Last week, TomPaine.com concluded Bob Dreyfuss' two-part series exploring an exit strategy for Iraq (Part I  and Part II ). Building on Bob's work, I fleshed out the larger framework of a peace process  that could deal with the deficiencies in the Bush administration's political process, capitalize on the Dreyfuss plan and create the conditions for an American withdrawal.
That's all well and good, but if that's ever going to be more than words, progressives will have to start thinking like a party ready to govern and not just protest.
Over the next couple of entries, I'm going to explain why and how. To do that, I'm going to structure my argument using a well-tested military planning concept: OODA. Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. In this entry, I'm just going to look at the situation in Iraq and the interests of progressives in order to make the case that progressives have a real chance to lead on Iraq and it is in their interest to do so.
The current situation in Iraq is quite grave and in six weeks, it could get much worse. Physical security is deteriorating rapidly, threatening what shallow political consensus exists. Insurgent bombings are increasing in their accuracy, American military operations in the West are diplacing thousands of families and causing outbreaks of cholera, and just this morning, it was reported that a likely insurgent attack disrupted the water supply to millions of residents of Baghdad. It is not surprising then that secular Shi'ites in the South are calling for greater levels of autonomy and control of the southern oil fields.
Last Friday, Robin Wright and Andy Mosher wrote in The Washington Post  that the two priorities of incoming U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad are to push the political process forward and to accelerate the pace of training and deployment of Iraqi security forces. But his is an almost impossible task.
The political process is centered on drafting a constitution. Khalilzad has six weeks to press the Iraqi representatives to draft the document. If he misses that deadline, then the referendum, scheduled for October, will have to be pushed back. On top of that, as democracy scholar Larry Diamond has noted, the text Khalilzad will be pushing is a critically flawed formula that the Bremer-era Coalition Provisional Authority forced down the throats of the interim government.
But constitutional language is almost a secondary concern. Khalilzad's main challenge will be to seat additional Sunnis on the constitutional committee, but, according to the James Glanz of The New York Times , the current list is running smack into the de-Baathification laws promulgated by Bremer and prized by the Shi'ites. The Sunnis need a real representative stake in the constitution, but the process won't allow it. Today, the LA Times examines the complexities of the Sunni representation problem  and confirms that finding leadership will be no easy task.
Between the actual content of a constitution and the composition of the committee, it is likely that Khalilzad will miss the deadline, forcing a six-month extension of the constitutional drafting process. The impact of a missed deadline is difficult to predict. Frustration and insecurity could well up and bring people into the streets. Continued attacks and the U.S. counter-insurgency campaign could escalate and trigger something as well. Or, more simply, the Kurds and the secular Shi'ites could begin demanding greater autonomy than the current deal envisions, shattering the process entirely.
Conclusion: If the seriously-flawed constitutional process misses the deadline in six weeks, and it likely will, the Bush administration's strategy in Iraq will be in serious jeopardy, creating space for a viable alternative.
What are the interests of progressives vis-a-vis Iraq? Containment is one. Iraq is still poised on the brink of civil war, held back from that near certain fate by the American occupation. If Iraq descends into civil war, the stability of the wider Persian Gulf region is at stake. A destabilized Gulf would send a shock through the oil and gas markets, just in time for the winter heating season. Gasoline and heating fuel prices would hit unthinkable levels, and send our already fragile economy into recession. At home, the hardest hit would be the poor, the working class, the elderly and the lesser-skilled among the middle class.
Another interest is to establish a viable Iraqi state. Maintaining the status quo or containing the effects of a civil war require a level of American military engagement in Iraq that is distracting America from the larger problems we must tackle in the coming years, not to mention inflating our federal deficit. A viable Iraqi state will require genuine rule of law, minority rights, representative political parties, a sustainable economy and universal participation in both political and economic life. That's going to require a different kind of American engagement—not no American engagement.
A third interest is in restoring America's ability to lead the international community. The Bush administration has degraded our image and reputation severely, but not yet beyond repair. Success in dislodging the neoconservative plan for Iraq out of American policy would arguably be better than letting this destructive worldview continue unchecked for the rest of the administration's second term. To the extent that progressives can influence policy in Iraq, the likelihood of further neo-conservative aggression against Iran or Syria will be reduced.
Conclusion: Progressives have three overwhelming interests in pursuing an exit strategy for Iraq that leaves behind a viable Iraqi state. Put another way, the simplistic slogan "Out Now" suggests a policy of rapid withdrawal that, if implemented, would work against progressive interests.
Over the next couple of days, I'll look at the remaining two elements of this argument and explore what a progressive strategy in Iraq might entail.