Thursday, June 26, 2008

Willfully Ignoring The Past & Future: Why My Iraq Mea Culpa Is Staying On Ice

There has been a . . . um, surge of revisionist thinking lately over the Iraq war in general and the Surge strategy in particular, and you may find yourself climbing aboard the Mission Finally Accomplished bandwagon.
If so, then you'd better fasten your seatbelt because you're forgetting the past, are going skin deep on the present and giving short shrift to the treacherous future. That is something that I will not do, which is why my own Iraq war mea culpa is still on ice and likely to stay that way.

The past includes President Bush thumbing his nose at the generals who pleaded for more troops and all of the strategies that he proffered. Each and every one of those schemes put politics ahead of policy, the result of which was the catastrophic first four-plus years of the war.

The future involves getting what troops there are out of Iraq safely. This will be a feat since the White House, ever living in the present, has no post-Surge strategy and it has been obvious for quite some time that Bush plans to dump the whole mess on his successor.

As it is, the present itself is problematic.

If you ignore virtually all of the benchmarks that the U.S. once set for the Al Maliki regime, Iraq is doing pretty well and the Surge has indeed resulted in some significant military successes. But even here appearances are deceiving.

Sectarian violence is down, but that has less to do with a kinder and gentler Iraq than the binge of pre-Surge ethnic cleansing, throwing up walls around Baghdad neighborhoods and imposing harsh curfews there and in other cities.

The Iraqi army is making gains, including its offensive against the Mahdi Army in Basra (insert obligatory text here about the Iraqis accomplishing in a few weeks what the hapless Brits couldn't do in a few years), but at the first sign of trouble U.S. helicopter gunships come rumbling to the rescue.

And despite the mea culpas, mainstream media happy talk and high-fiving of right-wing zealots over the "success" of the Surge, the U.S. withdrawal -- whether it comes sooner or later -- probably will not be on its terms and the end game may well resemble a classic Gordian knot:

As long as U.S. troops stay, Iraq will remain unstable. Yet the more stability the Baghdad government has, the greater the pressure will be for U.S. troops to leave.

Nevertheless, the best hope of long-term stability is a long-term U.S. troop presence, but that impinges on Iraqi national sovereignty.

Iraqis are just as proud of their sovereignty as are Americans of their own. A result of this is that the status-of-forces agreement being negotiated between Washington and Baghdad is stillborn in its present form.

No matter the when or wherefore of a withdrawal, the U.S. will be pretty much in the same position as it was in the pre-2003 invasion years except that Saddam Hussein has been replaced by a Shiite-dominated government with close ties to Iran.

And Iran will have further strengthened its position as the dominant regional player in the course of a war that killed many tens of thousands of people, made refugees of millions more and bankrupted the U.S. economy.

Incidentally, the wild card in all of this is not Iran, Moqtada al-Sadr or Barack Obama. It is Israel, which has a hair so far up its ass over Iran that it could draw the U.S. into a war that would make the worst foreign policy disaster in American history seem like small beer.

Image: Steve Mumford's "Charlie 1-153 Off Haifa Street

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