Despite the offensive in Baqubah continuing to show great signs of both political and military success and other military aspects of the surge also proving that the strategy developed by General Petraeus is doing what it’s supposed to from a military standpoint, the Iraqi government slips deeper into chaos and ennui, negating any possible chance that the American military alone can turn the situation around and bring peace and stability to the country.
The military successes we’ve had are taking place in a political vacuum. The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki continues to wallow in sectarianism, incompetence, corruption, and a curious lethargy when it comes to addressing the issues that absolutely must be addressed if Iraq is to have a chance at internal peace. To wit:
- A boycott of the cabinet by Sunni ministers shows no sign of being resolved. In fact, it appears that very little effort is being made by the Shias to entice the Sunnis back into the government although it is understood that American diplomats are working frantically behind the scenes to get the parties back together.
- The Parliament is paralyzed. With 74 members boycotting the proceedings coupled with the usual bunch who don’t bother to show up anyway, it becomes impossible to gather a quorum so that official business can be conducted.
- For every step forward, two steps back are the result. While the New York Times is reporting that a moderate group of Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds appear ready to begin working on the oil revenue sharing legislation in order to try and shepherd the bill through parliament, the largest Sunni bloc is still opposing the bill making passage a moot point. Why pass a bill the majority of Sunnis won’t support? It’s just one more indication that the Shias intend on riding roughshod over the political rights of the Sunnis.
- And if that weren’t bad enough, Muqtada al-Sadr has joined with some Sunnis and Kurds to oppose the oil legislation anyway. Mookie knows full well that if the oil bill passes, Bush can claim political progress in Iraq and stop the momentum towards withdrawal.
- Nearly 20 people a day are still being found in Baghdad who have been executed as a result of the sectarian violence roiling the city and its suburbs. This is half the number that was found in February. But sectarian deaths elsewhere are up and the violence appears to be spreading into formerly peaceful northern provinces, especially around Kirkuk where Kurds and Shias are carrying on a low level conflict over control of that vital oil center.
- There is no sign of any mass movement by internal refugees back to the city to reclaim their formerly mixed neighborhoods despite incentives offered by the government. In fact, more people are leaving the country. Both Jordan and Syria are thinking of severely limiting the number of refugees from Iraq.
As competent and bravely as our military has performed, there is little they can do to affect any of these problems. Yes, they can reduce the violence. But can they change what’s in the hearts and minds of the purveyors of this mayhem? Simply keeping the murderers off the streets is not solving the problem in any lasting way. This is a job for the Iraqi people and their elected government.
We can kill al-Qaeda. We can build effective bridges to the Sunni community. We can keep the militias from causing too much trouble by keeping them off the streets. We can keep raiding insurgent strongholds and confiscating weapons and bomb making materials. We can keep building infrastructure and reaching out to the Iraqi people. But this is not a permanent solution to Iraq’s problems. The surge is not designed to permanently solve Iraq’s security problems. It was designed to lower the level of violence so that the Iraqi government could get its act together and start the long, hard, slog toward building a peaceful, democratic society. We are doing more than our part. But the Iraqi government is failing miserably in holding up their end of the bargain.
Realizing this, Republican Senators are finally abandoning Bush and calling for a change in mission. The latest apostate is Senator Pete Domenici:
White House efforts to keep congressional Republicans united over the Iraq war suffered another major defection yesterday as Sen. Pete V. Domenici (N.M.) broke with President Bush and called for an immediate change in U.S. strategy that could end combat operations by spring.
The six-term lawmaker, party loyalist and former staunch war supporter represents one of the most significant GOP losses to date. Speaking to reporters at a news conference in Albuquerque, Domenici said he began to question his stance on Iraq late last month, after several conversations with the family members of dead soldiers from his home state, and as it became clear that Iraqi leaders are making little progress toward national reconciliation.
“We cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress,” Domenici said. “I do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq or a reduction in funding for our troops. But I do support a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path to coming home.”
Domenici becomes the fourth Republican Senator in the last week to come out in favor of a change in mission. He also announced he will sponsor legislation that would “embrace the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group” – a clear sign that Bush’s days of having unfettered control over war policy are numbered.
I and many others predicted that the ISG report would eventually be used by lawmakers as political cover to change the mission in Iraq and start the withdrawal of American combat forces. The question is, can the Administration itself adopt some of the ISG’s recommendations in order to avoid the political and military disaster of being forced to accede to the Democrat’s strategy of set timetables and a much faster draw down of troops?
The answer is no. Bush has pinned his political fortunes on the surge strategy and only Congress can make him give it up. Can Domenici and a few other Republicans craft a compromise that falls short of the Democrat’s draconian plan for withdrawal while still recognizing reality and begin the process of redeploying our troops so that we can start bringing them home?
I think this is more than possible and will probably end up a reality soon enough. And I also believe there are enough GOP House and Senate members who would leap at the chance to support such a compromise to make the measure veto proof. With the American people in favor of such a withdrawal – leaving substantial numbers of troops in place to train the Iraqi army as well as keep killing al-Qaeda – the President will face the stark choice of sticking with a losing hand in Congress or grudgingly accepting the inevitable and working with the leadership to come up with the best plan possible.
That last is probably a non starter. This President has shown a sometimes admirable stubbornness when it comes to sticking to his guns on Iraq. But that same stubbornness has also prevented him from changing course when it could have done a lot more good as well as blinding him to political opportunities to work with the Democrats in order to successfully extricate ourselves from the war.
There are some parts of the ISG that most GOP members would balk at implementing. Surely there would be great opposition to engaging in any kind of dialogue with Syria about Iraq. The gangsters who run that thug nation couldn’t be trusted to keep any agreement. And the fact that Syria continues to try and murder their way back into dominating Lebanon should put the Assad regime beyond the pale of all civilized nations.
Iran may be a different story. While the mullahs have zero incentive to come to any kind of agreement with us about Iraq, they may have other issues where a mutually beneficial dialogue can be initiated. With their economy close to collapse and great unrest among the populace, the Iranians may be in a relatively weak position regarding any bi-lateral talks with us about issues of common concern (except the nuclear issue). There’s a chance that some kind of agreement can be forged – but it is a small chance and may not be worth the effort.
Bush will wait on the interim report that General Petreaus is preparing for September before even contemplating changing course. He has promised the general that much and I think Petreaus deserves it. But I am anxious to see just how realistic Petreaus will make the political section of his report given the attitude of the Iraqi government to date. With calls from senior members of the military for a withdrawal, I wonder if Petreaus will heed those calls or cave in to the Administration instead and play the rosy scenario game with his report. At his confirmation hearing, the General appeared to be pretty much of a straight shooter. I would hope he gives the President a dose of truth from both barrels.
NOTE: Comments are unmoderated. As long as we behave ourselves, they will stay that way.
Allah and I seem to be on the same page as far as the ISG goes:
Bushâ€™s team has reportedly been murmuring for the past six weeks or so about a Baker-Hamilton resurgence and the House actually passed a measure to resurrect the Group back at the end of June. Thereâ€™s no question weâ€™re going to adopt some form of that strategy; the question is whether Bush is going to go along and pretend like he thinks itâ€™s a good idea or if heâ€™ll resist until Congress overrides him and then blame the chaos that follows withdrawal on them. Probably the former â€” I donâ€™t think he could stand to have his war authority diminished the way the latter process would.
Either way, I think the already-dim prospects of a partisan â€œtruceâ€ are finished. The Dems hold the cards. What would they gain?