As the watershed August 15th deadline for the Iraqi constitutional committee approaches, the situation is looking mighty grim. The current constitutional drafting process is in deadlock, having just released a draft that enshrines not only shari'ah law but, as Juan Cole has reported , Shi'ite religious leaders as holders of a religious veto over any and all national legislation. Combine that with last weekend's release of a map  by the Kurds that shows Kurdish territory extending to the south of Baghdad and the tenuous participation  of the Sunni delegation. All told, it looks like the analysis of Nathan Brown  from the Carnegie Endowment, that the current process, "will disappoint many of its participants," is a profound understatement.
Shift back to Washington, then. Jim Lobe reported  yesterday that there are a variety of efforts underway among various democratic groups and members of Congress to explore the issue of withdrawal. Indeed, in May, an initial effort in the House of Representatives to insist that the Bush administration be up front about its plans for terminating the conflict in Iraq gathered 128 votes.
Many advocates, including former Secretary of Defense John Deutch, former Senator Ernest Hollings, and development economist Jeffrey Sachs, are calling for simple withdrawal, under the belief that the American presence is doing more harm than good.
Such an argument is flawed for a whole host of reasons. First, if U.S. forces withdraw before a viable political agreement has been reached among Iraqis, there will be civil war and it will, as Shi'ite leader Sistani said, be genocidal. Second, the U.S. military strategy in Iraq has been flawed from day one, but its current focus on heavy-handed counter-insurgency operations launched from rural bases rather than the systematic expansion of civilian security centered on large population centers is what is making things worse. Third, from a negotiation standpoint, if the political process completely breaks down and civil war starts, bringing parties together for a negotiated resolution will be extremely difficult and that means thousands more lives lost. Fourth, Iraq, unlike Vietnam, is a genuinely strategic interest of Americans—including progressives—because of its oil. If Iraq descends into civil war, the regional disruption will send oil prices through the roof, which will tank the American economy, hurting working families hardest.
Rather, a more sophisticated effort that transforms the U.S. military presence, that salvages and balances the political process, and that places the reconstruction of Iraq into the shared control of the international community and the nascent Iraqi government and out of the hands of contractors, is necessary.
But that's not all. Even more important to success in Iraq is dealing once and for all with the Iraqi (and worldwide) perception that America invaded Iraq to secure the world's oil supply. Larry Diamond reports in his recent book—about the missed opportunity in Iraq— that the vast majority of Iraqis believe this was our purpose. And every other rationale offered by the Bush administration has turned out to be lies. The most powerful tool for building trust in Iraq will be for Iraqis to see that at least half of America does not support that objective. Of course, Bush cannot deliver that message.
So, if simple withdrawal does more harm than good and there is an alternative Iraq policy that can put Iraq on a viable course, such an alternative has to be pressed as a major priority here in Washington. But at the same time, groups who oppose the current policy in Iraq must speak to their own strategic assumptions and say how they would deal with America's increasing reliance on global oil markets, and increasingly, on the Persian Gulf itself. The half measures of many democratic-leaning groups on energy security do not deal honestly with our reliance. That makes their motives still suspect. What will is a 25-year program to get off oil completely.
Ironically, it is a Pentagon-sponsored plan  that delivers not only such a plan but also details the security, jobs and profits that would go along with it. My own experience in peacebuilding in the Balkans convinces me that we can still salvage Iraq. But none of that will be possible until we make it clear to Iraqis that oil is no longer our dominant motive.