LUTE SPEAKS….Our soon-to-be war czar agrees with the intelligence community: the surge hasn’t had any effect so far and isn’t likely to in the near future.

Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, tapped by Bush to serve as a new high-powered White House coordinator of the war, told senators at a confirmation hearing that Iraqi factions “have shown so far very little progress” toward the reconciliation necessary to stem the bloodshed. If that does not change, he said, “we’re not likely to see much difference in the security situation” a year from now.

….As the president’s point man on Iraq, Lute would be charged with helping to ensure that Iraqis can achieve those goals. But he expressed doubt about whether the Iraqis have the ability to change and whether the United States has the leverage to force them to do so. “I am concerned about the capacity of this government,” he said. “But I haven’t passed final judgment on them.”

Italics mine. Question: Is the promotion of Lute a sign that the administration is making moves in the direction of abandoning the Maliki government and hitching its star to someone else? If you want to change direction, after all, the easiest way to do it is to bring in a new guy, wait a couple of months, and then announce that after careful review he’s recommending a new course. It’s a time honored strategy.

I guess we’ll see. But while we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning that both Swopa and Eric Martin have scoffed at my suggestion that there’s an emerging new political alliance that might manage to wrest control of the government from Maliki sometime in the next few months. I can’t say that I blame them, either. After all, factional fighting in Iraq is Byzantine; it’s hard to believe that any alliance could survive if it excluded the party formerly known as SCIRI; it seems unlikely that Sistani would countenance any alliance that increased the power of the Sunnis, and equally unlikely that Sadr would join such an alliance without Sistani’s blessing; and the alliance members are probably just selling a bill of goods to any American willing to listen to them. What’s more, the Kurds are key to everything, and who knows what they’ll do?

So great big shakers of salt are recommended here. Still….I can’t help but think that something has to happen. Maliki seems like a dead man walking, and eventually someone’s going to make a deal that would have seemed unlikely on its face a week before — and I wouldn’t be surprised if this includes some kind of weird volte-face from Sadr. I wonder if Lute is sending a signal that the Bush administration won’t be too crushed if this happens?