Monday, October 22, 2007

The U.S. In Iraq: 'Strap Yourself To The Tree With Roots, You Ain't Goin' Nowhere'

Buy me a flute/And a gun that shoots/Tailgates and substitutes
Strap yourself/
To the tree with roots/You ain't goin' nowhere
Looking back over the long arc of the war in Iraq – a misadventure that shows no sign of ending any time soon -- the predominant themes are the arrogance and ignorance of a presidential administration that has done virtually everything wrong and gotten very little right.

The result is that well into the fifth year of the war there are two enormously significant and diametrically opposite things going on.

The good news is that the Surge finally is reaping benefits.

U.S. deaths total 30 two thirds of the way through October, a pace that could make the toll for the month one of the five lowest for any month in the war. Iraqi civilian deaths stand at about 450, a pace that could make the toll for the month the lowest since the onset of the civil war with the February 2006 bombing of the Golden Dome in Samarra.

The bad news is that the very purpose of the Surge has been fatally undermined.

The Surge was initiated to give Iraqi factions breathing room to work out their differences and move toward an Iraq unified enough and stable enough that U.S. troops could leave in substantial numbers. But that will not be happening because of a tin-horn central government that exists in name only and a U.S. occupation leadership that is unable to grasp the social, economic and cultural barriers standing in the way of democratizing Iraq in any real sense of that word.

That is my conclusion and it is an obvious one for anyone looking beyond the tiresome political patty cake being played in Washington. These people include Feisal Amin Istrabadi, who was a principal architect of Iraq's interim constitution.

In an interview with NBC News, Istrabadi said that:

* The Iraqi government is an illusion. "You’ve got patently incompetent men appointed to important positions."

* Many government departments were apportioned to religious parties for political reasons. "You cannot have this sectarian doling out of the Cabinet ministries. You've got to bring in competent technocrats to try to run those ministries, the service ministries."

* Iraq's ongoing instability can be traced in part to the insistence of the Bush administration that elections be held in 2005 before Iraq had developed robust democratic institutions to buffer the influence of religious leaders. "Both the Shia and the Sunnis were told if they didn’t vote for their respective parties, that would be a violation of their religious duties."

* The result is a government dominated by Shiite Islamist parties and a constitution rejected by Sunni ethnic groups. Shiite Islamist parties have blamed the Sunnis for refusing to engage in the political process. "I think the question was: 'Should elections have been held?' And I think that there is only one answer to that question, and that’s absolutely not."

* * * * *

Let me be very clear: There is not the slightest indication that the rapprochement the Surge was supposed to give time and room to percolate up through the Iraqi body politic is going to happen. This makes the absence of an American exit strategy – let alone a dialogue in Washington regarding what such a strategy might entail – so appalling.

Sorry Bush bashers, but this failure of leadership has now shifted to a Congress with ad swooners on the Republican side and moonbats like Pete Stark on the Democratic side.

But the onus is now most heavy on the Democratic majority. Are you listening, Harry and Nancy?

This is because the president's exit strategy -- and act of cowardice that is not surprisingly but nevertheless stuns -- is to take Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House on the afternoon of January 20, 2008, to Andrews Air Force Base where he will board Air Force One and fly home to Texas.

What we also know is that:

* A perverse consequence of the president's open-ended extension of the surge is that it sends a clear message to the Al Maliki regime that the pressure to work toward reconciliation is off. Its American helpmates, who are busily arming both sides in the civil war, won't not be leaving anytime soon no matter how well the Surge is going.

* Half of Al Maliki's cabinet ministers have quit, even the Shiite alliance in parliament has evaporated, the much vaunted oil law is on hold and what muscle flexing the Baghdad government is doing is giving Washington fits. This includes a $1 billion deal with those good American friends, Iran and China, to build power plants, and a $100 million light-arms deal with the Chinese.

*The success of the surge is a two-edged sword. Case in point is the claim of U.S. commanders that its forces, backed by airstrikes, killed 49 militants in the Shiite-controlled Sadr City slum district of Baghdad yesterday. Among those "militants" were women and children, yet another indiscriminate use of force that ultimately does more harm than good.

* Present U.S. troop levels will be unsustainable after next April because the 15-month tours of duty for the five combat brigades who were sent to Iraq for the Surge will begin to expire and there are no units to replace them.

* * * * *

The arrogance and ignorance that has characterized the war continues to extract a heavy toll even if the march toward 4,000 American deaths has slowed in recent weeks and conservatives can crow that "We told you so."

Well, the joke is on them and on all of us because the U.S. is in an indefinite holding pattern that is costing tens of billions of dollars a month -- far more than the moribund S-CHIP expansion. The only thing that can break this statis is something awful, and something awful will throw the jury-rigged gearworks that is the U.S. in Iraq into hard reverse.

To riff on Mister Dylan, Iraq today is a tree without roots and we ain't goin' nowhere.


Fran said...

Another great and insightful piece.

What is to become of us?

Sherrie said...

Thank you, George Bush for this unnecessary war. How's your EGO? OK?

Here we are.

Thank you, Barak, for trying to sustain the dignity of our troops and slowly pull them out, work with the corrupt Afgan government, help them establish a cemented government, and get the HELL out of there.