Surging To The Handoff
Der Spiegel has a long and pretty glowing report this week about progress in Iraq by a journalist who claims he wasn't on a dog and pony show by the military as O'Hanlon and Pollack were. This reporter is nearly giddy at what he sees as a great, impending success if only the Americans don't withdraw. The story could have been written by Dick Cheney, replete as it is with absolutes like "there is no doubt that the greatest threats to success are Iran and Syria" and the like.
The report does concede that some of the successes may be ephemeral and that "political challenges" remain, but overall, this piece presents a very optimistic view --- as long as the Americans don't lose their nerve. To make that point, the reporter apparently had long, leisurely discussions with General Petreus and Ambassador Crocker. The latter's comments I found particularly interesting:
Crocker defends Maliki's government, at least on the surface. A seasoned diplomat, he brings his point across with rhetorical questions: "Is Maliki personally at fault? Or is it his government? Or is it simply the unbelievably difficult circumstances under which people are working here?"
He then argues for more patience, saying: "We had the most brutal of Baath regimes here for 35 years, and now we have a few years of turmoil. It isn't really all that much." But what about Maliki? Can he lead the country to success? Crocker doesn't like these kinds of questions, but he is constantly called upon to answer them. He says: "Even a more talented politician than Maliki would have big problems under these circumstances."
However complicated it may be, Crocker has to keep the big picture in mind. It consists of the diagrams and charts General Petraeus uses and a map of the Middle East covered with arrows and shaded areas -- the big plan. The situation is such that Iraq's problems are not just Iraqi problems.
There is no doubt that the greatest enemies of success in Iraq are in Tehran and Damascus. Many of the jihadists enter the country through Syria, and Iran supports the terrorists with weapons and money. During their operations, US troops often find brand-new mines and grenades produced in Iranian weapons factories, sometime still in their original packaging. Fighters from the Iranian Al-Quds Brigades are active on Iraqi soil, and there are terrorist training camps across the border in Iran. "Iran," says Crocker, "wants to defeat the West on more than one front, and it also wants to make sure that Iraq will never pose a threat to it again."
The ambassador has already taken part in three-way talks involving Iranian, Iraqi and American delegates, and the next round is about to begin. At these meetings, Crocker says, it is obvious that Maliki, though a Shiite, is truly not in Iran's pocket. "The atmosphere at these meetings is frosty," he explains, "I mean, really frosty." But how do the Iranians explain their activities? "They don't explain them. It's very frustrating. There is a sort of total denial of reality on that issue."
Petraeus will not be the only one presenting his view of the situation in Iraq to Congress this September. Crocker, too, will be called to account before the representatives of the American people. He knows that there will be tremendous pressure, and he is fully aware that everyone is hoping for a speedy withdrawal. But, he says, "I'm not going to be there to deliver some sort of agenda. I'll be there to describe reality."
According to Crocker's reality, Iraq's politicians will need another two to three years to complete important tasks. To do so they will require the presence of the US military. "Of course the surge can't go on forever," says Crocker, "and of course Iraq will have to participate in the costs of this operation at some point. But one thing is certain: We all need more time."
So there you have it. FU and pass the ammunition. But notice all the propaganda points that have either been thoroughly debunked or seriously challenged all in one neat package: Tehran-Damascus-Iranian weapons-al-Quds brigades-foreign fighters-Iranian terrorist training camps. Bravo. Lots of fear mongering about the very suspicious charge that Iran is supplying weapons to kill Americans and no mention that we know for a fact that American weapons actually are being used to kill Americans, thanks to General Petreus.
Crocker continued with his friendly interlocutors:
When asked about critics of the war in the United States who are demanding an immediate withdrawal of US troops or a pull out by next April, Crocker can only shake his head in quiet disgust. Aside from the fact that the withdrawal of such a large combat force would take at least a year, logistically speaking, everything about these sorts of demands is unrealistic, he says.
"We Americans consider ourselves to be a moral nation, no matter how the rest of world might feel about it," says Crocker. It is clear, from his expression, that what he says next is very important to him. "How will we feel if the movie doesn't stop, even though we've pressed the 'stop' button? What if the movie just goes on? And gets even uglier? And even uglier after that?" Crocker makes a dramatic pause, clearly already practicing his best sentences for his appearance in Washington. "We're talking here about the possibility of thousands of deaths, about religious cleansing operations, we're talking here about the possibility that there could be no Sunnis left in Baghdad because they'll all have been murdered, driven out or expelled. Is this what we want? And who will explain that to Americans?"
I can tell you how I will feel. I will feel horrible, ashamed and aghast if the worst scenario happens. But then I already do. After all, the potential repercussions of leaving can certainly be no more morally wrong than invading and causing this situation in the first place! Hundreds of thousands are already dead.
The moral failure was in invading Iraq. It was the original sin from which all these horrors have sprung. To even imply that the majority of Americans who now want to rectify that terrible decision by removing ourselves from the situation will be morally responsible for this mess is an outrage.
I love these lectures and feelings of "disgust" coming from people who apparently still maintain that it was perfectly fine to ignore international law and invade a country for no good reason and turn it into a chaotic hellhole. No moral culpability required for that, no admission of guilt, but lots and lots of sanctimonious posturing about how we will have blood on our hands if the US admits its mistake and withdraws. The obtuseness of that position takes my breath away. We already have so much blood on our hands that it's dripping into everything we touch.
I can't tell the future. I don't know what will happen in Iraq if we stay or if we leave. I do know that people who supported this invasion have no moral standing to lecture anyone about doing the right thing by the Iraqi people. We invaded their country and turned it into a cauldron of violence that's gone on now for nearly five years. (But then, Crocker believes, "it isn't really all that much," so I guess he believes the hundreds of thousands of dead bodies are a small price to pay.)
But I do know that there are many smart people who believe that the US is making things worse for both the Iraqis and ourselves and that our presence creates more violence. Certainly, their predictions of the future should not be taken any less seriously than these people who have been responsible for an operation which from conception to today is such an all-consuming catastrophe that in a sane world they would be banished from ever having any say in such matters again. In fact, anything but the most humble acknowledgment of fallibility and contrition from these people is completely out of place.
But let's set aside the moral criminality of the situation and take a clear-eyed look at what a perfectly idiotic thing it was to do on a strategic level. They set this geopolitical horror show in motion when they decided to invade Iraq and destabilize the middle east at a time when there was a very compelling sociological force gaining power throughout the region. It couldn't have been more stupid for our security, for the stability of the global economy, for the sake of the perception of American power and military effectiveness. The failure is not just what's happened inside Iraq, although that's huge. The failure is how it's scrambled the geopolitical game plan in ways they clearly didn't anticipate when they were holding court with Chalabi and Makiya and making plans for their personal Monticellos and Mt Vernons in Mesopotamia. People who make mistakes like this are clearly incapable of making the kind of tactical and strategic decisions to succeed at anything. What more do they have to do to prove it?
There will be no solutions -- if there even is such a thing at this point -- until these incompetent megalomaniacs are out of power. We're in a holding pattern, nothing more.
Those of us who have been closely observing this train wreck from the beginning know exactly what this escalation was about: it was an effort to keep Iraq from completely falling apart just long enough to get Bush out of office. Prior to the election, a "surge" wasn't even on the agenda. In fact all we heard about was how the army was on the verge of being broken, (which it is.) Bush and Cheney brushed off the Baker Hamilton Group's tepid compromises because their driving motive at this point is not to "succeed in Iraq --- which they can't even define since the neocon wet dream of Kumbayaa on the Tigris didn't pan out --- but to save face and (perhaps) preserve the myth of GOP national security strength. That's what they do. It's what they've always done.
To that end they've hired professional propagandists and political operatives to spin tales that keep the media and the congress just enough off balance that they continue to give them the benefit of the doubt. If the presidency changes hands in 2008, as it is likely to do, there will be no more such benefit of the doubt, we know that.
We have watched how these people operate for more than six years now. There's no mystery about what's going on. Iraq is a failure in every way and the Bush administration's only real strategy now is how to make the Democrats pay for it. Period.
(And needless to say, there are still plenty of very important Republicans making a whole lot of money by stealing from the taxpayers. In that one regard, Cheney's plan has been a huge success.)
For a slightly less optimistic view than that of Crocker and Der Spiegel, check this out.