In another couple of weeks, Congress comes back from recess. On or about September 11 the White House will give its "polished" version of the Petraeus Report. We already have the bleak political outloook in the NIE, and Kevin Drum shows with statistics that as compared to June-July 2006, Bush's escalation is a failure by any significant measure. So why do we keep hearing that the Democrats are getting squishy? Can they really be getting ready to coalesce around a strategy of removing Prime Minister Maliki in favor of General Nguyen Cao Ky--I mean Iyad Allawi--and asking the increasingly restive public for another 6-12 months before anything changes in Iraq? How can this be?
There were two insightful posts this week that may hold a clue. One is the piece by Jay Ackroyd at TPM Cafe laying out the DC Consensus (short version: Iraq is going to be more awful if we leave than we can tell you, so we won't be candid about the fact that we really aren't going to be able to leave for years) and the ensuing comment thread. The other is an op-ed by of all people Jim Hoagland at the WaPo. He points out that George Bush most especially, but also the Pentagon and politicians of both parties, are so invested in the Iraq mess that they cannot admit their failure. Rather than seriously trying to find a way out, they are now simply trying to protect their reputations and hang onto power.
Some military commanders, CIA agents in Iraq, Republican members of Congress, State Department diplomats and others now make their highest priority the protection of their own reputations, careers and institutions -- the three blend seamlessly into a single overriding ambition in Washington -- for the post-Bush era, which thus draws closer, in the manner of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The need to protect the White House, the Pentagon and both major political parties from greater Iraq fallout explains much of the blame being dumped on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at this late date -- even though his deficiencies and close links to Iran and Syria were clearly visible when the administration helped install him in the job in 2006. As he has been throughout the Iraq experience, Bush is condemned to play the cards he dealt himself. (snip)
The U.S. military is helping Sunni tribes organize into armed militias that will owe their loyalty beyond the tribe to American commanders rather than to Maliki's government. Similarly, the CIA has molded an Iraq intelligence service that draws no public funds from the Iraqi government and presumably is paid for by Langley. The agency's reluctance to act against Kurdish rebels operating against Iran and Turkey may also be part of a separate vision of the agency's future role in Iraq.
And what would be motivating the Democrats, who seem by and large to be congenitally unable to think their way to and articulate with confidence a clear view of what we must do? Fear of being blamed, I think, as much as fear of being thought weak. As the GOP sharpens its stab-in-the-back rhetoric, the Dems become more reluctant to speak honestly to the country, even as their popularity plummets?
If they could be honest, what should they say? That there is no military solution in Iraq, as the NIE says. That it is not "supporting the troops" to ask them to do a job that cannot be done. That nearly half the troops will have to come home next year, as former General Peter Pace now says, because the military cannot sustain Bush's escalation. That we have so wrecked Iraqi society by our ill-considered and misguided invasion and even more misguided and ideologically driven occupation that no political reconciliation seems on the horizon, especially not if we are there literally as well as figuratively calling the shots. Yes, there may be more violence if we leave, at least for a time. But why do we think that a smaller "residual" force in Iraq will be able to pacify the country when 160,000 troops have not succeeded, except in limited areas outside Baghdad, and for limited periods? If some force is needed to deter others from invading Iraq (and repeating our mistakes), why should that force be pinned down in Iraq, rather than positioned more safely nearby?
Above all, they should say that Iraq is not the only, or even the most serious, threat we face. America's existence as a nation is not threatened by the insurgents in Iraq, who overwhelmingly are fighting over who will control Iraq, not the US. Nor is our existence as a democratic nation threatened by Islamic extremism, even if we may suffer an attack or two in the next several years. Rather, our existence as a democratic nation is threatened by the drift toward centralization, secrecy and fascism by the Bush/Cheney regime. By the hollowing out of our industrial capacity and the decaying of our infrastruecture. By the decline in our schools and our public health system, indeed our whole health care system, that leaves us vulnerable to epidemics and natural disasters. By climate change, which is already bringing more severe storms and extremes of temperature, and changes in ecosystems.
And most of all it is threatened by politicans who treat the public like children, who won't speak to us honestly, who tell us to shut up and shop, and not raise our voices and act like citizens.
This just in: Think Progress reports that the success in Anbar province and other Sunni areas is due to Sunni anticipation of an inevitable US withdrawal. In other words, realizing that we are probably going to begin leaving soon, the Sunnis are positioning themselves for the post-US period by cooperating against al Qaeda in Iraq and others to reduce their influence. This supports the idea that if we left, or were seen to be leaving soon, the Iraqis would have more incentive to resolve their differences or work out whatever modus vivendi they could.