Their exact words are “let them resolve their differences as they see fit,” but it’s pretty clear what they mean:
[T]he Shiites have achieved what they believe is rightfully theirs. Their next task is to figure out how best to consolidate the gains, because reconciliation without consolidation risks losing it all. Washington’s insistence that the Iraqis correct the three gravest mistakes we made — de-Baathification, the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and the creation of a loose federalist system of government — places us at cross purposes with the government we have committed to support.
Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.
The “80% solution,” in other words. If you can’t give them security and dignity, the authors say, at least give them dignity by pulling back (and ultimately out) and letting the Shiites win. That doesn’t make sense on their own terms — “we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence,” they say at one point, leaving one to wonder what kind of “dignity” they imagine will obtain once the Sadrists ascend the throne — but their point is clear enough. We can’t win, we’re only postponing the inevitable, so let’s cut our losses.
Oh well. The Times had to make amends to the left for that O’Hanlon and Pollack op-ed in time for the big Iraq debate next month. And now they have.
Update: A lengthy but worthwhile rejoinder to the NYT piece from Grim at Blackfive. Sample:
The article suggests that the Shi’ites are trying to ‘consolidate their hold over Iraq,’ but what they really seem to be doing is competing for the right to consolidate the Shi’ite majority…
The EFPs, the murders of Shi’ite holy men who are not aligned with Iran, these are not the mark of an ungovernable local situation. They are the mark of intentional troublemaking — proxy warfighting — by Iran against the United States. The planting of EFPs against American targets becomes, then, not an expression of native anti-American hatred — a show of disgust for an occupier — but part of a war fought by Iran to control the Iraqi state by winning control of the Shi’ites…
Rather than engage the political question of what to do about Iran, I want to point to the military reality that their involvement creates. What we are seeing here is not a national liberation movement by Shi’ites against Americans come to be viewed as occupiers. What we are seeing is a divided Shi’ite Iraq, engaged in deadly infighting; with Iran backing some of the groups in a bid to control Iraq, and meanwhile also using them to wage proxy attacks against the United States. A national liberation movement directed against us would be a cause for despair indeed; less so the situation as it is. We can debate separately how we deal with Iran, but when we have dealt with them, a large part of this issue will resolve itself.