A surge for diplomacy

Senators, experts see more talk, not more troops, as the last best hope for Iraq.

By Tim Grieve
Published January 10, 2007 5:10PM (EST)

Launching a series of hearings on the war in Iraq, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were told by a panel of experts this morning that the only real hope for Iraq will come through international diplomacy -- or when the participants involved in sectarian violence decide that they've got more to gain by striking deals than by killing each other.

Amid the bleak assessment, the question of George W. Bush's plan for a troop surge was almost irrelevant. Nobody in the room -- not the senators, not the experts assembled in front of them -- seemed to think that simply sending 20,000 more troops could make a real difference in the overall course of the war. The United States might be able to "steamroll" its way to success in Iraq if it sends 500,000 more troops," Yahia Said, the director of Iraq Revenue Watch, told the committee. As for a smaller surge? Brookings' Michael O'Hanlon said that the best the United States could hope for is that a surge of troops into Baghdad might create some "momentum" that would spread out from there, but even he cautioned that there aren't enough trained and inclined-to-be-cooperative Iraqi troops available in the country now to work with the U.S. troops Bush plans to send.

Senators on both sides of the aisle suggested that progress in Iraq -- if it's possible at all -- will have to come through the sort of international diplomacy the Bush administration isn't interested in pursuing. Sen. Richard Lugar said he'd push Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, scheduled to appear before the committee later this week, to discuss the idea of "grand diplomacy" involving all of the players in the Middle East, including the Syrians and the Iranians. Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel said that "no matter the question," the answer for Iraq -- and for the broader Middle East -- can't be found without meeting "the absolute requirement for a political settlement."

Iraq historian Phebe Marr agreed that a political settlement is essential, but she said that it's unlikely to happen through a formal process of summit meetings and contact groups. Instead, she said, Iraq will have to suffer through a long period of violence before "different groups" start making "different deals" across sectarian divides. But as Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer said, Americans aren't willing to wait much longer for Iraqis to work things out among themselves. "Our kids are getting killed," she said. Recalling Marr's contention that Iraqi reconciliation -- with or without a troop surge -- will take a very long time, Boxer asked, "How many more dead will that be?"


Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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