Friday, August 24, 2007

We now return you to your regularly scheduled "Disaster!"

So hey, guess what? Things are looking up in Iraq! Yes! The president has been vindicated and the naysayers vanquished! So much so that, the Washington Post said on Wednesday,
Democratic leaders in Congress [who] had planned to use August recess to raise the heat on Republicans to break with President Bush on the Iraq war ... have been forced to recalibrate their own message in the face of recent positive signs on the security front....
For example,
"We've begun to change tactics in Iraq, and in some areas, particularly in Anbar province, it's working," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) said in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Monday.

"My assessment is that if we put an additional 30,000 of our troops into Baghdad, that's going to quell some of the violence in the short term," Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) echoed in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. "I don't think there's any doubt that as long as U.S. troops are present that they are going to be doing outstanding work."
So, yeah, it's going better and better! The "surge" is surging! Just look at Anbar Province! Of course, that had nothing to do with the "surge," but never mind! Violence is down! Of course, that's largely due to the fact that the military keeps changing how it reports it, so
[d]espite the military's assertion that violence has dropped significantly since the surge began in February, statistics compiled by McClatchy Newspapers show that while the number of bodies found in the streets has dropped, the overall level of violence is unchanged.
And of course there's the fact that, as laid out in today's New York Times,
[t]he number of Iraqis fleeing their homes has soared since the American troop increase began in February, according to data from two humanitarian groups, accelerating the partition of the country into sectarian enclaves. ...

Statistics collected by one of the two humanitarian groups, the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization, indicate that the total number of internally displaced Iraqis has more than doubled, to 1.1 million from 499,000, since the buildup started in February. ...

The findings also indicate that the sectarian tension the troops were meant to defuse is still intense in many places in Iraq. Sixty-three percent of the Iraqis surveyed by the United Nations said they had fled their neighborhoods because of direct threats to their lives, and more than 25 percent because they had been forcibly removed from their homes.
Get that? A big part of the reason for any "decline" in sectarian violence is that it's succeeding. Neighborhoods are being ethnically cleansed and isolated.

But never mind! Who cares? Certainly not us! Because we know things are getting better! Why, just look at the new National Intelligence Estimate, released yesterday: It says security will improve over the next six to 12 months! Of course, it says the improvement will be "modest" and that violence will remain high, but just you never mind! Things will be great in just, um, how long, guys?
The U.S military will begin pulling out the additional troops it sent to Iraq as part of the so-called surge next spring and will have completed their withdrawal by next August, [Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno,] the No. 2 American commander in Iraq said Friday.
Oh, so a year from now troop levels will be back to where they were last December? Uh, well, okay, sure! And the rest of them?
[On Sunday, Rear Adm. Mark] Fox, [a U.S. military spokesman,] said he didn't know how large an Iraqi security presence is needed before U.S. troops can start pulling out of Iraq or how long that will take.

Determining an appropriate security force size is "a work in progress, quite frankly," Fox said.
Oh. Uh.... Hmmm. Well, do you have any idea how long this is going to take?
Gen. George Casey - the former top commander in Iraq and now the Army chief of staff — declared that Iraq will be a remarkable country “in a decade or so” if we maintain the U.S. occupation. ...

Casey’s comments echo those of the current top commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) disclosed that on her recent visit to Iraq, Petraeus told her that the U.S. “will be in Iraq in some way for 9 or 10 years.”

Yeah, things are going great.

Well, but certainly the Democrats will ultimately save us from this, won't they? Tell us, Bloomberg News!
Senator Hillary Clinton warned Democrats not to "oversell" plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, setting a cautious tone on the war that was echoed by the party's two other leading presidential candidates.

Clinton and her main competitors for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Barack Obama and former Senator John Edwards, agreed in a debate [Sunday] morning that pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq can't be accomplished in just a few months and that any withdrawal must be balanced by security concerns. ...

Biden led the other Democrats in disagreeing [with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's six-month timetable]. "It's time to start to level with the American people," Biden said. "If we leave Iraq and we leave it in chaos, there'll be regional war. The regional war will engulf us for a generation."

Clinton said Biden is "absolutely right," cautioning that "this is going to be very dangerous and very difficult' and "a lot of people don't like to hear that." ...

Obama said Biden is right and that "this is not going to be a simple operation."

(To be fair, Edwards did not oppose a deadline, he said rather than Richardson's was too optimistic, suggesting something more like 10 months, sort of splitting the political difference between a firm deadline and "when the security situation improves." But more importantly, none of the big three call for all troops to be withdrawn, just "most" troops or "combat" troops.)

Meanwhile, the WaPo says that advisers to Clinton and Obama said their statements in support of the reports of improvement on the ground were
political as well as substantive statements, part of a broader Democratic effort to frame Petraeus's report before it is released next month by preemptively acknowledging some military success in the region.
I suppose that looks like smart politics and perhaps it is if you're thinking of positioning for the 2008 election rather than ending the war, but that kind of cynical triangulation is part of what brought us to this turn in the first place. Why they think it's going to work any better now is beyond me - except, that is, they figure that the real antiwar electorate will decide it has nowhere else to go than whoever the Dummycrat candidate is so there's no risk from repeatedly slapping that electorate in the face.

Okay, but leave all that aside. Because at least now, with all that's happened of late, we finally know where to place the blame. Nope, not on the Shrub gang, panting for war with Iraq from the git-go. And not on the intelligence community that told the panting mouth-breathers what they wanted to hear. Nor on the Congress that kept - and keeps - going "uh-huh, yep, whatever you say." And certainly not on our illegal, immoral invasion and occupation of a foreign nation which has plunged it into sectarian violence, civil war, chaos, and death, a nation now awash with American-supplied weapons, including about 110,000 AK-47 rifles and 80,000 pistols the Government Accountability Office says cannot be accounted for. (That's on top of the literally hundreds of thousands of small arms that can't be traced to a particular owner and the weapons taken from unsecured Iraqi caches in the wake of the invasion.) Not on any of the stupidity, the inanity, or the cruelty. Nope, to the great relief of our politicians and pundits, they're all exonerated, every one. The real fault, we now know for sure, the real blame for the entire mess lies with the Iraqi government.
Declaring the government of Iraq "non-functional," the influential chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said yesterday that Iraq's parliament should oust Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his cabinet if they are unable to forge a political compromise with rival factions in a matter of days[, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday].

"I hope the parliament will vote the Maliki government out of office and will have the wisdom to replace it with a less sectarian and more unifying prime minister and government," Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) said after a three-day trip to Iraq and Jordan. ...

Levin's comments to reporters followed the release of a joint statement with the second-ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, Sen. John W. Warner (Va.), which was pessimistic about Iraq's political future. The statement referred to a round of recent meetings between Maliki, who is backed by President Bush, and Iraqi political leaders as "the last chance for this government to solve the Iraqi political crisis."
And that in turn was followed up by the statement of
Hillary Rodham Clinton[, who] said Wednesday the Iraqi Parliament should replace embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with a "less divisive and more unifying figure" to reconcile political and religious factions.
That according to MSNBC.

After all that, the NIE finding that
[t]he Iraqi government is strained by rampant violence, deep sectarian differences among its political parties and stymied leadership [and that] "To date, Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively,"
even its prediction that the government "will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months," seemed like an afterthought.

In fact, though, it must be said that things really are bad in the Maliki government. It's so bad that Juan Cole wrote yesterday that
[a] rumor is circulating among well-connected and formerly high-level Iraqi bureaucrats in exile in places like Damascus that a military coup is being prepared for Iraq. I received the following from a reliable, knowledgeable contact. There is no certitude that this plan can or will be implemented. That it is being discussed at high levels seems highly likely.

"There is serious talk of a military commission (majlis `askari) to take over the government. The parties would be banned from holding positions, and all the ministers would be technocrats, so to speak... [The writer indicates that attempts have been made to recruit cabinet members from the ranks of expatriate technocrats.]

"The six-member board or commission would be composed on non-political former military personnel who are presently not part of the government OR the military establishment, such as it is in Iraq at the moment. It is said that the Americans are supporting this behind the scenes.

"The plan includes a two-year period during which political parties would not be permitted to be part of the government, but instead would prepare and strengthen the parties for an election which would not have lists, but real people running for real seats. The two year period would be designed to take control of security and restore infrastructure.

"...[I]t is another [desperate plan], but one which many many Iraqis will support, since they are sick of their country being pulled apart by the 'imports' - Maliki, Allawi, Jaafari et al. The military group is composed of internals, people who have the goal of securing the country even at the risk of no democracy, so they say."
(Brackets as per Cole's post.)

The bit about "the Americans are supporting this behind the scenes" gets some indirect support from former Democratic congressional staffer Brent Budowsky, who claimed recently that
a growing faction close to President Bush privately favors a new “Iraqi strongman” to establish some form of authoritarian rule.
If this is true, perhaps it's just an example of things coming back into fashion: In May 1991, in the wake of the Gulf War, at a time when at least some folks knew booting out Saddam Hussein would result in "a quagmire," a staff report to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee quoted an NSC aide as saying “Our policy is to get rid of Saddam Hussein, not his regime.” The goal, that is, was to provoke a military coup that would replace one dictator who had become unreliable with another who would be more friendly.

Since Bush just dipped into history to cite both World Wars, Korea, and even Vietnam to urge "stay the course," why shouldn't he look to the first attack on Iraq for advice on what to do now after the second?

But, you ask, how can it be a quagmire when things are improving - yes indeedy, improving, I say! - on the security front? Well, how about the fact that in talking about removing the troops involved in the escalation - excuuuse me, "surge" - General Odierno
didn't comment on what might happen after the additional U.S. forces leave. U.S. officials have claimed that the surge plan has cut violence, but they've also expressed concern that the violence could resume once U.S. troops are reduced because there's been no move at reconciliation between rival Sunni and Shiite groups.
And the NIE
warns against scaling back the mission of U.S. forces. Analysts found that changing the U.S. military's mission from its current focus - countering insurgents and stabilizing the country - in favor of supporting Iraqi forces and stopping terrorists would hurt the security gains of the last six months.
In other words, they're saying that the very "successes" and "gains" they're bragging about have actually tied us down even more to what we're already doing - tied us down for, if others are to be believed, another decade. If that's not a quagmire, what the hell would be?

This concludes this episode of Disaster! Coming up soon, new episodes arising from these developments:

- August 20: Members of the Mehdi Army confirm to The Independent (UK) that they received training in Lebanon from Hizbollah,
[A] Mehdi Army fighter, a 26-year-old who asked to be identified as Abu Nasser, said he and 100 other group members travelled to Lebanon in December 2005. "They didn't teach us anything about suicide bombings, they showed us real tactics and taught our snipers," he said. Speaking in Tufa in Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr, the head of the Mehdi Army, admitted to "formal links" with Hizbollah.
- August 20: An upsurge in violence in northeast Iraq, on the Iranian border, has Iraqi Kurdish officials expressing "deepening concern," according to The Guardian (UK).
Jabar Yawar, a deputy minister in the Kurdistan regional government, said four days of intermittent shelling by Iranian forces had hit mountain villages high up on the Iraqi side of the border, wounding two women, destroying livestock and property, and displacing about 1,000 people from their homes. Mr Yawer said there had also been intense fighting on the Iraqi border between Iranian forces and guerrillas of the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), an armed Iranian Kurdish group that is stepping up its campaign for Kurdish rights against the theocratic regime in Tehran.
Iran, which has recently sent tens of thousands of Revolutionary Guard troops to the area, calls PJAK terrorists and charges it is
sponsored and armed by the US to increase pressure on Iran.

On a recent visit to PJAK camps in the Qandil mountains the Guardian saw no evidence of American weaponry.
- August 22: The heat is rising in more than one way in Iraq. AFP says that
[f]or war-weary residents of Baghdad fighting sweltering heat in near-blackout conditions, the message on Wednesday from Electricity Minister Karim Wahid was grim - there won't be any relief this summer. Nor next summer. Nor even the one after.

"It will take another three to four years to fully rehabilitate the grid," Wahid told reporters in an air-conditioned room in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, while temperatures outside soared above 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).

Much of the national power grid was destroyed during the US-led invasion in 2003, while insurgents, militias and thugs continue to vandalise infrastructure even as the government races to rehabilitate facilities, he said. ...

"We are reaching only 20 to 40 percent of Baghdad's needs," Wahid said, adding however that hospitals and essential services are receiving power 24 hours a day.

Baghdad residents complain that conditions are far worse than they can remember, with electricity reaching them just two or three hours a day - and sometimes not at all.
Not at all. Seems like an apt summation:

"I'll take 'Iraq' for $1000, Alex."

"The answer is, 'Not at all.'"

"What is how much has the US invasion really helped ordinary Iraqis?"


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