When it comes to Iraq these days, an arrogant President Bush seems more out of touch than ever, the war seems to be fading from the consciousness of an increasingly apathetic American public faster than ever, and the whole reason for the surge – that improved security would create the breathing room for Iraqi factions to kiss and make up – is being undercut more than ever by the overweaning intransigence of the Baghdad government.
It has fallen to military commanders in the field to belabor the obvious: Sunni insurgents, Al Qaeda terrorists and Iranian-backed militias are no longer the biggest threat to the
mission U.S. . It's the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki.
Thomas E. Ricks, the Washington Post's estimable military affairs correspondent, reports that these commanders fear the window of opportunity provided by the sharp decline in attacks against
troops and Iraqi civilians will be squandered if the Al-Maliki government doesn't get off the dime. U.S.
But why should it?
President Bush threatens to veto yet another Democratic-sponsored war spending bill that includes a timeline for troop withdrawals. This scores points with what is left of his political base, but once again sends the wrong message to Al-Maliki: That he will be neither pressured nor punished by the U.S. for his refusal to take seriously the need to mend fences with his opponents.
This familiar iteration of White House politics in the absence of policy has to be giving those commanders chest pains.
With the combat brigades sent to Iraq for the surge set to begin returning home in only five months and Iraqi security forces showing little indication that they can take over, the commanders whom Ricks interviewed seemed beside themselves with frustration.
Said Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the commander of day-to-day military operations in Iraq: "It's unclear how long that window is going to be open."
And Brigadier General John F. Campbell, deputy commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division: "The [Iraqi cabinet] ministers, they don't get out. They don't know what the hell is going on on the ground."
Although none of these commanders are going to say so publicly, the one person who might be able to break the logjam at this point stubbornly refuses to do so. That is the commander in chief, who seems determined to squander a rare -- and possibly the only -- success in the four and a half year old war.
Photograph by Reuters