Maybe I should get into the stock prediction business.
As I fully expected, some on the right are in full throated howl over my suggestion that we alter our mission in Iraq. The predictable response of the slack jawed yawpers doesn’t necessarily depress me, although I am not insensate to the barbs . Their personal attacks (in lieu of answering my points with intelligent counters) reveals how truly bereft they are of any understanding of what it will take for the efforts of our troops in tamping down the violence to bear fruit.
Also as I predicted, the left has attacked me for not advocating a complete withdrawal. There are also those who have “congratulated” me for “finally” seeing it there way.
Frankly, that’s hogwash. For more than a year I have been expressing my belief that the Administration’s strategy was not working, that despite the brilliant performance of our troops, any military gains made against he insurgency were lost because of the political inertia that even our best efforts could not affect. The Iraqi government was failing to take the steps necessary to reconcile the various factions and create a viable, democratic state. Just because people vote doesn’t mean democracy is in place. The rifts and divisions in that bloody land are standing in the way of uniting the people behind the idea of nationhood. In order for the idea of “nation” to take hold, there must be an accounting of both ancient history and recent history. And before Iraq can become a nation, Sunnis and Shias will have to look at each other and see a fellow countryman rather than an oppressor or a threat.
Only by accepting the concept of power sharing will the Shia government in Iraq succeed. And only when they are convinced that the Shias are not out to destroy them will the Sunni insurgents lay down their arms and join the government. The sad fact is that the United States military – as bravely as they have carried out their mission – can only create the conditions where this is possible; they cannot unite the factions through any conceivable military action.
What has changed? Clearly, the government of Prime Minister Maliki doesn’t have time to affect the changes necessary that would lead to this reconciliation. By that I mean our efforts at improving security (the largest but by no means the only aspect of our new strategy) will only last as long as we have sufficient troops on the ground to carry out that mission. And the entire point of my article was simple; time is running out. Blame it on the press. Blame it on the Democrats. Blame it on Elvis. The fact is the American people have had enough. And what little support there is for our mission in Iraq will only lessen the closer we get to the 2008 election.
I blame Bush for this. He has been AWOL in using the Presidency as a soap box to consistently, patiently, and honestly explain why we’re in Iraq, what the stakes are, who the enemy is, and why we must fight. His inexplicable silences over the last 4 years – sometimes lasting weeks – allowed the political opposition to hijack the war narrative and twist it for their own political purposes. Every six weeks or so, the President would embark on a 3 or 4 day PR offensive, appearing mostly at military bases and talking up the war. It was never enough. And we’re paying the price for this PR blunder with an American public who have been frustrated with the lack of progress in defeating the insurgency as well as the stalling tactics of the Maliki government.
For in the end, that is where the problem lies. The Prime Minister, the major parties in Iraq (SCIRI, Dawa, the Sadrists) have expressed little interest and less desire in affecting the changes in power sharing, de-Baathification, amnesty, reconciliation, and promised constitutional changes that would alter the political climate and start the Iraqis down the road toward a peaceful society. And again, there is nothing the US military can do to push the government off of square one and get this process moving.
And lest anyone misunderstand me (or, for those of you who simply didn’t bother to read what I wrote) I am not advocating anything more than a token withdrawal of American troops. And that would be as a consequence of cutting a deal with Democrats in Congress who almost certainly would insist on some kind of cutback of troops if they were to sign on to a redefined mission of fighting al-Qaeda, protecting the Iraqi borders (including the Iran-Iraq border), and preventing a humanitarian catastrophe. Only the significant presence of US troops will prevent the massacre of Sunnis by Shias hell bent on revenge as well as those who wish to make Iraq “Sunni free.” That same presence would probably also prevent a general Middle East war as well.
So those who believe I was signing on to the Democrats plan for phased withdrawal are simply wrong. In fact, I think it would be a blunder that would make the blunders made the previous 4 years look tame by comparison. Only those wishing the absolute worst for the United States, Iraq, and the Middle East would advocate such a course of action. Better that we maintain a strong presence in Iraq and allow the various factions to work out their own solutions to the problems facing the country.
My point about dealing with the Democrats is simple common sense. If we are going to stay in Iraq with the numbers of troops necessary to help train the Iraqi army, kill al-Qaeda, and protect the Sunnis, the Democrats are going to have to be aboard so that the political will for such a mission can coalesce and form around both Congressional and White House leadership. For this to happen, Bush will have to make the first move. I’m not expecting much even if Bush were to wear sackcloth and ashes and knee walk up the Capitol steps. But given the alternative – ultimate Democratic success down the road in pushing arbitrary timetables for a withdrawal of the bulk of our troops – what has the President got to lose?
Nothing I’ve written here or in my other post is very original. The political conditions in Iraq are well known if you read enough reports – both from the media and our own government. And the change in mission has been advocated by both Republicans and Democrats in and out of government. I don’t claim authorship only conversion to a point of view.
I guess the overarching point is that our divisions are killing us. Someone, somewhere has to reach out and find the common ground so that we can avoid an unmitigated disaster in Iraq. Judging by some of the comments here and elsewhere, I find it difficult to place much faith in that prospect.
You may note that I have avoided the term “victory” when redefining the mission. Since I believe our original mission has already failed, trying to define “victory” would be an exercise in futility. Better to describe the mission as “staving off disaster.” That would be accurate.