Never satisfied to fail by half measures, this latest news makes me wonder whether the Bush administration is the result of some gentlemans’ bet to drive America as deeply into the ground as possible. Call it Hudsucker Proxy II: Potomac Boogaloo.
The Bush administration is deliberating whether to abandon U.S. reconciliation efforts with Sunni insurgents and instead give priority to Shiites and Kurds, who won elections and now dominate the government, according to U.S. officials.
The proposal, put forward by the State Department as part of a crash White House review of Iraq policy, follows an assessment that the ambitious U.S. outreach to Sunni dissidents has failed. U.S. officials are increasingly concerned that their reconciliation efforts may even have backfired, alienating the Shiite majority and leaving the United States vulnerable to having no allies in Iraq, according to sources familiar with the State Department proposal.
Some insiders call the proposal the “80 percent” solution, a term that makes other parties to the White House policy review cringe. Sunni Arabs make up about 20 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people.
This idea of openly supporting the
Sunni Shiite side in Iraq’s civil war, the “80 percent solution,”* has a layer of stupid that goes beyond the obvious catastrophe that would happen if we actually put it into effect (yes, there is a difference between passively and actively participating in genocide). By way of analogy, think about the national media. Rightwing partisans have fumed for decades about the media’s grand evil conspiracy to keep conservatives down. Ask a random rightie to flesh out their point and he or she will gladly sketch out mountains of damning evidence, a veritable Protocols of the Elders of CNN. In recent years leftwing pundits such as David Brock’s group have argued exactly the opposite point with equally damning mountains of evidence.
The point here isn’t that either “side” is necessarily correct. My view runs more along the lines that while two opposed points cannot both be right they can both be mostly wrong. As I see it the problem has less to do with partisanship per se (pedestrian human failures, on the other hand, are depressingly common) than with the media’s massive influence relative to its opaque internal decisionmaking. Other than the occasional darkly amusing FOX memo we the public don’t see much of the editorial process inside most media outlets, so we’re left to fill in whatever story suits our needs. As a result this knowledge vacuum can give the occasional inside glimpse more weight than it deserves. Whether or not Mark Halperin actually swings his ABC News coverage to please the rightwing viewers Halperin’s revoltingly obsequious behavior before Hugh Hewitt and others will color many people’s perceptions of ABC from now until he leaves the station.
Stepping back from my analogy, the Bush team has intentionally made itself one of the most opaque presidential administrations in history. Citizens of Iraq, just like the rest of us, have no real way of knowing the administration’s game plan regarding their own country. As a result I have no doubt that stray internal dialog like this will find a fertile ground in Iraq’s Sunni population, among the world’s nearly 1.5 billion Sunni Muslims and in the Sunni nations which make up our most important friends in the middle east.
Neoconservatives correctly viewed Iraq as a war of perceptions. In their view our success would create the perception of an irresistible American juggernaut and cow neighboring regimes into compliance without the need for (too many) further invasions. Well, Iraq is still a war of perceptions. Even after the unchecked looting, abu Ghraib and the bloody civil war idiot comments like our anonymous administration figure show that in this war we still have ground to lose.
(*) 80 percent solution? That’s great rhetoric. Hannah Arendt would be proud.