Gordon Brown was here in Washington, D.C., the other day, where he and President Bush had “substantive” and “far-ranging” discussions which were — stop me if you have heard this one — nothing less than "productive." Which is not to say that all press releases after state visits are predictable; there is always some suspense over whether the talks will be far-ranging, or its fraternal twin, far-reaching. But make no mistake about it. Big stuff did happen in this meeting. Anyone who has ever worked in a real policy position in government knows exactly what happened and I, as your fearless recorder of truth and the American way, am about to let you into the inner circle.
Yep, the man with two last names came to tell our President that the man with two first names, Tony Blair, is gone. No more open-ended British commitment to the Iraq War. What he delivered to the President was more than an ultimatum. He simply gave him a date by which British forces would leave no matter what. Mister Bush may have wrangled by a month or two, but the bottom line is the same. There now exists a hard and fast date by which the United States must either wrap up operations in Iraq or go it alone. The clock is ticking.
Here is how it works in the real world. Brown’s Labour in England is essentially a left-wing party that lines up smoothly with our Democrats. Both Blair and Brown are more comfortable in the policy world of Harry Reid. Reality forces them to deal with Republicans in power, but there is no natural fit. In the case of the War on Terror, Blair determined that putting principle over politics was the right move and he backed Bush in Afghanistan and, more surprisingly, even in Iraq. But if he had dreamed in March 2003 that in August 2007 we would be talking about troop surges, he would never have played: it is that simple.
Labourites are not thrilled about Iraq, and it contributed mightily to the climate which led to Blair stepping down. For Brown entering office it serves merely as an albatross; no upside, steady drag, big downside. Trust me, every man and woman in Washington knows that Gordon gave George a date he will never forget. The speculation centers not on if, but on when.
The White House handled the timing of the week’s events quite masterfully. Brown came, the meeting took place, the joint statement provided a middling-to-warmish endorsement by Brown, and the next day brought news of lower death rates in Iraq. The atmosphere allows for some measure of a perceived consensus supporting the current policy. Behind the scenes, however, we are racing not only the Congressional clock but the British clock as well.
The truth is that Republicans want the main part of the war over before the primary season begins in earnest. Although Democrats would not be thrilled to inherit the current situation if they win the Presidency in ’08, they certainly do not mind running for the office with this in the background. Thus, we are racing yet a third clock, the internal Republican political clock.
All of which gives the Iraqi leaders, such as they are, a tremendous opportunity. That region of the world prides itself on being skillful in horse — or camel — trading, and they can spot a buyer’s market from an oasis away. If they can hammer together a working coalition to keep the country stable enough to ask the Americans and British to leave, they will be able to demand the most favorable economic conditions. American negotiators would give them the kitchen sink and throw in a garbage disposal and a dishwasher. If those guys can muster the political will and fortitude, the next four months represent an amazing opportunity.
Our troops can do a lot by surging, but this is the moment for the Iraqis to step up and manage their own shop. They will never have a confluence of events and circumstances that is quite this good again.
This brings us to one last news item of this week. The Iraqi national soccer team outdid itself and managed to win an upset victory at the Asia Cup. Immediately the idiot scoring hero opens his fool mouth to say the United States should never have liberated Iraq. Instead of shooting off his mouth, he should better exhort his countrymen to come together to form a durable government which can provide basic security. Inspire them to surpass their own expectations as the soccer squad did.