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A Surge In Iraq Rationalizations

Troops in IraqSince the “surge” was announced in January, there was never any doubt that by December, the Pentagon would have to begin reducing the number of combat brigades no matter what the conditions on the ground were, because the US simply did not have the numbers to sustain the increase. The only question was how the Administration would spin the inevitable reduction.

Right on schedule, the Pentagon announced it will remove a combat brigade in December — about 5,000 troops — from Diyala Province. The same inexorable math will force reductions of about a brigade a month until next June. But instead of just admitting this, the Administration tried to spin it to obscure its plans for an indefinite occupation.

Initial reports stated that the first brigade withdrawn “would not be replaced by new units,” although other units already in Iraq would fill in behind them. Subsequent reports from AP and the NYT Alissa Rubin make clear that security has not improved enough in Diyala; the brigade leaving Diyala is already being replaced by an even larger combat force taken from a neighboring province. So how is security in that province when the replacement brigade leaves? The shell game can only last so long before the math overwhelms it.

The Pentagon either believes the surge’s increased troop levels helped reduce violence or they don’t. There are competing narratives that attribute reduced violence to buying off Sunni tribal leaders, exhaustion of neighborhood ethnic “cleansing,” the Sadrist militia’s decision to stand down for now, and the removal of coalition forces, as occurred when the British withdrew from Basra. But if increased troop levels were a factor in reducing violence, as the Administration wants to claim, how is it possible that reducing troop levels on the strict timetable dictated by the math will sustain reduced violence levels if, as everyone concedes, there has been no underlying political reconciliation?

Part of the Pentagon’s answer is to pretend that as American forces leave, the Iraq Army will take over security. So on Friday, the Times Michael Gordon dutifully replayed the Pentagon line that US combat forces can gradually shift from direct combat duties to training of Iraqi forces (sound familiar?). After taking a gratuitous shot at “other” proposals to shift the US role from combat to training, Gordon assured us that unlike previous training efforts, this one will be done correctly, not too quickly — Iraqis will take over only when ready — but nevertheless quickly enough to allow US forces to get back to sustainable levels without any negative effect on security. It is more a hope than a plan.

The Administration’s remaining need was to undermine the argument that if reducing troop levels on a fixed schedule doesn’t undermine security, even without political reconciliation, we shouldn’t fear the Democrats’ proposal for fixed withdrawal schedules. The Administration’s response appears in this NYT article: redefine the mission to require combat troops, while claiming the real objective is not political “reconciliation” but instead “accommodation.”

“Accommodation” means accepting that Sunnis and Shias may never reconcile, but they can coexist as long as US combat troops stand between them. It also means backing US diplomats who must explain to the grateful Iraqis who don’t know better why it’s important to pass a budget, or pass laws on local elections or hiring back former Baathists, or oil revenue sharing. And above all, we have to make sure the Iraqis agree to the “enduring relationship” the President unilaterally signed today that provides the legal fig leaf for indefinite occupation. Does Congress matter any more?

Overseeing “accommodation” is the new term for being in the middle of an undeclared, just below the surface civil war, which means we need combat troops there indefinitely. It’s just a side benefit that an intimidating combat presence helps US diplomats babysit Iraqi politicians who can’t seem to agree on a budget. The condescension and rationalization evident from the colonialist attitude is striking, but it’s fortunate the Iraqis have Administration officials to teach them all about working with the opposition to maintain fiscal responsibility, apolitical hiring practices and a fair allocation of wealth.

Now if only the Democrats can be persuaded to downplay the Iraq issue. Oh, wait . . .

Photo by Paul Rogers – Iraq’s Pressure Point, from OpenDemocracy.

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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