Thomas L. Friedman: Let's talk about IraqWASHINGTON Ever since Iraq's remarkable election, the country has been descending deeper and deeper into violence. But no one in Washington wants to talk about it. Conservatives don't want to talk about it because, with a few exceptions, they think their job is just to applaud whatever the Bush team does. Liberals don't want to talk about Iraq because, with a few exceptions, they thought the war was wrong and deep down don't want the Bush team to succeed.
As a result, Iraq is drifting sideways and the whole burden is being carried by the American military. The rest of America has gone shopping, which seems to suit Karl Rove just fine.
Well, we need to talk about Iraq. This is no time to give up - this is still winnable - but it is time to ask: What is our strategy? This question is urgent because Iraq is inching toward a dangerous tipping point - the point where the key communities begin to invest more energy in preparing their own militias for a scramble for power, when everything falls apart, rather than investing their energies in making the hard compromises within and between their communities to build a unified, democratizing Iraq.
Our core problem in Iraq remains Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's disastrous decision - endorsed by President George W. Bush - to invade Iraq on the cheap. From the day the looting started, it has been obvious that we did not have enough troops there. We have never fully controlled the terrain.
Almost every problem we face in Iraq today - the rise of ethnic militias, the weakness of the economy, the shortages of gas and electricity, the kidnappings, the flight of middle-class professionals - flows from not having gone into Iraq with the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force.
Yes, yes, I know we are training Iraqi soldiers by the battalions, but I don't think this is the key. Who is training the insurgent-fascists? Nobody. And yet they are doing daily damage to U.S. and Iraqi forces. Training is overrated, in my book. Where you have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching above its weight. Where you don't have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching a clock.
Where do you get motivated officers and soldiers? That can come only from an Iraqi leader and government that are seen as representing all the country's main factions. So far the Iraqi political class has been a disappointment. The Kurds have been great. But the Sunni leaders have been shortsighted at best and malicious at worst, fantasizing that they are going to make a comeback to power through terror. As for the Shiites, their spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has been a positive force on the religious side, but he has no political analog. No Shiite Hamid Karzai has emerged.
"We have no galvanizing figure right now," observed Kanan Makiya, the Iraqi historian who heads the Iraq Memory Foundation. "Sistani's counterpart on the democratic front has not emerged. Certainly, the Americans made many mistakes, but at this stage less and less can be blamed on them. The burden is on Iraqis. And we still have not risen to the magnitude of the opportunity before us."
I still don't know if a self-sustaining, united and democratizing Iraq is possible. I still believe it is a vital U.S. interest to find out. But the only way to find out is to create a secure environment. It is very hard for moderate, unifying, national leaders to emerge in a cauldron of violence.
Maybe it is too late, but before we give up on Iraq, why not actually try to do it right? Double the American boots on the ground and redouble the diplomatic effort to bring in those Sunnis who want to be part of the process and fight to the death those who don't.
As Stanford University's Larry Diamond, author of an important new book on the Iraq war, "Squandered Victory," puts it, we need "a bold mobilizing strategy" right now. That means the new Iraqi government, the United States and the United Nations teaming up to widen the political arena in Iraq, energizing the constitution-writing process and developing a communications-diplomatic strategy that puts our bloodthirsty enemies on the defensive rather than us.
The Bush team has been weak in all these areas. For weeks now, we haven't even had ambassadors in Iraq, Afghanistan or Jordan.
We've already paid a huge price for the Rumsfeld Doctrine - "Just enough troops to lose." Calling for more troops now, I know, is the last thing anyone wants to hear. But we are fooling ourselves to think that a decent, normal, forward-looking Iraqi politics or army is going to emerge from a totally insecure environment, where you can feel safe only with your own tribe.