Okay, two days before the top American officials in Iraq – General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker – are to brief Congress on the prospects for further reductions in our troop presence in Iraq, on Sunday, April 6, we get this:
Suspected Shiite militants lobbed rockets and mortar shells into the U.S.-protected Green Zone and a military base elsewhere in Baghdad on Sunday, killing three American troops and wounding 31, officials said.
The attacks occurred as U.S. and Iraqi forces battled Shiite militants in Sadr City in some of the fiercest fighting since radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered a cease-fire a week ago. At least 16 Iraqi civilians were killed and nearly 100 wounded in the fighting, according to hospital officials.
The Green Zone is the one safe place in Iraq – that’s where our embassy sits, and the British one, and it’s where the current Iraqi government, such as it is, is located. Now it’s not safe.
The rest of that Associated Press item was as disheartening. We lost four of our people – one in another area of Baghdad. That makes 4,018 since this thing started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The AP also dryly notes that “the inability of the Iraqi security forces to curb the militias has cast doubt on their ability to take over their own security.” No kidding.
The hearings should be interesting. We will not draw down any more troops – the surge was working, until it wasn’t, and the word now is “pause.” The pause in the draw down leaves us with more troops there than before we started the surge, and after all, that al-Sadr fellow has called for a “million-strong” anti-American demonstration on Wednesday in Baghdad, to protest the fifth anniversary of the capture of the city. There could be trouble.
So into the sixth year we have a hapless local government and suddenly escalating chaos. An explanation of what we think we’re doing, and what good we might expect out of it, would be nice. Most expect we’ll be told Iran is behind this all and it’s time for us to bomb them, and send a few divisions across the border to teach them a lesson. Last time around, Joe Lieberman asked Petraeus if he would like the authority to attack Iran, implying that Congress would, if they had the balls, approve that. Well, to be fair, if you watch the video, Joe only asked Petraeus if he’d like approval to pursue the bad guys across the border – not exactly a full invasion. Petraeus said that sort of decision was above his pay grade.
And it’s unclear we have the resources to do that, as in this item from AFP:
The Pentagon is caught between the fragile security gains made in Iraq over the past few months and the need to give US soldiers weary of combat duty time to rest.
This is just a rundown of what everyone knows. Resources are stretched thin, tours of duty will be dropped back to the normal one year in the field, not the recent fifteen months, so we won’t burn out the people we have. But that only means more multiple tours and more National Guard and Reserve units go in – you have to find the manpower somewhere.
The AFP item ends with the classic dilemma we now face:
Carlos Pascual, director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institute think-tank, told a recent hearing in Congress that the failure of US policy in Iraq “presents us with an untenable situation.”
A withdrawal “will most likely result in an internal conflagration that could spill over borders, increase the threat of trans-national terrorism, send oil prices soaring further, and add to the number and anguish of 4.5 million Iraqi refugees and displaced people,” said Pascual.
“Yet, keeping American troops in Iraq is an unsustainable stop-gap in the absence of major progress toward a political settlement among Iraq’s competing and warring factions,” he added.
The Iraqis seem to be unable to form themselves into a nation – the prospect of that was never that good and seems now next to impossible – and we don’t have the resources to keep a lid on things while waiting for that particular miracle. The cost of leaving is so high we cannot contemplate that. The point of staying is now gone. But, other than that, things are going fine.
John McCain sees things as encouraging:
Republican presidential hopeful John McCain said Sunday that Iraq’s military performed “pretty well” in its recent Basra assault despite the “mixed” results of the battle.
The thirty percent desertion rate, including key field officers, doesn’t seem to bother him – you have to start somewhere. And of course he’s gambling as he runs for president – the bet is that Americans want to win. He says it over and over again – we win wars, as that’s what Americans do. It seems no war after the summer of 1945 really counts. He’s probably hoping Turner Classic Movies floods the airwaves with old John Wayne movies, to remind people of how it once was. The problem is most of the voting population was born after 1945 – they don’t remember what this man of seventy-one remembers, the good war.
So McCain has pinned his campaign to win the presidential election in November to his opposition to an early withdrawal from Iraq, and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both are for reducing our troop presence quickly – to pressure the Iraqi government to assume more responsibility for the country. That may be just as absurd.
But these three will hear testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday from Petraeus and Crocker – Clinton and McCain sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Obama sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Petraeus and Crocker will be reduced to foils for those who would be president. That’s a problem when all three candidates are sitting senators. Expect statements disguised as questions.
Of course, someone might ask a real question:
Obama, an Illinois Democrat, also wants a quick end to the war. On Friday, he said: “We still don’t have a good answer to the question posed by Sen. (John) Warner the last time Gen. Petraeus appeared: How has this effort in Iraq made us safer and how do we expect it will make us safer in the long run?”
That cuts to the chase. Hillary Clinton will call him naïve, of course. And she’s been on the warpath:
Clinton on Saturday told Oregonians, “When Sen. Obama came to the Senate he and I have voted exactly the same except for one vote. And that happens to be the facts. We both voted against early deadlines. I actually starting criticizing the war in Iraq before he did.”
It’s an odd way to measure opposition to the war – comparing who gave the first criticism of the war in Iraq starting in January 2005, ignoring Obama’s opposition to the war throughout 2003 and 2004.
Dare one call her a liar? No, she’s a politician. The facts don’t count as much as the spin. Some might disagree. See Duncan Black:
It’s fair to say that Obama didn’t exactly spend his time in the Senate being an anti-war leader, but this moving the goalpost stuff is really annoying.
The Iraq war has been a colossal moral, fiscal, and humanitarian disaster. Those who opposed it were marginalized, vilified, and ignored by our elites. Those who opposed it, in any way, had a bit of courage even if they weren’t in the Senate at the time.
She hopes people won’t notice that. But people do notice things. See this video clip – the CBS foreign correspondent Lara Logan, speaking with Bob Schieffer on Face The Nation. Logan is concerned with the situation on the ground in Iraq as these three line up to do their thing – the recent fighting in Basra may have all but negated nearly all progress that the surge may have brought:
Well, the last few weeks have really been brutal for General Petraeus because he really was looking at a year where he had managed to be quite successful in reducing violence, particularly in Baghdad and some of the surrounding areas. One of the main reasons for that are [sic] the agreement with the Sunni tribes and also with some Shiite tribes, the militias that they were forming and working with the Americans. But, those gains have almost disappeared in the face of the recent violence which spread so quickly from Basra in the south of Iraq…
Someone will suggest the gains were tactical – relative calm that went for nothing – and the gains are now gone anyway. What was the point? What is the point – other than the cost of doing anything else might be disastrous?
But McCain knows Americans win, and expect to win, and will win. Andrew Sullivan, in the London Sunday Times, suggests McCain is on another planet:
It’s hard to see how the US surge of troops in Iraq helps him in November, whatever happens. If troops cannot be withdrawn for fear of all-out civil war, if violence is back up after a lull, the surge may appear as digging a deeper ditch for America to get out of. McCain will seem like Bush, the Sequel. If, on the other hand, Iraq has calmed, the risk of a young, inexperienced bridge-builder such as Obama may seem less serious.
It’s lose-lose for McCain. If another serious attack hits the mainland, or if a miracle happens in Iraq, he may still have a chance. But he is a war candidate; that’s his brand. And war is currently deeply unpopular.
But that’s not the half of it:
The polls, moreover, show the economy emerging as the major issue of the campaign. Even McCain admits he is uninterested in economics. He admirably rejects the easy impulse to use taxpayers’ money to bail out the reckless lenders and borrowers of the real-estate bubble. But this is not exactly popular in the distressed heartland. And Obama has been slowly learning how to address these issues.
On two critical narratives, an Obama-McCain match-up is tough for McCain. One voted against an unpopular war; the other supported both the invasion and the surge. One will be 72; the other will be 47. The narrative will not be age as such; it will be the future versus the past. Americans are future-oriented people – and this election so far has disproved the usual truth that the next generation does not vote.
So if Obama is the nominee, there will be, as Sullivan says, “a tsunami of a youth and black vote the likes of which America has not seen since the sixties.” How odd.
But McCain says he’s not like Bush. Ilan Goldenberg here discusses all the favorable reactions to McCain saying he wants to be a multilateral fellow and work with our allies. Goldenberg says that’s nonsense, that’s it’s wrongheaded to give John McCain credit for professing “a desire” to improve relations with allies and “rejoin the international community.” That’s just talk.
Matthew Yglesias explains why:
It would be perverse to think that George W. Bush actually wanted the United States to become so isolated. The point is that Bush wanted to pursue policies of rogue state rollback and unilateral preventive war that are incompatible with the United States having a strong relationship with its actual and potential allies around the world. And John McCain wants to pursue those exact same policies; indeed, he was making the case for them before Bush was.
What matters isn’t what McCain says he wants to accomplish (an enduring peace based on freedom!); we need to be asking what would the actual consequences of his policies be.
Well, McCain may get some help:
ABC News’ Mary Bruce Reports: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is actively courting the vice presidential nomination, Republican strategist Dan Senor said.
“Condi Rice has been actively, actually in recent weeks, campaigning for this,” Senor said this morning on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
… Senor explained that Rice’s history in public office would make her a prime candidate, especially in light of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain’s emphasis on experience throughout his campaign.
God help us all. This is the woman who, when asked why we wouldn’t ever talk to Syria, said, “They know what they should do.”
What should we do?