Iraqi army needs our logistical support, so at the very least we had a veto over the attack. What's more, it's hard to believe that Bush and Gates would ignore Petraeus if the general warned about a possible fiasco and advised that the attack be delayed a few weeks until after his report to Congress.

IOW, the Basra operation reflects badly on Petraeus' judgment as well.

Occupation without influence is about as bad as you can manage in a situation like this. Pet-Crock really need to tell us straight: "America screwed this up so badly that there is nothing our army can do, short of an oppressive occupation with half a million troops, to affect what is happening in Iraq. Leave or stay, it doesn't matter, but I'm too concerned about my own career and the history books to be the one who has to admit that we failed."

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