Prelude To A Cave
Forgive me if I liken this latest attempt to "end" the war in Iraq (with a nonbinding goal, no less) with the same skepticism that I view Peter after the 16th time he cried wolf. There may be a way to use it as a leverage point, however, if they actually have some strategy about it.
Under pressure to support the troops but end the war, House Democrats said Thursday they would send President Bush $50 billion for combat operations on the condition that he begin withdrawing troops from Iraq.
The proposal, similar to one Bush vetoed earlier this year, would identify a goal of ending combat entirely by December 2008. It would require that troops spend as much time at home as they do in combat, as well as effectively ban harsh interrogation techniques like waterboarding.
In a private caucus meeting, Pelosi told rank-and-file Democrats that the bill was their best shot at challenging Bush on the war. And if Bush rejected it, she said, she did not intend on sending him another war spending bill for the rest of the year.
"This is not a blank check for the president," she said later at a Capitol Hill news conference. "This is providing funding for the troops limited to a particular purpose, for a short time frame."
Heard it all before, but when it comes down to it, there's always been a cave. This despite the fact that there's more opposition to the war than ever before, no matter what the Beltway elite, who are desperate to have their horrible judgment validated by the magic finding of a pony, happen to say.
Proof that there's no hope for the purpose of the surge, a political accomodation, to ever come to fruition can be seen in the Iraq Prime Minister's total dismissal of reconciliation in any form. Our not-really-a-strategy strategy is incapable of producing desired results:
Last week Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki mocked Iraqis calling for national reconciliation and dismissing them as self-interested conspirators. On Friday, he elaborated on his views of the current Iraqi political scene in a very intriguing, and frankly troubling, interview with al-Arabiya (I couldn't find any English-language mentions of it at all via Google News, sorry). The interview did not break any particularly new ground, but it did make one thing very clear: do not expect Maliki to pursue seriously any moves towards national reconciliation, defined in terms of legislation at the national level or agreements with Sunni political parties. The deadlock at the national political level, so clear at the time of the Petraeus-Crocker hearings in September, will not end any time soon. What that means for US strategy is something which I consider well worth publicly debating.
Maliki is actually claiming that national reconciliation has already been achieved, and that sectarian hatreds are a thing of the past. This is Baghdad Bob kind of stuff. He's defining national reconciliation as Bush would, by saying political progress will come when the Sunnis realize resistance is futile. The local "awakenings" were supposed to set the conditions for legislative reconciliation. Maliki sees them as the reconciliation itself, and he will not go a step further to satisfy Sunni complaints.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, if Maliki refuses to make further concessions and the national political level remains stalled, then it seems likely that Sunnis will become increasingly frustrated and rethink their political strategy. At least that's what would be predicted by, say, Petraeus's counterinsurgency manual, most political science analysis and most Sunni political leaders. There's nothing inevitable about any of this - Iraq is complex and fluid and rapidly changing, and it's not like Maliki's unwillingness to move on national reconciliation is anything new - but it certainly doesn't look promising.
There is nothing we can do about this short of overturning Maliki in a kind of coup. And the Bush Administration is happy to tout this progress at the local level as if it means anything for the future of Iraq.
That's the environment we're in, that's the case that Congress could make to a public that clearly believes Iraq is a total washout, and that would be the position of strength with which they could force a drawdown of our involvement. My optimism is tempered by years and years of history.