We reside in an interim period between eras. By virtue of the strength of the Presidency, Bush can maintain his "strategy" in Iraq through the end of his term. So long as Republicans side with Bush, they can block all reasonable efforts to instill some sanity to the effort. And, so long as we continue in this stalemate, Republicans and their media surrogates can continue to maintain a whistling-past-the-graveyard posture that their vision of foreign policy really is founded in reality.
Listening to a podcast of last week's McLaughlin Report, I was amused by the intense focus on the blunders of the Democrats in handling the Petraeus report. According to Pat Buchanan, they were shamefully impolite and abusive in asking tough questions. With pinheads like Chris Matthews poisoning the debate--so long embedded in this old reality of foreign policy "wisdom" that he cannot help but see the Dems as foolish--the faux reality hurtles forth like a dead buffalo of its own velocity.
But we need only look at three sentences from Bush's speech last week to see how screwed Republicans are:
"A free Iraq will counter the destructive ambitions of Iran. A free Iraq will marginalize extremists, unleash the talent of its people, and be an anchor of stability in the region. A free Iraq will set an example for people across the Middle East."George W. Bush is (sorry Mom, profanity on the way) batshit crazy. Dems are indeed floundering, but this is the consequence of the intractability of Iraq. The GOP, by comparison, is willfully holding a vision that is manifestly insane. The ship of public opinion is slow to turn around (it took forever following the FDR/Truman years for the Vietnam war to kill it, and it's taken a long time for Iraq), but once it does, a party's credibility is gone for a generation or more. When I'm qualifying for Social Security, the GOP will still bear the scarlet letter of neoconservatism, just like the Dems have borne, until the past year or so, the stain of traitorousness.
Future of Iraq
There are a few things that can be said about Iraq: 1) it will not be "free," 2) it will remain violent, irrespective of any choices we make, and 3) sectarian rivalries will challenge an intact state for at least years and probably decades to come. The best the US can do now is try to guide it to the least disastrous of several terrible possibilities.
The worst outcome is an Iraq left to itself to fester amid sectarian hatreds. In that scenario, thugs like Sadr get more power as they bring relative safety to neighborhoods. However, it creates a built-in feedback loop for instability, because each sectarian thug retains his power only by virtue of having other sectarian thugs to "protect" the people from. Iraq's neighbors would be the most empowered in this situation, as they offer clandestine support for factions, happy to see Iraq weak and subservient.
A better outcome probably looks something like a loose system of federalism, where a tripartite Iraq is governed locally. In this scenario, the US and world partners would have to be actively and militarily involved in a manner of parents keeping kids in a perpetual time-out, keeping the Sadrs from bombing too many mosques, and doling out oil money to keep the three happy (enough). This is an interim solution, with more permanent change decades down the road (independence for the regions, absorption elsewhere, or most unlikely, reunification under a stronger central government).
Politics of Iraq
The GOP thinks it can somehow foist culpability off on Dems by losing the next election, so they have a motivation to keep things going. This is willful delusion, but given the alternative, it's all they got. The '08 election, which the GOP still think can be won by invoking old bromides about "strength," will result in a profound rejection of the GOP and precipitate the decades-long banishing to the wilderness of foreign policy debates.
Dems, for their part, know that culpability will always rest with the GOP, so they're in no great hurry to lose the political advantage a catastrophic, unpopular war provides. So they also have a motivation to keep things going through '08. The Dems do have one big potential worry: by promising to get out yesterday from Iraq, they wield a potent political weapon against the GOP, but one they can't possibly deliver on. If they just screw around without a plan, hoping for the whole thing to blow over so they can turn to health care, which is what they really want to talk about, they run the risk of screwing up Iraq more profoundly--see scenario one, above.
I suspect the Dems will pull it together before the election sufficiently to avoid this fate (the antiwar talk of '07 will give way to a more realpolitik posture in the general of '08), but it's worth watching. Dems have a pretty impressive track record of screwing up.