The new way forward in Iraq: Stay forever
I wasn’t the only one who thought President Bush was crazy when, 11 months ago, he decided to double down on the bad bet that is Iraq.
Most of his top commanders on the ground didn’t agree with this new “surge” strategy. Neither did the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It ran contrary to the findings of the Iraq Study Group, the commission put together by friends of the president’s father as a way to throw junior a lifeline out of the hole he had dug for himself.
Like a true gambling addict, the president threw all his chips on the table and went for broke.
And damned if it didn’t look like he pulled a winning hand out of that mess.
When I saw the news earlier this year that the U.S. had turned some of the Iraqi Sunni insurgent groups and armed them to fight the foreign-dominated al-Qaida in Iraq, suddenly Bush didn’t look so crazy anymore.
In that madness, I saw hidden an actual exit strategy.
Getting the homegrown insurgents to turn on the foreigners could defeat smaller al-Qaida in Iraq forces. And with the surge of American troops temporarily putting a lid on the sectarian strife, suddenly a window opens.
Bush can declare victory and leave! The enemy is defeated, there is peace in the streets, time to come home! Mission really accomplished! Someone find this man an aircraft carrier to land on. Nothing but ticker-tape parades from now on.
But it was too good to be true. Bush didn’t see this exit strategy. He was more interested in the Korean strategy, the one where he is long dead and buried before the troops come home, if ever.
Last month, Bush signed an agreement with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that provides for a long-term American military presence in that country, thus thwarting any troop pullouts or victory parades.
Why didn’t Bush jump at the chance to declare victory and leave? It doesn’t make sense, unless you consider the part of the agreement he signed with Maliki that gives American companies a hand in Iraqi oil production. Yes, it’s about oil, always has been. Bush believes that American access to Persian Gulf oil is worth the thousands of American lives and trillions of American dollars he is spending to secure it. He just doesn’t want to come out and say that.
And now we are stuck with the consequences until the Democrats in Congress suddenly grow spines and do something about it. That, too, may not happen until we are all dead and buried.
Yes, the surge is working for now. But it would seem that is only temporary. The main success, giving weapons to Sunni insurgents to fight al-Qaida, has a very high probability of backfiring later when those guns are turned on their Shiite opponents. That is why Maliki and his Shiite-dominated government have been bitterly opposed to this action. It simply kicked the ball farther down the road to an even bigger civil war.
The other component to the recent drop in violence is that militias like Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army have kept their heads down, waiting for the surge to pass. Far from going away, these forces are still heavily armed, and their leaders aren’t any closer to political reconciliation with their opponents than they were a year ago.
As the top American commanders have said repeatedly, this war can’t be won by military means alone. The surge was supposed to give all sides breathing room to make the political changes needed for lasting peace. But this has not happened. The warring factions are further apart than ever. The mass walkout of Sunni members of the Iraqi Parliament last month is just one symptom of the sick political landscape that the surge has done nothing to cure.
If anything, the new agreement Maliki just signed means he doesn’t have to compromise one bit with his enemies, now that he can rely on U.S. troops protecting his backside indefinitely. So much for the Bush claim that our support isn’t open ended.
The militant groups know that come spring, the American surge forces will be leaving and there is nothing to take their place. The new leaders of Britain, Australia and Poland also are pulling their forces out. With no political progress being made, we may only be seeing the calm that is the eye of the storm.
The real test will be when the surge runs its course and we see if Bush drew a full house, or a pair of deuces.