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November 24, 2007

Shifting Tones on Iraq
Posted by Shawn Brimley

I found today's piece in the New York Times on the Democrats and Iraq fairly interesting:

"As violence declines in Baghdad, the leading Democratic presidential candidates are undertaking a new and challenging balancing act on Iraq: acknowledging that success, trying to shift the focus to the lack of political progress there, and highlighting more domestic concerns like health care and the economy.

Advisers to Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama say that the candidates have watched security conditions improve after the troop escalation in Iraq and concluded that it would be folly not to acknowledge those gains. At the same time, they are arguing that American casualties are still too high, that a quick withdrawal is the only way to end the war and that the so-called surge in additional troops has not paid off in political progress in Iraq.

But the changing situation suggests for the first time that the politics of the war could shift in the general election next year, particularly if the gains continue. While the Democratic candidates are continuing to assail the war — a popular position with many of the party’s primary voters — they run the risk that Republicans will use those critiques to attack the party’s nominee in the election as defeatist and lacking faith in the American military."

While it is clear that the level of violence in Iraq has been trending down, the complete absence of real political progress serves as a warning that these trends can quickly be reversed. I've believed for some time that the question of withdrawal is no longer a question of when (it has already started), but:

  1. How quickly the next president will bring out the remaining troops (the next president will inherit around 120,000);
  2. Whether or not the next president will consider plateauing at a certain level at some future point in order to continue counter-terrorism and/or an advising mission (I believe he or she should); and
  3. If the next president will use the nature and pace of troop reductions to attempt to influence political dynamics on the ground (I think he or she should).


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The New York Times has once again hooked onto the Bushie bandwagon. What they seemed to forget is that although US casaulties are low, Iraqi deaths are still very high. US casaulties could be low due to a variety of circumstances for instane the use of the Viper instead of the Humvee or the cholera epidemic in Iraq. If everyone is too sick than violence will go down regardless of the number of American soldiers.

Patrick Healy has wandered off from his usual Hillary-bashing to concoct a story about how if the "gains" in Iraq continue then "the politics of the war could shift in the general election next year, particularly if the gains continue." Well, if there WERE gains in Iraq and the politics DIDN'T shift then that would be news. The simple fact is that the purpose of the military buildup was to enable political progress and that hasn't happened, as Healy notes further on. Case closed.

Would the Democratic "quick withdrawal" pair, Clinton and Obama, have to change their pitch because of future "gains"? Nah. They, along with Edwards, are really the "'13 Three", in for the long haul. They are fully certified warmongers, not cut-and-runners who want to end the slaughter. So don't worry, if things get better the US will stay in Iraq, and if they get worse, the same. Make sense? Heads we stay, tails we stay.

from the 9/26 Dem debate:
RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, Democrats all across the country believed in 2006, when the Democrats were elected to the majority in the House and Senate, that that was a signal to end the war, and the war would end.

You have said that will not pledge to have all troops out by the end of your first term, 2013. Why not?

CLINTON: Well, Tim, it is my goal to have all troops out by the end of my first term. But I agree with Barack. It is very difficult to know what we're going to be inheriting. You know, we do not know, walking into the White House in January 2009, what we're going to find. What is the state of planning for withdrawal?
RUSSERT: "Will you pledge that by January 2013, the end of your first term, more than five years from now, there will be no U.S. troops in Iraq?"

OBAMA: "I think it's hard to project four years from now, and I think it would be irresponsible. We don't know what contingency will be out there.
RUSSERT: "Senator Edwards, will you commit that at the end of your first term, in 2013, all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq?"

EDWARDS: "I cannot make that commitment."

-- From 9/26 DNC Debate at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Then Healy paints the familiar MSM picture that the Dems are weak and unpatriotic.
"While the Democratic candidates are continuing to assail the war — a popular position with many of the party’s primary voters — they run the risk that Republicans will use those critiques to attack the party’s nominee in the election as defeatist and lacking faith in the American military."

The corporate MSM, including the NYT and the WaPo, persists in the myth that it's just lefty radicals that oppose the Iraq war, but that's not true. Sixty-eight percent of Americans polled recently disapprove of the way that George W. Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, and 54% believe victory is not possible. These numbers would be even higher without NYT and WaPo war propaganda.

I find it hard to believe that any Democratic president – save the depressingly unelectable Dennis Kucinich - will begin in 2009 to “bring out the remaining troops”. The new president might bring out some troops. But who is going to man Balad? Al-Asad? Combat Outpost Shocker? Who is going to man the gargantuan “embassy” in Baghdad? Surely not a team of mere diplomats. Do you think we are just going to hand these expensive and valuable facilities over to whichever Iraqis happen to want them? No doubt our next president will settle on some agreeable public language to describe our perpetual Mesopotamian presence, something like a “counter-terrorism and/or an advising mission.” It’s good to see the party wordsmiths are already at work on the phraseology.

For now, I think a bit too much is being made of whether or not the “surge” has helped a lot, helped a little, helped not at all or made things worse. This obsessive domestic side-debate is threatening to overwhelm our perspective, and constrict our view of the war inside the most absurd late-2007 tunnel vision. The Iraq war has been a ghastly four and a half year carnival of murder, torture, vengeance, ethnic cleansing and generalized mayhem. Much of the Middle East is now in shreds, and no one knows how to put it back together again. The war has spawned the worst refugee crisis since WWII. The mounds of US dead and injured, while substantial, are anthills next to the sprawling mountain ranges of Iraqi dead. Those untold piles of Iraqi dead also include many thousands of children and other non-combatants - not that you could ever get our brave candidates to talk about this unholy slaughter.

Meanwhile, the name of the United States is now shit around the world, as John Howard just found out in Australia.

Shouldn’t we be talking about sending someone to jail, or worse, for this catastrophe? I thought we were past the time when statesmen were free to unleash these massacres on the world with impunity. Even if we confine our attention to the still living, think of all the lost limbs, lost homes, lost jobs and lost futures. Who is going to pay the debt for this?

The antiwar position on Iraq had nothing to do with any commitment to the absurd proposition that nothing would ever get better in Iraq, ever again. All wars, even the most idiotic and bestial ones, come to an end eventually. I have no way of knowing whether the surge is responsible for lessening the violence, or if we are just getting some imaginative accounting in the tallies of destruction. And its pointless to hold out hope for “national reconciliation” in Iraq anyway. But if the surge has made things marginally better, then great. If the violence has begun to wind down, even ever so slightly, then perhaps we can begin a serious political effort to end the occupation of Iraq and also move onto the punishment phase of this drama. We have some atoning to do.

Er, Peace, Iraqi deaths have also gone down. Don't know if you heard.

Don Bacon: So if we decided to surge to create top-down political progress, and instead find bottom-up political progress, the surge has failed because it didn't achieve the stated objective? If not, how do you explain away the Anbar and Shi'a Awakenings?

Also, how is that quotation you selected indicative of MSM bias for the war? It is a fact that if the Dems continue on the antiwar path, the Republicans will paint them as defeatist and against the military. So?

Dan Kervick: If the surge is one of the components of the reduced violence (yes), then why would we want to pull out now? Wouldn't that just erase the progress made by the surge and then some?

Dan Kervick: If the surge is one of the components of the reduced violence (yes), then why would we want to pull out now? Wouldn't that just erase the progress made by the surge and then some?

If the violence has diminished then we now have a golden opportunity to get our asses out of that hell hole we've helped create, and turn foreign security support responsibilities over to regional actors. Let's support a new regional security framework organized and underwritten by the Saudis, the Gulf States, the Iranians, the Syrians and the Turks. Iraq is in their back yards, and they all have many more networks of natural allies inside the country - and no doubt better intelligence. Working together they can do much more than we can to stabilize Iraq and return the situation to something approaching normal. A US occupation of Iraq will only be a permanent spur to resentment, resistance and instability.

Democrats need to be aggressive in telling America what is going on -- that the only "strategy" for Iraq right now is to run out the clock until Bush leaves office and dumps the Iraq problem (and blame for failure in Iraq) in someone else's lap.

Not only are US tactics ineffective in achieving the stated goal of "political reconciliation", they are completely counter-productive. Without the permission or participation of the elected central government, the US negotiated its own deal with Sunni Baathist terrorists who remain sworm to overthrow the elected government.

The media has allowed these terrorists to be re-branded as "tribal leaders" and "neighborhood watch groups". But a year ago there were lots of "baathist terrorists" who historically had despised al Qaeda because it wanted to overthrow Baathist rule and impose a radically fundamentalist version of Islamic Law. Now we have "eliminated" al Qaeda in Iraq, and the Baathist terrorists are no longer a problem... do the math.

It should also be noted that the empowerment of these mini-Saddams is coming at the expense of the elected provincial and local governments in the Sunni areas. (you remember those elections, don't you.) The Baathists boycotted those elections, and as a result Sunni Islamists wound up winning control of local governments. These Sunni Islamists have a great deal in common with the Shiite Islamists running the central government -- and any chance of political reconciliation relied upon these Islamists working together to address the threat of Baathist terrorism and radical, foreign-based and inspired Sunni terrorism.

Unsurprisingly, the Shiite led central government in Iraq is disinclined to further empower the Baathist terrorist that the US is now supporting. US military and political tactics have also lead to a splintering of the Shiite coalition -- its nearly impossible for the Maliki to achieve anything when one of his main coalition partners -- al Sadr and his supporters -- is under constant assault from the US.

Add to that the fact that the US continues to rattle its sabres at Iran -- Iran knows that its best 'protection' against a Bush-insanity-inspired attack is continuing instability in Iraq, and should be expected under the circumstances to use its influence to reinforce the Shiite government's inclination to not legitimize the Baathist terrorists that the US is promoting.

Democrats need to emphasize that the longer this policy continues, the more entrenched the Baathists terrorists become in the Sunni areas, and the worse the eventual bloodbath that will result. The Bush policy is not merely counter-productive, it is utterly amoral, and Democrats need to make that abundantly clear.

Um, why are we pushing lies like "the violence in Iraq is declining?" It's only declining if you measure the violence from its peak and the peak happened after the surge. So, it's taken the surge this long just to undo all the damage that the surge caused. Hardly a success.

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