I know I promised not to write about this again.
And I know that I’ve been beating this drum here at GFT for over a year and I don’t seem to be doing anything but preaching to the choir. I seldom get comments on these posts and those I do are usually supportive. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the support – I do! – but the essence of political writing is to make people think. We’re not really thinking if we’re all nodding along to the music…
Anyway, I thought I would write one more Iraq piece and then stop. Nothing emotional, nothing about the personal horrors that are the fruit of the garden of War. A “think piece”, summing up my perspective on where we are, why we’re there, and where we’re going – or not going. A sort of “State of the Disunion”, if you will.
Right now the issues involved seem superficially simple:
1. We’ve been fighting in Iraq for more than four years now – longer than WW1. Longer than our part of WW2. Longer than our Civil War. Longer, in fact, than any war we’ve ever fought with the exception of Vietnam and the “Indian Wars”.
2. The outcome appears to be stalemated.
3. Although our government will not begin removing American soldiers it will not mobilize the nation for war in the sense that we were mobilized for WW2 or ever for Vietnam. Therefore, though we are in no danger of “losing” the conventional military fight it looks unlikely that we will ever be able to “win” militarily, either.
4. This being the case, why not just fold our hand and leave?
I will argue that although the sensible choice at this point would be to reduce our military strength in Iraq to the minimum needed to “advise” and support the Iraqi Army and police we will not do that. In fact, I believe that, barring miracle or catastrophe, we will have a large (+100,000) combat troop presence in Iraq in January 2009. Let me explain why.
The Dubya Factor
As of June, 2007, the single largest obstacle to stepping down America’s military footprint in Iraq is the current President. He has said plainly his view of the situation there is:
- that the war is militarily winnable
- that anything short of “victory” is unacceptable, and
- that any withdrawal of American fighting strength is the same as losing.
Over the past six years we’ve learned one thing, if nothing else, about this man. He does not change his ideas. Like many people who have few deep convictions, Dubya holds tightly to the ones he has. He is convinced of several notions about Iraq:
- that our opponents there are primarily “the terrorists”, i.e. al Qaeda
- that we are tying these enemies down by fighting them in Iraq, and
- that if we cease to fight them “there” if will free them to begin operating “here”, in the continental U.S.
These ideas are, in the case of the first two, demonstrably wrong, and the third is unlikely, or rather, not an automatic consequence of the fighting in Iraq but rather a conscious choice on the part of our Islamic jihadist enemies to engage us on their own ground. But, again, time has proven that facts are not critical to Dubya’s decision making; it is his “gut”, his instinct. When he makes up his mind he is unlikely to change it.
The real problem here is that there is no possible relief in sight from this man. If we didn’t know from public example that Newt Gingrich was a tiny-souled puling maggot of a creature, the sort who would leave his dying wife for the opportunity to thrash the mattress with another woman I would suspect him of the cunning of a cunning fox who had been appointed Dean of Cunning at Cunning University. Because by bringing in articles of impeachment against then-President Clinton over what was, frankly, a ridiculous lie over some lip service the Newticle has made impeachment politically untouchable for a generation. Made it the embodiment of political dirty tricks. So despite the fact that we KNOW that Dubya lied to the nation about Iraq, lied about things like spying on Americans and secret jails and heaven knows what else, he cannot now and will not be impeached.
And neither a sane person nor the vast majority of the insane will assassinate him - to make Dick Cheney president.
He – and his desire for continued war – are here until 2009.
The "Peenack" Factor
The other critical problem is wrapped up generically in this organization: the “Project for the New American Century”; PNAC. This group of aggressively interventionist former liberal “neoconservatives” has provided most of the intellectual horsepower for the Bush 43 Administration’s Middle Eastern adventures. And, if you read the program notes, you get an idea of exactly how grandiose this show was supposed to be.
It seems fairly clear now that the original reason for invading in 2003 – “To prevent Saddam from attacking us with nukes/bugs/gas” was a maguffin. Many of the people who were laying out a case for war in 2002 and 2003; VP Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and other DoD staffers such as Dick Perle and Paul Wolfowitz as well as influential PNACers outside the government such as William Kristol and Bob Kagan carefully picked over the intelligence to make Saddam seem more dangerous and more desperate than he was.
The real reasons these people wanted – and want – American soldiers on the ground is more complicated. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo sums it up better than I can – read his 2003 article if you’re interested. But the fundamental reasons were:
1. Geopolitical power and influence in the Middle East
2. Security for Israel
3. Fundamental political/social change in the Muslim world.
As Marshall points out, as a crazy scheme it seems “just crazy enough to work”...but only if ALL the breaks went their way. AND if the execution was flawless. Instead Murphy got involved, and the execution was left to the clueless mook Bremer and his staff of twenty-somethings from the Young Republican Club of Des Moines.
But the original objective still stands – you can see it peeking out behind Dubya’s “Korea analogy”. The goal of those “enduring bases” – the “lily pads” for big froggy leaps of military power – is still in the mix. The problem, of course, is that Dubya painted the PNAC crowd into a corner with his blather about Iraqi democracy. They knew all along that democracy would probably produce an Islamic theocracy. It was never about “democracy” for them…it was about influence, power, control. It still is. And as long as there's still a chance, they won't be willing to give up. It's no coincidence that Kagan is the intellectual daddy of the "surge".
The Public Factor
Doesn’t Care. Doesn’t want to care.
The reality of the American Public is that, without a draft to snatch up our cousin Eddie or son or Uncle Rashad, we’re going to slap a magnetic yellow ribbon on the car, or not, and drive away. The military families are bleeding, but, really, who gives a fuck? What are they, a million or so? Not even enough votes to sway an Iowa caucus, fercryinoutloud.
Cindy Sheehan? Wasn't she Sanjaya's girlfriend? Hunh? Yeah, whatever. Hey, did you hear that Paris got out of jail!!??
The public isn’t fighting this war, and has no real dog in the fight. It won’t sacrifice to get involved but it won’t sacrifice to get out, either. The American public has and will continue to fail in its responsibility to hold its' leaders accountable. The Public will not cry out for an end to the war, either by massive force or by withdrawl. Period.
So…what now, smartass?
We Are So Fucked.
And that’s pretty much it.
January 2009 will see some hundred thousand Americans - or as many of that number as we can still field - still in Iraq, still fighting the eight-sided war (Sunni-Shia, Sunni-Kurd, Sunni-US, Sunni-Sunni, Shia-US, Shia-Shia, Kurd-Turkey, Kurd-Iran). President Bush will not be swayed and can’t be impeached. The American public is indifferent or distracted. And the neocons, starting with Dick Cheney, will not give up their grip on the Iraqi rung of their idealized ladder to Middle Eastern reform until their heads are cut off, garlic shoved in their mouths and stakes driven into their hearts. In short, Iraq in 2009 will look a lok like Iraq in 2007 except there will be a lot of air where there were people, because those people will be dead by then.
Can we salvage ANY thing? I have massive doubts about our chances of pulling off something like geopolitical success from our Mess-o-potamia. The socio-political bog that is Iraq 2007 does not lead me to suspect that, stay or go, we will be able to avoid the Shiite Stalin who is probably being laid down this minute in a stinking, filthy crib in an understaffed hospital somewhere in Basra. We're caught on the cleft stick of our own making: if we leave now the place probably devolves into failed state savagery until some strongman fights his way to the top. But if we stay, the only structure we're building, or can really build, is the Iraqi Army. This Army, assuming we build it sturdily enough to beat back the Sunni insurgency and restrain the Kurdish separatists, will become the only functional institution in a Third World nation. Where have we seen that before? And what have we seen usually happen when said Army gets tired of the civilian government's shenanigans? Uh-huh.
So, regardless of any possible "success" of the surge, I'm predicting a military coup and another dictator in Iraq within a decade, and this dictator probably won't have to many fond memories of his American occupiers. Not sure if that will be enough to forestall American influence in the Gulf, but it probably won't be good for us.
Now as for American politics in general that's the subject of another post entirely. I'm not sure we're so fucked. But the disengagement and collective ignorance of the electorate, the malign and fundamentally undemocratic influence of the vast amounts of contributor and lobbyist cash flooding the system, the failure of the press, the growing authoritarian ways of the Bushie Republicans and the lack of a genuine alternative..?
This can't be a good thing for the Republic. I am hopeful without being optimistic.
It is my earnest desire that this has helped clarify what we’re going to see over the next two years. It’s going to be awful and bloody and pointless for the people in the middle of the disaster. And for the rest of us it will be like a frightful auto accident on the interstate: you don’t want to look but you can’t help it. You drive past, sneaking looks out of the corner of your eye and thinking “Shite, I’m glad it wasn’t me…”
And it won’t be. There’s nothing you or I can do.
Except hope t’were bedtime, Hal, and all well. So, goodnight.