Looks as if Ibrahim al-Jaafari has blinked in his two-month-long staring contest with Zalmay Khalilzad (with Ali al-Sistani apparently backing Khalilzad). Al-Jaafari, a Shi’a nationalist with links to the death squads who was Moqtada al-Sadr’s candidate, and the official candidate of the dominant Shi’a coalition to continue as Prime Minister of Iraq, has withdrawn his candidacy. That candidacy was opposed by the Sunni Arabs, the Kurds, and secularists of all religious and ethnic identities, as well as the U.S. and the U.N.
If al-Jaafari had been confirmed, or if the democratic process had been scrapped in favor of some sort of coalition of unelected strongmen, the case for getting American troops out of Iraq would have been overwhelming. But if our presence actually gives us political leverage that can actually be used for the good — and anything bad for Moqtada is good for humanity — then it’s reasonable to stay awhile.
Update But here’s some bad news from the streets to offset the good news from the political process.
Footnote Staying awhile is not, of course, the same thing as building a vice-regal palace and permanent military bases, or grabbing oil-drilling and infrastructure contracts for American companies.
The need for a “timetable” seems to me the wrong way to frame the issue; the basic question is whether we intend to make Iraq into a virtual U.S. protectorate or not. To the neocons, displacing Saddam was and remains merely a means to the end of seizing control of Iraq as a military base and slush fund. But that purpose, as opposed to the purpose of first getting rid of a dictator and then preventing a civil war, has virtually no popular support. So Democrats ought to try to make that the topic of debate.