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Bush’s Iraq Bait And Switch

Iraq sunsetIt’s been barely two weeks since the President bullied Congress into voting to fund the continued occupation of Iraq and pretended to compromise with non-binding benchmarks that do nothing if the Iraq government fails to do what we have no right to force them to do in the first place. But none of that matters, because it’s already clear the Administration pulled another bait and switch on the American public. And our unquestioning media is going along with it, again, as though it’s nothing unusual.

As soon as the 28 percent President got his funding and split the Democrats from their own base, Tony Snow and Secretary Gates went out of their way to suggest what they would never have said during the debate over the supplemental funding bill: that our stay in Iraq would be like our 50 year presence in Korea (Times Select). It was not the first time we’d heard about permanent bases, but since months before the mid-term elections, the Administration had quietly let that topic disappear from their discussions. But yesterday’s Washington Post article by Thomas Ricks let us know the Pentagon had been thinking “go long” all along. Pay close attention to the Orwellian language and logic.

U.S. military officials here are increasingly envisioning a “post-occupation” troop presence in Iraq that neither maintains current levels nor leads to a complete pullout, but aims for a smaller, longer-term force that would remain in the country for years.

This goal, drawn from recent interviews with more than 20 U.S. military officers and other officials here, including senior commanders, strategists and analysts, remains in the early planning stages. It is based on officials’ assessment that a sharp drawdown of troops is likely to begin by the middle of next year, with roughly two-thirds of the current force of 150,000 moving out by late 2008 or early 2009. The questions officials are grappling with are not whether the U.S. presence will be cut, but how quickly, to what level and to what purpose.

Leaving 50,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely and calling it a “post-occupation troop presence” is blatant doublespeak. Then there’s this disingenuous bit:

One of the guiding principles, according to two officials here, is that the United States should leave Iraq more intelligently than it entered. Military officials, many of whom would be interviewed only on the condition of anonymity, say they are now assessing conditions more realistically, rejecting the “steady progress” mantra of their predecessors and recognizing that short-term political reconciliation in Iraq is unlikely.

So we’re going to be more intelligent getting out than the Bush/Cheney neocon regime was in getting us in? And we’ll be more “realistic” and less dishonest this time, though we’re not allowed to say that for attribution. Uh huh. When Ricks tells us that “short-term politicial reconciliation in Iraq is unlikely,” what he really means is that the surge is failing, because allowing “short term political reconciliation” was precisely its justification and goal.

A reduction of troops, some officials argue, would demonstrate to anti-American factions that the occupation will not last forever while reassuring Iraqi allies that the United States does not intend to abandon the country.

So, if we stay, it infuriates the “anti-American factions,” but we will keep 50,000 troops there to make sure no one thinks we’d abandon the country. And in case you’re worried about what this means for the safety of our troops, consider this:

One official estimated that with only one major route from the country — through southern Iraq to Kuwait — it would take at least 3,000 large convoys some 10 months to remove U.S. military gear and personnel alone, not including the several thousand combat vehicles that would be needed to protect such an operation.

Got that? The Bush/Cheney regime and their neocon war planning geniuses just put 150,000 US troops and billions worth of highly sophisticated weapons into an unwinnable occupation in a hostile country undergoing multiple civil and sectarian wars with no near term prospects of political reconciliation — and there’s only one very exposed road out. The only thing more reckless would be a plan to arm both sides so that when the Iraqis tire of killing each other, they can point their weapons at US troops. Oh, wait. . . .

The rest of Ricks’ WaPo article describes four troop components of the new strategy: 20,000 well armored troops to protect the al Maliki government and its forces; 10,000 more troops to train the Iraqis; a smaller Special Operations force to attack Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda [what was the rationale for needing nearly 20,000 additional troops just for Baghdad?]; and 10,000 or so support troops. Even assuming these numbers bear some relationship to what it actually takes to accomplish those missions, do you notice what’s missing? Remember “clear, hold and build”? Remember General Petreaus’ grand counter-insurgency strategy and the need for US forces to secure Baghdad because the Iraqis couldn’t do it alone? This was the new plan, the one that was finally correct, the one that would “win.” That’s why he was picked, why we were supposed to shut up to give the surge “a chance to succeed.” But it’s gone. When did that happen?

The thinking behind this “post-occupation” force, as one official called it, echoes the core conclusion of a Joint Chiefs of Staff planning group that last fall secretly considered three possible courses in Iraq, which it categorized as “go big,” “go home” and “go long.” The group’s recommendation to reshape the U.S. presence in order to “go long” — to remain in Iraq for years with a smaller force — appears to carry weight in Baghdad, where some of the colonels who led that planning group have been working for Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq since February.

September will not be an accountability moment, because Iraqi reconciliation is not the goal, nor is protection of the Iraqi population from rival militias. Nothing that was said even last month is operative today, and there’s no one to blame. The Secretary of Defense who helped get us into this mess is long gone; the Secretary of State who’s responsible for the most important non-military part of the strategy is busy being ineffective elsewhere; the National Security Adviser just handed his job to another hapless general, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is being replaced because no one in this Administration wants to face questions from Congress. But of course, the conservatives never thought George Bush was one of them.

US troops are being targeted and killed every day, continuing a mission that the Bush/Cheney regime and their military planners have already disowned back in Washington. Why should our soldiers, or we, ever believe anything these people say?

AP photo by Vadim Ghirda, from Salon.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley

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