Iraq's domino effect
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 24/08/2007
The heat of electioneering in Washington is sending confusing signals about the American commitment to Iraq. On Monday, Senator Carl Levin, Democratic chairman of the Senate armed services committee, called on the Iraqi parliament to vote the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, out of office because of his failure to create a political consensus between the different ethnic and religious groups.
The day after, George W. Bush confessed to "a certain level of frustration" with the Shia-dominated administration. America appeared to be preparing for withdrawal by blaming the Iraqis for reneging on their side of the bargain, political reform. Yet on Wednesday the President described Mr al-Maliki as "a good man with a difficult job", and reviewed more than 60 years of history, from Imperial Japan through Korea and Vietnam, to persuade his audience that America had to stay the course in Iraq, to meet "the desire for liberty written into the human heart by our Creator".
As things stand, the President will not countenance a precipitate withdrawal of American forces, which means that he will bequeath a still heavy Iraqi deployment to his successor in 17 months' time. But the pressure on Mr al-Maliki is set to heighten, and American goals in Iraq are likely to narrow.
A National Intelligence Estimate published today concludes that Iraq's political leaders "remain unable to govern effectively". Meanwhile, generals in the field are suggesting that an effective government, which can provide services and security, is more important than a democratic one.
From this imbroglio Mr Bush and his successor will have to fashion a coherent exit strategy, for the consequences of defeat in Iraq are likely to be much more serious than they were in Vietnam. South-East Asia did not fall prey to the domino theory after the fall of Saigon. An Iraq engulfed by civil war promises to be a far greater