The term “bi-partisan” is taking on a whole new meaning recently as both Republican and Democratic lawmakers are scurrying to seek cover behind the apron strings of the Iraq Study Group and its Old Wise Men who are desperately trying to find a way out of Iraq without making it appear that the US is “cutting and running.”
This, of course, is what James Baker’s group was set up specifically to do; provide safe political haven for Republicans and Democrats and take the sting out of partisan recriminations that would accompany any phased withdrawal of American troops that doesn’t take into account what is happening on the ground or in the halls of government in Iraq.
There are two choices in Iraq; win or lose. Those looking for nuance won’t find any. Those looking for a comfortable formula that would come up short in the “win” department but not exactly be a loss either are kidding themselves. There has never been a war that I can think of that didn’t have a winner and a loser. And trying to spin Iraq as a “draw” would be laughable – at least to our enemies who will dance long into the night the day that our “phased withdrawal” from Iraq is announced.
The ISG is just the latest in a long line of Commissions, Panels, and other appointed groups whose job it is to cover the political posteriors of politicians who either won’t or can’t decide tough political questions. Social Security reform, base closings, and budgetary reform are three recent examples of what amounts to Congress abdicating its responsibilities in the face of gridlock.
In the case of the ISG, the appointment of James Baker – the recognized Bush family Mr. Fix-it – was the tip off as to just what the Commission’s role would be. And the make up of the ISG - an array of foreign policy elites from both parties, most of whom are on record for getting out of Iraq as quickly as possible – was also indicative of its mission to extricate America from the Iraq morass before permanent harm could be done to our interests in the Middle East.
Even Mr. Bush, struggling to find a way to if not ignore then certainly minimize the role of Baker’s group, has softened his stance slightly on such things as “timetables” and “redeployment:”
Still, Mr. Bush’s tone has already changed to the point where he is now drawing fewer lines and sounding more welcoming to outside ideas.
Asked yesterday whether he would accept recommendations from the group that included timetables, Mr. Bush did not rule it out, instead saying he will not “prejudge” the report. At a press conference last week, he announced the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and nominated Robert M. Gates, who until Friday was a member of the study group, as a replacement.
Mr. Levin said the change in attitude was apparent.
“I didn’t hear anything about cutting and running,” he said. “I didn’t hear anything about if you are proposing that we begin a phased redeployment in four to six months, that somehow or other that will help the terrorists.”
Bush won’t say it but its hard to see how removing American troops can do anything but help the terrorists. And that is the great trap of any timetable that envisions a phased withdrawal. It is a trap that the insurgents, the death squads, and the militias (and the Democrats but obviously for much different reasons) are devoutly wishing the Administration fall into.
There seems to be abroad among war critics the notion that if we have a timed withdrawal of our forces that this will somehow light a fire under the government of Prime Minister al-Maliki to get busy tamping down sectarian violence, negotiating the sticky problem of oil revenue sharing, coming up with a national reconciliation plan, and a half dozen other Mission Impossible movie scenarios, all the result of the basic notion that the Iraqis just aren’t trying hard enough.
Bursting that bubble should be priority #1 of the Administration:
Anthony C. Zinni, the former head of the United States Central Command and one of the retired generals who called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, argued that any substantial reduction of American forces over the next several months would be more likely to accelerate the slide to civil war than stop it.
â€œThe logic of this is you put pressure on Maliki and force him to stand up to this,â€ General Zinni said in an interview, referring to Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister. â€œWell, you canâ€™t put pressure on a wounded guy. There is a premise that the Iraqis are not doing enough now, that there is a capability that they have not employed or used. I am not so sure they are capable of stopping sectarian violence.â€
Instead of taking troops out, General Zinni said, it would make more sense to consider deploying additional American forces over the next six months to â€œregain momentumâ€ as part of a broader effort to stabilize Iraq that would create more jobs, foster political reconciliation and develop more effective Iraqi security forces.
We can tie the withdrawal of American forces to all the “benchmarks” of progress by the Iraqi government you wish. We can grovel before Baby Assad and Ahmadinejad begging them to stop supporting the terrorists and insurgents in Iraq who are making life a living hell for Sunni and Shia alike. We could probably even temporarily increase the number of troops in Baghdad (10,000 max say the experts and that’s only if we don’t rotate our people home for a few months). But in the end, we’re stuck with the question of do we do what it takes to win by expending the resources, the men, and the time so that we can bring order out of chaos, freedom out of terror? Or do we give up and go home?
The Democrats feel that the American people have determined that the war is lost and that the troops should be brought home (arguable but lets run with the premise for a minute). Why bother with a “timetable” then? It blunts the “cut and run” criticism while springing a trap on the Administration and Republicans for 2008.
This timetable will be gussied up with all sorts of signposts and benchmarks of progress by the Iraqis. They will look and sound reasonable while also being impossible to achieve. And here’s where the political trap is sprung.
When it becomes clear that the Iraqis have not achieved the requisite progress that would allow a set number of American troops to come home, pressure will build to bring them home anyway regardless of whether the benchmarks have been achieved or not. The Democrat’s base will see to that. And of course, the question will be asked whose fault it is that the Iraqis are “behind schedule” in achieving those benchmarks? If you guessed President Bush, you win a cookie.
Such is the “bi-partisan” nature of the timeline.
I have little doubt that the Baker group will be able to spin their plan into some kind of blueprint for “victory.” The only people in the world who believe that will be dyed in the wool Republicans and the politicians who don’t have the political courage to come out and call our efforts in Iraq a defeat in the War on Terror. Our enemies will have no such difficulty in determining who won and who lost in Iraq. And neither will the rest of the world.
No timelines. No “phased withdrawal.” Get Maliki to sign off on US forces fighting and killing the militias. Instead of the half hearted attempt currently underway to reform his government, urge him to go much farther by cleaning out the vipers nest in his own Interior Ministry. Find some way to accelerate the training and deployment of the Iraqi army. Purge the police of militias and death squads.
And yes, engage the Syrians and Iranians in a dialogue on Iraq. About the only negotiating stick we have is the threat of our immediate and precipitous withdrawal. The resulting chaos would send refugees streaming toward Iran and Syria’s borders not to mention a bloodletting of their co-religionists that would upset the domestic applecart at home and might force them into becoming reluctant peace keepers or even active participants in a civil war.
There are a half dozen other “benchmarks” of Iraqi progress that would have meaning if victory was our goal. Most of all, it would take time. How long? Five years? A decade? Osama Bin Laden was right. We just don’t have the staying power when standing toe to toe with the terrorists who would gain the most from our withdrawal.
And I can think of nothing more alarming to the future of the War on Terror than giving the terrorists an easy victory that they didn’t win on the battlefield but rather in the hearts and minds of the American people.
Ed Morrissey gives a pretty convincing argument for staying in Iraq, echoing some of my concerns and splashing some cold water on the “redeploy now” crowd:
The efforts by Democrats to shift into reverse are based on two arguments: that the US is creating the impetus for violence simply by being present, and that Nouri al-Maliki could solve the problem if we scared him into taking action on his own. Both Zinni and Batiste dispute these assumptions, and for good reason. The forces arrayed against the Iraqi government and Coalition forces consist primarily of native radicals who will not abide democratic institutions, but instead want dictatorships based on sect and ethnicity. A smaller but significant portion are foreign terrorists who have flocked to the al-Qaeda franchise, led now by Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.
Neither of these types of factions will lay down weapons once the US leaves. They have other plans for Iraq besides democracy and representative government. The natives want to break Iraq into gang turf for their radical imams, and the foreigners want Iraq’s oil reserves to fund worldwide terrorism independently. Those goals will not fade with an American withdrawal, but only become closer to reality.
Zinni and Batiste know this. Both scoff at the notion that Maliki could stop the violence at his current strength levels, although both agree he could do more politically. Zinni and Batiste agree with John McCain that the US needs additional troops in Baghdad and a better strategy for weakening and destroying the militias. This week, American troops started going after Moqtada al-Sadr’s forces in the capital, reversing an earlier decision to abide by Maliki’s demand to leave them alone. More of that kind of thinking will help, and that will certainly put the kind of political pressure on Maliki that might some changes to his policies.