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July 14, 2008

A Paradoxical Take on Iraq
Posted by Michael Cohen

The word today that the Bush Administration is "talking about (withdrawal) dates" with Iraqi leaders raises number of fascinating paradoxes.

Paradox #1:
The Bush Administration's is Embracing Obama's Position on Iraq.

Yes, you read it here first: the Bush Administration is begrudgingly coming around to Barack Obama's position on Iraq; namely supporting a timetable for withdrawal of troops. Now of course, the Bush folks have not adopted this position for all the same reasons that Sen. Obama did last year, but two points are particularly revealing:

The Bush administration is considering the withdrawal of additional combat forces from Iraq. One factor in the consideration is the pressing need for additional American troops in Afghanistan . . .

The desire to move more quickly reflects the view of many in the Pentagon who want to ease the strain on the military but also to free more troops for . . . other missions.

Of course, the need to send more troops to Afghanistan and deal with the remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda (as well as relieve the burden on the military) are two of the key reasons why Obama has been calling for troop withdrawals from Iraq. The approach of the Bush Administration is moving closer to that of the Obama.

Paradox #2: John McCain has a More Extreme Position on Troop Withdrawals from Iraq than President Bush.

Here is the first line of John McCain's Iraq plan on his web site:

John McCain believes it is strategically and morally essential for the United States to support the Government of Iraq to become capable of governing itself and safeguarding its people. He strongly disagrees with those who advocate withdrawing American troops before that has occurred.

Well since the criteria that the Bush Administration is using to reduce troop levels in Iraq is that they are needed in Afghanistan (and the Iraqis are demanding it) John McCain seems to be taking a position that is decidedly different from the one being advocated by George Bush - but here's the crazy part; it's actually worse.

McCain's plan puts all the cards in the hands of the Iraqis by only considering withdrawal when the Iraqis get around to enacting political reform and training their security forces. The lever of US troop withdrawals is not even considered; nor for that matter the views of the Iraqis themselves. (Of course the Bush Administration position in not much better: getting browbeat by the Iraqis into conceding the need for a withdrawal timetable. But at least they are entertaining the notion. Only in the Bush Administration could this qualify as progress).

Paradox #3: If Taken Literally, John McCain's 100-Year Comment Now Looks Even Worse Than Before.

For quite a while now, John McCain has been using the South Korea model as the basis for his policy in Iraq. Namely American troops will stay in Iraq for as long as necessary to secure the peace and remain even after peace is achieved as a semi-permanent presence in the country -- even for "100 years" if necessary. 

Now to anyone with a basic familiarity with the Arab world and in particular the attitude of Iraqis toward the United States occupation (their word not mine) this always seemed like a hare-brained notion. The Iraqis were never going to stand for a permanent US presence; even permanent military bases. The breakdown of SOFA negotiations shows precisely why McCain's plan was so out of whack. According to a Bush Administration official quoted by the Washington Post:

Iraqi political leaders "are all telling us the same thing . . . Iraqis want to know that foreign troops are not going to be here forever."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his political allies have come under intense domestic pressure to reject any perceived infringement on Iraqi sovereignty. Maliki, who last week publicly insisted on a withdrawal timeline, wants to frame the agreement as outlining the terms for "Americans leaving Iraq" rather than the conditions under which they will stay, said the U.S. official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because U.S.-Iraqi negotiations are ongoing.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't this very seriously undermine one of the key elements of McCain's Iraq plan?

Paradox #4: If the Bush Administration Accepts a Timetable for Withdrawal, John McCain Has No Iraq Policy

Now this one is a little tougher, but if you read John McCain's Iraq policy on his web site the crux of it is resisting withdrawal of American troops from Iraq until we have accomplished "victory" (whatever that actually means). But if even the Iraqis are demanding for withdrawal than John McCain has an untenable Iraq policy; one that will not be accepted in any way by the Iraqis and one that is divorced from reality on the ground.

But let's say McCain takes these recent moves and decides to "refine" his policy on Iraq and support a move toward withdrawal - how is he going to protect US interests in the region and in Iraq?

This raises two key differences between McCain's approach to Iraq and that of his opponent - Senator Obama wants to open negotiations with Iran and Syria in part to discuss the future of Iraq. McCain wants "the international community to apply real pressure to Syria and Iran to change their behavior." Good luck with all that. In addition, Obama wants to use the lever and timing of further troop withdrawals to put pressure on the Iraqi government to move forward with political reform; McCain wants to push for political reconciliation, but offers no thoughts on how he hopes to achieve this goal. This of course leads to the final paradox . . .

Paradox #5: John McCain is far more likely to flip flop on Iraq if he becomes President.

This is a rather easy one - McCain's plan is divorced from political reality both in the US and Iraq. He will have virtually no levers for affecting US interests in the region; and if he follows through on his policy prescriptions he will be running counter to the desires of the Iraqi leaders and their people.

The direction of the Bush Administration on Iraq is actually moving closer to that of Barack Obama - to such an extent that the outmoded notion of Obama's plan will not be that it will take longer than 16 months to withdraw troops; but that it might take less time.


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Nous Tenons Á Notre Avis

It is in our nature to believe that our opinion is the right opinion. But everyone, be they liberal or conservative, understands that another war will break the back of the American economy.

Add to this the fact that Iran has over ten million men of military age, and it becomes an issue of both blood and treasure. The only way that America can stand against such an opposition is through a prolonged campaign of lethal air strikes, which will involve the slaughter of innocent civilians and bring the rightful outrage of the entire world upon our heads.

Not only would an attack against the sovereign state of Iran be wrong, it would be extremely foolish.

President Bush-
Il ne desire pas paix
Il ne desire rien mais guerre.
Il tient un livre de douleur et larmes
Il tient á ouvrir.
Il ne parait pas que il comprend
Il ne s’agit pas de legs…
Il ne faut pas ouvrir ce livre
Il ne contiennent que mort.

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The missing element in considerations about our draw down in Iraq is the need to reach an accomodation with Iran that sets limits on their inevitable influence in Iraq, achievable because they want a stable Iraq as much as we do. So there's a core of agreement around which to negotiate.

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