Laura Rozen reported on a possible tilt toward the Shia and against the Sunnis within the Bush administration. I'm coming to the conclusion she was right about this at least as a backup plan or a threat. Plan A seems to be to lean on the Iraqi Sunnis to give more support to the al Maliki government while also leaning on al Maliki to disarm Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi militia. I think there are a number of reasons this isn't likely to succeed (see my What Next post).
When and if this fails, Plan B could be to forget about reconciliation between Sunnis and Shia, forget about 'national unity government, and side with the majority Shia against the Sunnis. The Shia could probably drive the Sunnis out of Baghdad and perhaps isolate them in the Sunni Triangle. (There was a report today that our troops are admitting defeat in Al Anbar province, which, if I'm not mistaken is much of the Sunni triangle. What if all troops from Al Anbar went to Baghdad?) Of course if the administration sided with the Iraqi Shia, Sunni governments in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, and Jordan would be very upset. At least the Saudis would worry about political mobilization of their Shia minority. The Shia Iranians and Shia Hizballah would of course be very much strengthened.
That such a Plan B is being considered, at least as a threat to pressure Iraqi Sunnis to compromise and cooperate with an Iraqi Shia-dominated government, comes from Laura Rozen's piece, from this video of an MSNBC interview with Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post who has superb Pentagon sources, as well as other hints. The other hints include: 1) this line from a New York Times article, "'There’s been some discussion about whether you just try to deal first with the Sunni insurgency, but that would mean being seen to be taking just one side of the fight, which would not be acceptable,' the administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic practice." Obviously "taking one side" against the Sunni insurgency is being considered. 2) this other snippet from Laura Rozen re Cheney, "The fault lines going into that meeting included Cheney's office and some in the NSC arguing for more aggressively backing the Shias, and in particular, Hakim. Note the Hadley memo's recommendation to press Hakim/SCIRI to support Maliki, and the overall concern about whether Maliki is up to the task."
Since there are such significant downsides to Plan B I wonder if it isn't more in play as a threat with which to pressure moderate Sunnis to support al Maliki's government. My overall reading leads me to the hunch that the administration will send some more troops to Baghdad as a last ditch attempt to stop sectarian violence and disarm the Mahdi militia and that as usual there will be no benchmarks to judge whether this plan is succeeding and this will simply extend Bush's 'stay the course' stance in Iraq indefinitely. Bush and Cheney absolutely hate to compromise or admit they have been wrong so they'll do something that they package as a 'new' approach and keep on keepin' on. Never forget that 'packaging' is their longest suit and they'll say anything to 'sell' their latest gambit.