The missing Republican realists have been worrying Ross for a while now, so he may be gratified by the recent speech of Sen. Lugar on Iraq, which reads like an “internationally-minded” realist’s how-to guide for Near East policy. The speech has begun having an effect on the Senate GOP, mainly among those members, such as John Warner, who have been most skeptical of the “surge,” but the speech may have emboldened them to do something more than stand there and look gravely unhappy. As we might expect, Lugar’s view seems to be, summed up briefly, “We really ought to follow through on those ISG recommendations, while investing heavily in ethanol!” He makes the statement in the most authoritative establishmentarian way as he can–he blames sloganeering and opportunism and (egads!) ”partisan political calculations” for the present state of affairs–and gives a lecture on the irrelevance of benchmarks. His view seems to be that Iraq is in such bad shape that trying to get some measurement of progress is ridiculous–better to just drop all talk of these measurements, while shaking a cragged, aged finger at those proposing to use such measurements as a way of determining whether or not the new tactical plan was having its intended and desired effect. In a sense, he has a point. As he admits, the plan is not working, so why bother with anything so tiresome as a debate over benchmarks?
Of course, he gives that lecture on benchmarks in the context of remarks declaring that political progress in Iraq is essentially a fantastic, incredible dream, and he notes, “Few Iraqis have demonstrated that they want to be Iraqis.” If “sectarian factionalism” is not going to abate and it “probably cannot be controlled from the top,” what exactly is the flaw with the position arguing for relatively more rapid American withdrawal? Suppose that I grant that “we” have “vital interests” in other parts of the Near East–Lugar nowhere persuades any skeptic that withdrawal from Iraq, be it “phased” or “precipitous” or whatever, actually does more to damage our ability to protect those “vital interests” (i.e., ready access to the oil supply) than remaining where we are. It is as if withdrawal from Iraq must also mean a pell-mell abandonment of every other commitment in the region. Gradual disentanglement from these commitments would be desirable, but this isn’t on the agenda for a while yet, as there are more immediate concerns. Even though “sectarian factionalism” will not abate, and there seems to be no military means that Lugar sees that can overcome the lack of security, departing from Iraq–even if it is done as part of an effort to contain and limit the further spread of instability outside Iraq–is simply not allowed in Lugar’s arrangement. His main argument against withdrawal, after citing the potential for greater instability (a greater future instability that is not necessarily being prevented by continued presence in Iraq), is that it would take some time to do it right, as if this were not in itself a strong argument for beginning the preparations now.
In short, he declares every assumption central to the new plan being implemented since January to be wrong, announces the impossibility of the “surge” to accomplish its goals and essentially states that the political situation in Iraq is so miserable that no one should pretend it will be getting better anytime soon, but from this he nonetheless concludes that it can’t possibly be the best of all bad options to leave Iraq. He wants a re-deployment to Kuwait and non-urban and Kurdish areas of Iraq, which is effectively an admission that the military presence in Iraq will not be used to improve the security of non-Kurdish Iraqis–so why keep them in Iraq itself? There are no real answers to this, except fear of a greater instability for which the realist will not be able to prevent in any event. That is what establishment Republican realism amounts to in the end: a recognition of the exact same problems that opponents of the war have been describing for months and years and a refusal to do anything except more or less soldier on for lack of imagination.