I’m fearful that it will not succeed, that it is too late now to move into Baghdad with stronger American forces and imagine that we can resolve what is clearly a sectarian conflict. And if we side with the government, which sees itself as a Shia government at war with Sunnis, then we alienate the Sunnis, and if we side with the Sunnis, we alienate the Shias and the government. And in effect we can’t win here. If we take them all on, then we’re just going to increase our chances of failure.
We have to first of all recognize that the game is up because we are engaged in the middle of a civil war now. And indeed, look to a very different policy of containment so that we avoid the implosion that’s taking place in Iraq exploding to the broader region.
The idea that we can somehow win in the civil war simply doesn’t take account of the reality that to do so we would have to side with one or the other. That’s an invidious choice for the United States.
If we shifted now to a containment strategy we might have a chance of reducing the negative impact of defeat in Iraq. But by going for this doubling of bets, this kind of Hail Mary pass, we are actually likely to suffer an even greater defeat, I fear.
I think it's unusual for the chief of staff to go on a trip, particularly on a trip this long. The chief of staff is usually more of a chief operating officer in the White House itself, and normally when your principal—whether it's the president himself or the head of Cabinet agency—goes abroad, you have his deputy and those folks staying behind to help manage operations in his absence.