Every now and then, you have to take a lesson
or two from history. In the case of George Bush's Iraq, here's one: No matter
what the President announces in his "new way forward" speech on Iraq next week
including belated calls for "sacrifice"
from the man whose
answer to 9/11 was to urge Americans to surge into Disney
World it won't work. Nothing our President suggests in relation to
Iraq, in fact, will have a ghost of a chance of success. Worse than that, whatever
it turns out to be, it is essentially guaranteed to make
Repetition, after all, is most of what knowledge adds up to, and the Bush administration has been repetitively consistent in its Iraqi and larger Middle Eastern policies. Whatever it touches (or perhaps the better word would be "smashes") turns to dross. Iraq is now dross and Saddam Hussein was such a remarkably hard act to follow badly that this is no small accomplishment.
A striking but largely unexplored aspect of Saddam
Hussein's execution is illustrative. His trial was basically run
out of the US embassy in Baghdad; Saddam was held at Camp Cropper, the US
prison near Baghdad International Airport. He was delivered to the Iraqi government
for hanging in a US helicopter (as his body would be flown back to his home
village in a US Helicopter).
Now, let's add a few more facts into the mix. Among Iraqi Shiites, no individual
has been viewed as more of an enemy by the Bush administration than the radical
cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. American troops fought bloody battles with his Mahdi
Army in 2004, destroying significant parts of the old city of Najaf in the process.
American forces make periodic, destructive raids into the vast Baghdad slum
and Sadrist stronghold of Sadr City to take out his followers and recently killed
one of his top aides in a raid in Najaf. The upcoming presidential "surge" into
Baghdad is, reputedly, in part to be aimed at suppressing
his militia, which a recent Pentagon report described
as "the main threat to stability in Iraq."
Nonetheless at the crucial moment in the execution what did some of the Interior Ministry guards do? They chanted: "Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!" In all press reports, this has been described as a "taunting" of Saddam (and assumedly of Iraqi Sunnis more generally). But it could as easily be described as the purest mockery of George W. Bush and everything he's done in the country. If, in such a relatively controlled setting, the Americans couldn't stop Saddam's execution from being "infiltrated" by al-Sadr's followers who are also, of course, part of Prime Minister Maliki's government what can they possibly do in the chaos of Baghdad? How can a few more thousands of US troops be expected to keep them, or Badr Brigade militiamen out of the streets, no less the police, the military, and various ministries?
Consider the "new way forward," then, just another part of the Bush administration's
endless bubbleworld. And check out exactly what madness to look forward to in
next week's presidential address via Robert Dreyfuss, a shrewd reporter and
the author of the indispensable Devil's
Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. Tom
The Surge to Nowhere
Traveling the Planet Neocon Road to Baghdad (Again)
By Robert Dreyfuss
Like some neocon Wizard of Oz, in building expectations
for the 2007 version of his "Strategy for Victory" in Iraq, President Bush is
promising far more than he can deliver. It is now nearly two months since he
fired Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, installing Robert Gates in his place,
and the White House revealed that a full-scale review of America's failed policy
in Iraq was underway. Last week, having spent months if, in fact, the
New York Times is correct
that the review began late in the summer consulting with generals, politicians,
State Department and CIA bureaucrats, and Pentagon planners, Bush emerged from
yet another powwow to tell
waiting reporters: "We've got more consultation to do until I talk to the country
about the plan."
As John Lennon sang in Revolution: "We'd all love to see the plan."
Unfortunately for Bush, most of the American public may have already checked out. By and large, Americans have given up on the war in Iraq. The November election, largely a referendum on the war, was a repudiation of the entire effort, and the vote itself was a marker along a continuing path of rapidly declining approval ratings both for President Bush personally and for his handling of the war. It's entirely possible that when Bush does present us with "the plan" next week, few will be listening. Until he makes it clear that he has returned from Planet Neocon by announcing concrete steps to end the war in Iraq, it's unlikely that American voters will tune in. As of January 1, every American could find at least 3,000 reasons not to believe that President Bush has suddenly found a way to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
What's astonishing about the debate over Iraq is that the President or anyone else, for that matter, including the media is paying the slightest attention to the neoconservative strategists who got us into this mess in the first place. Having been egregiously wrong about every single Iraqi thing for five consecutive years, by all rights the neocons ought to be consigned to some dusty basement exhibit hall in the American Museum of Natural History, where, like so many triceratops, their reassembled bones would stand mutely by to send a chill of fear through touring schoolchildren. Indeed, the neocons are the dodos of Washington, simply too dumb to know when they are extinct.
Yet here is Tom Donnelly, an American Enterprise Institute neocon, a co-chairman of the Project for a New American Century, telling a reporter sagely that the surge is in. "I think the debate is really coming down to: Surge large. Surge small. Surge short. Surge longer. I think the smart money would say that the range of options is fairly narrow." (Donnelly, of course, forgot: Surge out.) His colleague, Frederick Kagan of AEI, the chief architect of the Surge Theory for Iraq, has made it clear that the only kind of surge that would work is a big, fat one.
Nearly pornographic in his fondling of the surge, Kagan, another of the neocon
crew of armchair strategists and militarists, makes it clear that size does
matter. "Of all the 'surge' options out there, short ones are the most dangerous,"
he wrote in
the Washington Post last week, adding lasciviously, "The size of
the surge matters as much as the length. … The only 'surge' option that makes
sense is both long and large."
Ooh that is, indeed, a manly surge. For Kagan, a man-sized surge must involve at least 30,000 more troops funneled into the killing grounds of Baghdad and al-Anbar Province for at least 18 months.
President Bush, perhaps dizzy from the oedipal frenzy created by the emergence
of Daddy's best friend James Baker and his Iraq Study Group, seems all too willing
to prove his manhood by the size of the surge. According to a stunning front-page
piece in the New York Times last Tuesday, Bush has all but dismissed
the advice of his generals, including Centcom Commander John Abizaid, and George
Casey, the top US general in Iraq, because they are "more fixated on withdrawal
than victory." At a recent Pentagon session, according to General James T. Conway,
the commandant of the US Marines, Bush told the assembled brass: "What I want
to hear from you now is how we are going to win, not how we are going to leave."
As a result, Abizaid and Casey are, it appears, getting the same hurry-up-and-retire
treatment that swept away other generals who questioned the wisdom on Iraq transmitted
from Planet Neocon.
That's scary, if it means that Bush presumably on the advice of the Neocon-in-Chief, Vice President Dick Cheney has decided to launch a major push, Kagan-style, for victory in Iraq. Not that such an escalation has a chance of working, but there's no question that, in addition to bankrupting the United States, breaking the army and the Marines, and unleashing all-out political warfare at home, it would kill perhaps tens of thousands more Iraqis.
Personally, I'm not convinced that Bush could get away with it politically. Not only is the public dead-set against escalating the war, but there are hints that Congress might not stand for it, and the leadership of the US Armed Forces is opposed.
Over the past few days, a swarm of Republican senators has come out against the surge, including at least three Republican senators up for reelection in 2008 in states that make them vulnerable: Gordon Smith of Oregon, whose remarkable speech calling the war "criminal" went far beyond the normal bland rhetoric of discourse in the US capital, along with John Sununu of New Hampshire and Norm Coleman of Minnesota. In addition, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, less vulnerable but still facing voters in 2008, has questioned the surge idea. And a host of Republican moderates Chuck Hagel (NE), Dick Lugar (IN), Susan Collins (ME) have lambasted it. (Hagel told Robert Novak: "It's Alice in Wonderland. I'm absolutely opposed to the idea of sending any more troops to Iraq. It is folly.") Even Sam Brownback, one of the Senate godfathers of the neocon-backed Iraqi National Congress, has expressed skepticism, saying: "We can't impose a military solution." According to Novak, only 12 of the 49 Republican senators are now willing to back Sen. John McCain's blood-curdling cries for sending in more troops.
Meanwhile, says Novak, the Democrats would not only criticize the idea of a surge but, led by Senator Joe Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, might use their crucial power over the purse. "Biden," writes Novak, "will lead the rest of the Democrats not only to oppose a surge but to block it." Reports the Financial Times of London: "Democrats have hinted that they could use their control over the budget process to make life difficult for the Bush administration if it chooses to step up the military presence in Iraq." A Kagan-style surge would require a vast new commitment of funds, and with their ability to scrutinize, put conditions on, and even strike out entire line items in the military budget and the Pentagon's supplemental requests, the Democrats could find ways to stall or halt the "surge," if not the war itself.
Indeed, if President Bush opts to Kaganize the war, he will throw down the
gauntlet to the Democrats. Unwilling until now to say that they would even consider
blocking appropriations for the Iraq War, the Democrats would have little choice
but to up the ante if Bush flouts the electoral mandate in such a full-frontal
manner. By escalating the war in the face of near-universal opposition from
the public, the military, and the political class, the President would force
the Democrats to escalate their own until now fairly mild-mannered
opposition to the war.
However, it's possible just possible that what the President
is planning to announce will be something a bit more Machiavellian than the
straightforwardly manly thrust Kagan wants. Perhaps, just perhaps, he will order
an increase of something like 20,000 American troops, but put a tight time limit
on this surge say, four months. Perhaps he will announce that he is giving
Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki that much time to square the circle in Iraq: crack
down on militias and death squads, purge the army and police, develop a plan
to fight the Sunni insurgency, find a formula to deal with the Kurds and the
explosive, oil-rich city of Kirkuk which they claim as their own, un-de-Ba'athify
Iraq, and create a workable formula for sharing the fracturing country's oil
By surging those 20,000 troops into a hopeless military nowhere-land, Bush
will say that he is giving Maliki room to accomplish all that knowing
full well that none of it can, in fact, be accomplished by the weak, sectarian,
Shi'ite-run regime inside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone. So, sometime in the
late spring, the United States could begin to un-surge its troops and start
the sort of orderly, phased withdrawal that Jim Baker and the Carl Levin Democrats
have called for.
as much as 2006 ended. "A surge which is not part of an overall program of troop
reduction that begins in the next four to six months would be a mistake," said
Levin, who will chair the Armed Services Committee. "Even if the President is
going to propose to temporarily add troops, he should make that conditional
on the Iraqis reaching a political settlement that effectively ends the sectarian
That may be too much to ask for a Christian-crusader President, still lodged inside a bubble universe and determined to crush all evil-doers. And it may be too clever by half for an administration that has been as utterly inept as this one.
At the same time, it may also be too much to expect that the Democrats will really go to the mat to fight Bush if, Kagan-style, he orders a surge that is "long and large." Maybe they will merely posture and fulminate and threaten to… well, hold hearings.
If so, it will be the Iraqis who end the war. It will be the Iraqis who eventually
kill enough Americans to break the US political will, and it will be the Iraqis
who sweep away the ruins of the Maliki government to replace it with an anti-American,
anti-US-occupation government in Iraq. That is basically how the war in Vietnam
ended, and it wasn't pretty.
Robert Dreyfuss is the author of Devil's
Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. He covers
national security for Rolling Stone and writes frequently for The American Prospect,
Mother Jones, and the Nation. He is also a regular contributor to TomPaine.com,
the Huffington Post, Tomdispatch, and other sites, and writes the blog, The
Dreyfuss Report, at his website.
Copyright 2007 Robert Dreyfuss