Monday, September 03, 2007

See you in September

Gen Petreaus and Ambassador Crocker that is.

Finally, after 7 long months of hearing the song, "All we are saying, is give war a chance.", the most awaited report since the Revelation to John is about to hit the streets. A like the final book of the bible, its pretty clear that it will have a similar message. Remain faithful in the gospel of the surge, and eventually the Lord will bestow victory on his long suffering people.

Unlike Revelation though, the General will be trying to back up his report with facts and figures and down playing the violent imagery. He'll avoid the talk about rivers turned to blood. After all, one can see that just by turning on the TV.

The real question at this point is: Why are they even bothering to come back?

The contents of the assessment are pretty well lined out, because the administration has been slowly, but surely, plowing the ground in hope that the seeds of its ideas will take root. Hell, Fred Kagan was probably writing the heart the report back in March when proclaimed the surge was working even then. (That was at the same time he was taking credit for singlehandely "saving" the administration from actually making concessions to its critics).

The surge will be declared as "working". However it will need more time. We've been hearing that once a month, every month, since Fred "the large one" convinced the President to go down this path. The Petraeus report will be held as yet another Iraqi "turning point".

In case you are keeping score at home, and the folks over at Foreign Policy magazine are, it will be the 31'st turning point in the conflict.

American troops will remain at current levels at least until spring when the deployment schedule will force a reduction in the numbers, lest the Administration have to deal with the mother all train wrecks in the middle of an election year. A train wreck of our own making by the way, because the gang that got off scot free with no accountability for their mistakes thought somehow cutting end strength in the middle of a war was a good idea.

There will of course, be some inconvenient truths that will need to be danced around:

Annoying fact #1: The Iraqi government is still worthless. Its not just me that is saying it, its the administration itself. A subsequent GAO report will undergo some editing to be sure, but it will still contain one hard fact, the Iraqi government has not met the majority of its so called benchmarks.

And its not likely to any time soon.

Annoying fact #2: Violence in all of Iraq is not reduced as it is supposed to be. Most people, including administration critic John Cole, do concede that " True, violence in Baghdad has been wrestled back down to the levels of summer, 2006 (hint: it wasn't paradise), but violence levels are up in the rest of the country. " . There are several sources that verify this, including the disputed GAO report. On average Iraqis deaths are up in 2007 over 2006 across the country. Furthermore, in one of the most under reported events in Iraq, the number of displaced persons has doubled and there is a real threat of a cholera outbreak in certain parts of the country.

Annoying fact #3 (and the only one that should matter to Americans): US casualties are up this year.



This is where the argument will come in this was to be expected because the US was taking the fight to the enemy. And the enemy was going to go out of his way to launch attack after attack hoping to play on public opinion at home since it was clear he could not win in the field. The US may not be losing, but it still has a lot to show how this cost in precious American lives is somehow making a difference for America in the long term.

Then, I will immediately be directed to the "Miracle of Anbar". This western province has seen dramatic improvement over where it was two years ago, mainly because of the cooperation of Sunni tribal leaders with the US. That was something the US spurned in 2005, but now embraces and it is, by all accounts paying some results. It also may very well be unique to Anbar province and in trying to replicate it in the more populated parts of the country may actually create more problems.

Two issues that I see. One, the solution to Anbar started about 6 months before the surge, in the summer of 2006 when it became apparent to many Sunnis that the insurgency was going to far. Second, on the surface it seems that success of the province actually is at odds with professed reasons for keeping more troops in Iraq. If anything it might prove that left to themselves, without the crutch of American force, the Iraqis might just figure out things themselves-or at the least hunker down into their own enclaves. The main reason professed for troops to stay is to buy time for the Iraqis to gain stability. Which in the current context equals victory.

Stability though, means different things to different people. It won't mean an Iraq with out violence-the normal gauge of whether a nation is normal- for more than a few years to come. Victory will also not mean Iraq as a shining beacon for democracy,or capitalism, in the middle east. Nobody smokes that weed anymore. Not even the Neo-cons. Nor will the so-called success of the surge lead to the real victory for the US, whose interests are the only ones that matter to this observer, namely the ability to reduce the American troop presence to a significantly smaller number (e.g. say 40,000 or so.-even I don't hope for them all to go home anymore. That won't happen any time soon even if the most pole smoking liberal wins the 2008 election.).

There is a real possibilty that a "stable" Iraq will actually make the rest of the region less democratic, not more. Arab dictators will use Iraq as an example of what not to happen to them.

In reality, I think the Bush strategy is a lot simpler. Having decided to keep the escalation going as long as he can, all he needs Petreaus to do is to give him enough sound bites to hopelessly divide his opposition. Its worked before and thanks to the buffoonery of the Democrats, it will probably work again. In the remaining months between now and January 20, 2009, he will simply hope for a miracle; or the rise of a strongman who will drive the country into submission along pro-American lines.

What Bush will gain though by keeping the escalated numbers, is a force in being that will keep Iran distracted. The administration does not need the forces in Iraq to launch any attack against Iran, but for Akmawhat's-his-name in Tehran the reverse is not true. He will have to watch his Western flank the whole time.

Perhaps General Petraeus could quote Winston Churchill when he gives his report:

Surveying all the above, I think I must ask you for
definite guidance at this stage as to what you wish and what you are prepared to do. The victories of
the Turks will increase our difficulties throughout the Mohammedan world. At present we are paying eight millions a year for the privilege of living on an ungrateful volcano out of which we are in no circumstances to get anything
worth having.


Winston knew how to keep his eye on the long game-and he knew that the fate of the British Empire was not going to rise or fall in Iraq. Pity he is not here to teach his American cousins the same lesson.

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