Americans can assume that Secretary of State John Kerry was in Baghdad Monday to see if Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki could make a case that would justify further U.S. support for his regime.
The visit also let Mr. Kerry judge the state of play with the country’s more moderate Sunni and Kurdish leaders in light of the rapid advance toward Baghdad of forces from the extreme Sunni movement, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
After a round of meetings with various Iraqi leaders, Mr. Kerry warned that they should devise a new, inclusive government that would represent the interests of the nation’s competing factions. He also said that the Iraqi people, not the United States or any other country, should choose the country’s leadership.
It is difficult to imagine what useful information Mr. Kerry might have obtained from Mr. Maliki. The Sunnis and Kurds will almost certainly insist that Mr. Maliki depart from the scene, or that he put into place power-sharing arrangements with both of them. He is unlikely to resign, believing as he probably does that he can hold onto power by enlisting Shiite militias alongside his failed national army to defend him.
With respect to the Sunnis, let’s hope Mr. Kerry and President Barack Obama aren’t thinking about trying to buy them off again with cash, as the United States did in the throes of the Iraq War. ISIS already has plenty of cash, scooped up as it has advanced from city to city across the Sunni heartland. The moderate Sunnis are unlikely, even for large sums of money, to fight the well-armed and highly motivated ISIS partisans.
The 300 Special Operations forces that Mr. Obama is thinking about sending should be put into the so-called Green Zone, where most of the 5,000 Americans in Iraq are, to be able to carry out helicopter rescues to avoid a massacre or hostage situation.
What Washington should be seeking is not to save Mr. Maliki and his Shiite government but to establish lines to what is coming in Iraq — Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite segments, each with different governments in place and each with oil to sell. Such a practical policy would be more rooted in anticipating events than trying to save face.