Last night at a meeting of the Pacific Council in Los Angeles, Senator Dianne Feinstein offered an alarming assessment of the rapidly deteriorating political situation in Iraq and a sober perspective on the limited ability of the Congress to stop a president still bent on war.
Sen. Feinstein agreed with Hillary Clinton's statement before the VFW convention yesterday that the security situation in Al Anbar province was improving; but she pointedly added that there is no military solution to the Iraq mess, only a diplomatic and political one.
And here there is little cause for immediate hope. In the California Senator's view, Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, "is on his last legs," the Iraqi majority is yearning for a strong man and the militant Shiite cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr is waiting in the wings. According to Feinstein, an Iranian poll shows him to be the most popular political figure in Iraq.
Why the political impasse? In her view the Shiite majority has become intractable because, after centuries of waiting, they are finally in power and are not about to give that up.
Mike Medavoy, head of Phoenix Pictures, asked how she and others in the Democratic majority defend allowing this war to continue when their electoral mandate and public opinion generally clearly wants an end to it now.
Feinstein responded that the Democrats had no magic wand, but needed 60 votes in the Senate to cut off funding, which they don't have. And that is largely because no one wants to cut the funds for armor in the field of an army at war, even if it is difficult to accept that the current mission of U.S. forces in Iraq is in the national interest.
The best that could be hoped for, she said, was to force the president to sign onto a new mission for Iraq attached to any funding bill. Instead of providing security for Iraq, that new mission would have three pillars: force protection, counter-terrorism and training of Iraqis. For that, there would be 60 votes.
When asked if U.S. withdrawal or even draw back would invite a bloodbath, Feinstein argued that a bloodbath is already underway, with 1,000 Iraqis killed each month, and the U.S. can do nothing to stop it.