As Bush-McCain Surge Ends, We’re Even More Stuck in Iraq
This week the media will focus on the Congressional appearances of Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus as though the nation’s security interests hinged on what they tell Congress. They do not. America’s security interests were compromised the moment Bush invaded Iraq; the laws of unintended consequences are now in control.
Even if we credit the surge with temporarily neutralizing Sunni forces (while creating further risks of civil war) that only set the stage for competing Shia factions to fight each other for control of Badghdad and Southern Iraq — with Bush using the fighting as an excuse to keep US forces bogged down in Iraq indefinitely. Fighting one side’s grab for power by laying siege to Sadr City’s million people risks hundreds of civilian deaths. (h/t Juan Cole via Bilbo)
"We are no longer staring into the abyss of defeat, and we can now look ahead to the genuine prospect of success. . . . The dramatic reduction in violence has opened the way for a return to something approaching normal political and economic life for the average Iraqi," McCain said.
Iraqis under siege in Sadr City will find McCain’s assessment delusional.
But debating whether the surge failed or succeeded is becoming pointless; the surge is ending and it cannot be renewed. The US cannot sustain 30,000 additional combat troops in Iraq or anywhere else, so those troops are coming home. President Bush’s claim that US troops could only "return on success" was a lie from the beginning, because the limits on available combat troops, combined with the stress of extended 15 month tours, defined a troop rotation schedule that requires the surge end.
Renewed fighting under McCain’s logic would dictate sending more, not fewer troops, but Petraeus must give up a combat brigade a month until July, whether al Maliki’s adventures in Basra and the siege of Sadr City succeed or make matters worse. Most of those troops must come home even though American commanders in Afghanistan are pleading for more NATO forces. The last nail in the coffin of military flexibility was hammered in when Secretary Gates and the deeply worried Joint Chiefs announced that returning to 12-month tours was a necessity. My guess is the Pentagon is demanding the shorter tours now as a way to prevent another surge, should McCain become President.
The Administration’s war against Iraq has broken the Army, damaged its readiness, broken their families. And we’re only now admitting the massive long-run health-care costs the war will impose on veterans, their families and the nation’s resources.
Pentagon chiefs have been warning of the Army’s deterioration for many months. They told Congress the Army was "out of balance" and that we could not respond adequately to another real crisis. Last week, Admiral Mullen acknowledged that we needed more troops in Afghanistan but had none to send because of Iraq. How much clearer could our military chiefs be that the Commander in Chief is putting the nation’s security at risk?
We’re forced to watch the Petraeus/Crocker show, but the men who should testify are Bush, Cheney and the war/surge’s champions, McCain, Lieberman and Graham. They need to answer Senator Warner’s question: How has any decision or action they’ve made in the last five years, including the surge, made the United States more secure? And just as important, How will continuation of these Bush/Cheney/McCain policies allow the U.S. to disengage from Iraq?
The Basra adventure is still unfolding but so far it has taught us two things: America’s strategic interests have nothing to do with whichever Shia party/militia wins control of Baghdad. Iran will strongly influence Baghdad no matter what, so any attempt to influence which of these more or less pro-Iranian elements prevails is not worth another American soldier’s life. Nor can we justify U.S. forces attacking Iraqis, military or civilian, in favor of one or another side. The continued U.S. air and ground assaults on essentially civilian areas of opposing militias contradicts the essential point of Petraeus’ counter-insurgency manual — protect the population.
Equally disturbing, American forces are now hostage to Shia political jockeying for power; the Iranian backed party that controls Baghdad can, simply by attacking opposing militias (as al Maliki did in Basra) force our commanders to commit U.S. lives to save the Baghdad regime from defeat. Today, it is al Maliki’s regime pretending to be Bear Stearns, while the Bush regime pretends it’s too important to be allowed to fail, even if the Iraq army’s loyalty is suspect.
It is pointless to raise these issues with Petraeus or Crocker. These men did what their Commander in Chief told them to do, which was to delay the U.S. from being forced out of country during Bush’s term. They were never asked to develop or implement a strategy to disengage, to end the occupation and the nightmare it creates for Iraq or the U.S. military. That is the only defensible goal of U.S. policy, but it will not happen until we have a new Commander in Chief whose ego does not depend on a 100-year occupation.