It won't be quick or easy. But, surprisingly, there are at least some ideas
Abizaid delivered a barely veiled warning in recent congressional testimony, following his visit with Maliki. "We are in danger of having civil war," he said, "if the government does not open a reasonable dialogue for national reconciliation and back its Army in its attempt to gain stability 100 percent." U.S. military officials have been frustrated by numerous incidents in which Maliki undercut Iraqi troops who were going after death squad leaders and kidnappers, apparently to shield Shiite militia figures or avoid the wrath of Shiite politicians.
If all avenues for reaching an accord have not already been exhausted, the question is whether any new inducements ought to be offered. Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, who will become the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee in January, has called for President Bush to announce an initial troop cut within four to six months as a way of putting pressure on Maliki. Levin envisions it as a clear signal and not necessarily a prelude to further cuts, and he opposes any scheduled withdrawal as too rigid, an aide says. Levin would also leave it up to the Pentagon to decide how many troops to withdraw.
Regional diplomacy. There is wide agreement on the desirability of enlisting Iraq's neighbors to support a political accord there or reduce their assistance to insurgent and militia groups. The new Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill advocates convening an international conference to gain greater cooperation. U.S. officials say that Syria is allowing Sunni insurgents across its border, and they say Iran is helping Shiite militia groups in a bid for wider regional influence. Proponents of dialogue argue that while these countries are U.S. adversaries, neither wants Iraq to become a failed state. "I believe both countries would try to bargain," says a Mideast diplomat. "The question is, should bad behavior be rewarded?"
Baker has not taken a public stand on the merits of negotiating with Syria and Iran, but as a matter of principle he said: "Personally, I believe in talking to your enemies." He recalled in an October interview that it took him 16 trips to Syria to get the government to change its 25-year-old policy and sit down with Israel in 1991. "That never would have happened," he said, "had we not made those trips and had we not talked to them."
In the past few days, the administration has appeared to open the door a crack. The State Department's David Satterfield, its top official on Iraq, said that the administration is prepared to talk to Iran but not to Syria. "We believe the Syrian government is well aware of our concerns and the steps required to address those concerns," he said curtly. But, he added, "we are prepared, in principle, to discuss Iranian activities in Iraq." This was the clearest indication to date that the administration may move soon to embrace this diplomatic gambit.
The U.S. diplomatic overtures to its friends in the region have so far borne little fruit. Satterfield acknowledged that the Persian Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, have not forgiven Iraq's debt to them as Washington has asked and are unwilling to provide peacekeeping forces. This is partly because of these Sunni-led states' concern over the rise of Iran's influence in Iraq but also because of their pique over the lack of U.S. consultation with them. Many experts advocate bringing in Europe and the United Nations to expand the tool kit of influence; next month the United Nations is supposed to announce an international compact that will bring economic benefits if Iraq implements economic reforms. Officials say politics and a dysfunctional bureaucracy have left some $13 billion in petrodollars bottled up in Iraq's finance ministry.