As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, February 23, 2007

Digging In Our Heels

I think that the idea behind this surge is to make Iraq MORE dependent on the United States military, not less, and to make the consequences of pulling out more grave. The idea is literally to force us to stay in the fight, not to "win," whatever that means. Newsweek's Michael Hirsh has written a column that expresses this belief:

The British are leaving, the Iraqis are failing and the Americans are staying—and we’re going to be there a lot longer than anyone in Washington is acknowledging right now. As Democrats and Republicans back home try to outdo each other with quick-fix plans for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and funds, what few people seem to have noticed is that Gen. David Petraeus’s new “surge” plan is committing U.S. troops, day by day, to a much deeper and longer-term role in policing Iraq than since the earliest days of the U.S. occupation. How long must we stay under the Petraeus plan? Perhaps 10 years. At least five. In any case, long after George W. Bush has returned to Crawford, Texas, for good.

But don’t take my word for it. I’m merely a messenger for a coterie of counterinsurgency experts who have helped to design the Petraeus plan—his so-called “dream team”—and who have discussed it with NEWSWEEK, usually on condition of anonymity, owing to the sensitivity of the subject. To a degree little understood by the U.S. public, Petraeus is engaged in a giant “do-over.” It is a near-reversal of the approach taken by Petraeus’s predecessor as commander of multinational forces in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, until the latter was relieved in early February, and most other top U.S. commanders going back to Rick Sanchez and Tommy Franks. Casey sought to accelerate both the training of Iraqi forces and American withdrawal. By 2008, the remaining 60,000 or so U.S. troops were supposed to be hunkering down in four giant “superbases,” where they would be relatively safe. Under Petraeus’s plan, a U.S. military force of 160,000 or more is setting up hundreds of “mini-forts” all over Baghdad and the rest of the country, right in the middle of the action. The U.S. Army has also stopped pretending that Iraqis—who have failed to build a credible government, military or police force on their own—are in the lead when it comes to kicking down doors and keeping the peace. And that means the future of Iraq depends on the long-term presence of U.S. forces in a way it did not just a few months ago. “We’re putting down roots,” says Philip Carter, a former U.S. Army captain who returned last summer from a year of policing and training in the hot zone around Baquba. “The Americans are no longer willing to accept failure in order to put Iraqis in the lead. You can’t let the mission fail just for the sake of diplomacy.”

"Stand up, stand down" is no longer operative. The Iraqi police forces and security forces have worn out their welcome with the public, so they are being sidelined. There is no political reconciliation being attempted; you can see that with Prime Minister Maliki's handling of the rape allegations this week. We are now the Iraqi army, the Iraqi police.

What's astonishing about this is that we're undergoing this process without the proper amount of forces to do so. We're moving forces off of bases and into encampments (making them more vulnerable), but we're trying to pacify a city of 6 million with barely 17,500 additional troops. Political cowardice and a foreknowledge that nobody in the US really wants this war dictates that leaders have to lie and say "it's a matter of months, not years." The first time I heard that was 2003. It's now 2007.

I don't think this is a likely victory strategy. We don't have the numbers, and we certainly don't have the loyalty of the people. We are undoubtedly seen as better than death squads, but that's hardly an endorsement. And this entire project is a house of cards, because unless you are conscripting hundreds of thousands of Americans into the Iraqi police force permanently, this will never take hold once we inevitably leave. Jim Henley is right:

Look, let’s for the sake of argument stipulate that “redeployment” and “regional diplomacy” are only and entirely “code-words for defeat.” Dissenters nevertheless do not have to “propose other strategies for victory” to be serving the national interest. Sometimes nations lose wars. Nations can come to ruin by carrying on too long in a losing cause. The best course for the overall health of a nation can be to lose this particular war in a smaller way now than a bigger way later. Hell, sometimes nations achieve small victories but come to ruin by pursuing a larger, unattainable one.

The point is, countries have, at some point, to end whatever wars they’re involved in. That means recognizing the current situation as better than spending more blood and more treasure in pursuit of a different one. The theory of representative democracy is that wisdom is dispersed among the population’s regions, factions and interests and the political process exists to uncover a kind of collective wisdom by disputation, to cook off folly in the crucible of argument. Nothing, but nothing, in the Constitution suggests that the founders viewed war policy as distinct from domestic policy in benefitting from checks, balances, debate and dialectic. Arguments to the contrary come from partisans of presidents trying to avoid being called on their shit.

You don't have to agree with this, you don't have to like it, you can keep screaming that victory is the only option while employing what you call "defeat" as a strategy for the Iraqis to take their own responsibility. But what you cannot do is simply wish a victory into being. We have two options at this point; fight a civil war by proxy for ten years and then leave a region to chaos, or leave the region to chaos now, try to buttonhole it and manage it, and save many lives in the process. To me, it's no contest.

Labels: , ,