Thursday, November 16, 2006

Iraq and a Hard Place

To me, this is mixed news. Bush has received a four-point "victory study" from the Iraq Study Group, which specifies actual goals for what constitutes "victory." To say that it's about time would be a gross understatement. If we had done this, say, three years ago we might have actually met some actual goals by now. And such goals as remain might also not have to be quite as modest as they've become.

What's been really driving me nuts is that Bush & co. have been saying since the start that they won't leave until they "win," or achieve "victory." At the same time, they constantly refuse to define what those words actually mean. Other than our President, I know of no other employee of any kind who has ever gotten away with the argument that benchmarks on his job performance are to be avoided on the grounds that they will harm his job performance. Such breathtaking chutzpah as this would get you fired like a shot from any burger joint in the world. And yet Bush & co. roll on.

At this point, I'm generally inclined to believe that anything the Iraq Study Group says is a relatively good idea, compared to the other options available to us at this late date. Even if we were to begin withdrawal now, we would hypothetically want defined goals for what to achieve on the way out. But since we're already in the quagmire, we might as well listen to some actual foreign policy professionals who know how to define goals and meet them.

Here's what they want Bush to do:


1. Increase US troop levels by up to 20,000 to secure Baghdad and allow redeployments elsewhere in Iraq

Setting aside the blood pressure spike I feel on reading this, it's simply a stupid idea. Escalating troop levels, like not having invaded Iraq at all, is an idea that's well past its time. If we had started the occupation with more troops initially, we might have done somewhat better than we have. Nevertheless, its far too late to fix everything merely by increasing forces on the ground by less than 15 percent. That's too little, too late to turn things around in Iraq. Yet at the same time, it's more than enough to further inflame the electorate in America. So McCain is an idiot for suggesting the same thing, especially if he thinks he's got a shot at 2008 after caving on torture. As if this conflict didn't fit the Vietnam profile enough as it is (and does anybody else remember them insisting "this won't be another Vietnam" over and over again?) troop escalation fits even further. The only thing (short of Bush putting on a Nixon mask) that would make this look exactly like 1970 would be to reinstate the draft - and I wouldn't put that past him at this point.


2. Focus on regional cooperation with international conference and/or direct diplomatic involvement of countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia

This is a good one. Contrary to the Bush policy regarding pre-invasion Iraq, North Korea, Iran, and the whole damn United Nations, it is never too late to conduct diplomacy. Only regional networks can provide long-term stability to fragmented areas (see Kosovo). And maybe this will actually push Bush into at least talking with Iran and Syria, rather than the usual policy of rattling sabres at them. That would be nice.


3. Revive reconciliation process between Sunni, Shia and others

Well, duh. I wasn't actually aware that we'd actually stopped any specific "process," but this explains a lot. The Iraqi government's gradual polarization into competing death squads has always seemed to me to be something that was completely avoidable from the start. As it turns out, it was.


4. Increase resources from Congress to fund training and equipment of Iraqi security forces

And here's where we come to the tough choice. The last thing the newly Democratic Congress needs is to bend over the way that the Republicans have for the last six years. However, using the "power of the purse" to starve the war effort is only going to hurt troops, which is the last thing that anybody wants to do. Bush has already demonstrated a willingness to put soldiers into harm's way without sufficient equipment, and he's not likely to change his spots this late in the game. But Dems will get the blame if they don't continue to pony up. The smart thing for the Democratic legislature to do would be to attach amendments to any Iraq appropriations bills rolling back such foul stains as the provisions of PATRIOT Act and the Military Commisions Act. That puts Bush in the position of either allowing Congress to repair the Constitution or to take responsibility himself for overextending the existing military budget.

In drafting this document, the Iraq Study Group also pretty much threw out insistence on maintaining "Western-style" democracy (whatever that means), and that's a good thing. Democracy can't be imposed from without, by definition. Whatever Iraq becomes, for us to try to change it again would naturally be undemocratic. But then, every time a right-winger refers to "freedom" or "liberty" these days (and they do it a lot) I am reminded of this quote from the movie The Princess Bride: "You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

It's going to be a long, hard two years with Bush continuing to fight for his "war" to the very end. He fights against Iraq, against the world, and against America. Even fighting against common sense, he stubbornly continues to refuse to withdraw from the endless progression of fights that he picks.

It's time that America at least started fighting back.

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