The other day I wondered what the reported ascendence of Jim Steinberg to deputy secretary of state meant for Richard Holbrooke’s job prospects. Reading about the latest maneuvering in Iraq on the status of forces agreement, it strikes me that one of the critical positions I mentioned in my piece today is almost tailor-made for a diplomat of Holbrooke’s stature and particular talents. At the risk of endorsement, Obama could do a whole lot worse than to make Holbrooke the next ambassador to Iraq.
Take a look at what’s on that ambassador’s plate. From my piece:
Most important, there isn’t a stable national or sectarian consensus about the composition of the Iraqi government. Crucial — even existential — questions remain about how much power should be concentrated in Baghdad; whether and how the Shiite-led government could absorb tens of thousands of the mostly-Sunni militiamen known as the Sons of Iraq, and who will govern large areas in northern Iraq claimed by both Arabs and Kurds. If that isn’t enough, the so-called Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Iraqi governments demands that the U.S. military withdraw from cities and large towns by mid-2009 and gives the Iraqi government wide latitude over U.S. military operations.
Is there any U.S. diplomat more qualified than Holbrooke — a former U.N. ambassador, among other things — to preside over and cajole the creation of a national sectarian political compact in Iraq? Unlike anyone else in the U.S. foreign policy community, Holbrooke actually did this before, in the middle of a Balkan shooting war, and he’s given a lot of thought to the ways in which his Balkan experience is relevant to Iraq. If we’re to take seriously the idea that the U.S. needs energetic diplomatic action to broker a political settlement in Iraq to accompany withdrawal, there isn’t really anyone else for the job.
Oh, and if that means that there’s more space open in the State Dept. for younger progressives, then it’s really a win-win.
Crossposted in edited form to The Streak.