8 May edition of the New Yorker - Not Wise by George Packer.

... If there are any Wise Men available in the spring of 2006, what should they tell President Bush to do in Iraq? And, if they told him, would he listen? The government is in a strange and prolonged state of paralysis. Many officials in the Administration now admit, privately, and after years of willful blindness, that the war, in which almost twenty-four hundred Americans have died, and whose cumulative cost will reach $320 billion this year, is going badly and shows no prospect of a quick turnaround. Asked why the President doesn’t take this or that step to try to salvage what will become his legacy—fire his Secretary of Defense, for example—they drop their heads, as if to say: We know, he should, but it’s not going to happen. At the same time, they can’t quite bring themselves to abandon hope for a miracle.

Last week, hope took the unlikely shape of a hard-line Shiite politician named Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who was finally named Prime Minister of the permanent government in Baghdad, more than four months after it was elected. He is a compromise candidate among Iraq’s warring groups, which include two opposing factions within what is still called the Shiite alliance. If he inspires any confidence here, it is because no one knows anything about him. The idea is that Iraq, which an Iraqi official recently described as “a country near death,” will somehow begin to consolidate around the government of Prime Minister Maliki, and the violence will somehow begin to subside. As a strategy, this amounts to muddling through the rest of the Bush Presidency, without being forced to admit defeat, until January of 2009, when the war will become a new President’s problem...

One alternative was recently offered by Senator John Kerry. Speaking in Boston on the thirty-fifth anniversary of his Senate testimony as a Vietnam veteran, Kerry delivered an indictment of the Bush-Cheney doctrine, with its cult of secrecy and its contempt for traditional American liberties, that was far more devastating than anything he could bring himself to say during the 2004 campaign. Having found his voice, Kerry abruptly concluded the speech with a new war policy: immediate withdrawal if Iraq doesn’t form “an effective unity government” by May 15th; withdrawal by the end of the year if it does. But abandoning Iraq in an exasperated rush will leave ordinary Iraqis far more vulnerable to the murderous conduct of the militias and the insurgents than they are now. As Sunnis, Shiites, and, possibly, Kurds finally face off without an American buffer, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey could be drawn into a wider war that could further destabilize the region and create large safe zones for jihadis.

The choice in Iraq should not be between the Administration’s failed eschatology and the growing eagerness of most politicians to be rid of the problem. Both moral obligation and self-interest require that Americans accept the consequences of the war and, if the Administration will not, imagine new ways to resolve it. Leslie Gelb and Senator Joseph Biden, in an Op-Ed they have written for the Times, propose that the United States, with the involvement of Iraq’s neighbors, broker a political deal among the country’s three main groups, based on terms set down in Iraq’s new constitution: a division into three autonomous regions, a weak federal capital in Baghdad, and a fair share of the oil revenue for the Sunnis. The premise is that if the Iraqis are to have a chance of living together in the future, they need a period of separation now. This is, admittedly, the logic of desperation, raising a thousand questions and provoking as many vexing problems. Nor is it entirely a new idea. But, after three years of war and a chronic inability of leaders in both countries to think beyond next month, a fundamental change of policy deserves to be taken seriously. If there are no more Wise Men in Washington, can there at least be wisdom?