As the fifth year of U.S. discontent came and
went, presidential candidates jousted with each other about how best to assuage
the fears of ordinary citizens over a war that in nearly all estimates
has gone terribly wrong.
The Iraq debacle may have temporarily faded from the U.S. public's consciousness,
as recent polls show citizens increasingly concerned about the economy sliding
into a recession.
But for anybody reading the news over the weekend, the military offensive waged
by the U.S.-supported government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki last week
was a palpable reminder that the "situation in Iraq" has not necessarily
"turned around," as President George W. Bush claimed in a speech earlier
this month that marked the fifth year of the war.
Fighting raged for more than four days since Maliki last Tuesday ordered the
security forces to raid strongholds of Shia militiamen loyal to the cleric Moqtada
al-Sadr in the southern port city of Basra. On Sunday, Sadr ordered his militiamen
to stop fighting Iraqi security forces, but as of that day, 488 people had been
killed and more than 900 wounded, according to reports from the Iraqi Interior
President Bush hailed the offensive as a "positive moment" and said
it offered proof that the fledgling Iraqi government could defend itself. Conservative
strategists continue to use the overall drop in violence in Iraq as a vehicle
to bolster the fallacious logic that the troops "surge" has been an
unqualified success. And so, at least discursively, a "success" for
the Basra offensive should reflect the long-term gains made by the "surge."
"The surge," said Bush earlier this month, "has opened the door
to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror.
We are witnessing
the first large-scale Arab uprising against Osama bin Laden, his grim ideology,
and his terror network. And the significance of this development cannot be overstated."
While it is true that the surge has helped contain violence, it was initially
implemented to provide the breathing space for political reconciliation that
has not yet occurred between opposing factions.
"The security gains that we have seen are real, but they are perishable,"
said Michelle Flourney of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a Washington-based
national security think tank established in 2007.
"Since November, things have sort of leveled off and it seems very difficult
to drive down levels of violence any further," she said during panel discussion
last week at the Washington-based think-tank the Center for American Progress.
"The only way we will get below this plateau is through political accommodation."
The battles over the past week underscore a more troubling reality: the rhetoric
coming from the White House cannot be corroborated on the ground, and in the
long term, will have a damaging impact on the U.S. goals in Iraq, and broader
national security and strategic objectives. In spite of the military force used
by Maliki in addition to air support provided by the U.S.-led coalition forces
the most recent conflict to erupt in Iraq will most likely be mitigated by
As McClatchy Newspapers reported Sunday, Iraqi lawmakers traveled to the Iranian
holy city of Qom during the weekend to win the support of the commander of Iran's
Quds Brigades to persuade Sadr to order his followers to stop military operations
against the Iraqi government.
The influence of Iran cannot be overstated, and more troubling for the Bush
White House, runs counter to their military and political objectives; to presumably
pacify Iraq by limiting Iranian influence. It appears that Tehran has used the
latest incident to bolster its own position, in the process undermining that
of Maliki and his patrons.
"The Qom discussions may or may not bring an end to the fighting but they
almost certainly have undermined Maliki who made repeated declarations that
there would be no negotiations and that he would treat as outlaws those who
did not turn in their weapons for cash," according to McClatchy.
"The blow to his credibility was worsened by the fact that members of
his own party helped organize the Iran initiative," it said.
Wrote Anthony H. Cordesman in a New York Times opinion editorial that
appeared Sunday: "Much of the reporting on this fighting in Basra and Baghdad
which was initiated by the Iraqi government assumes that Mr. Sadr
and his militia men are the bad guys who are out to spoil the peace, and that
the government forces are the legitimate side trying to bring order. This is
a dangerous oversimplification, and on that the United States needs to be far
more careful about endorsing."
Cordesman is a fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International
With the dreary milestone of 4,000 U.S. combat deaths past, politicians remain
locked in a disingenuous debate that seems to obfuscate the profound challenges
facing the U.S., not just in Iraq, but throughout the region in the coming years.
"The issue is not Iraq. The issue is dealing with the consequences of
our failure in Iraq," said Andrew J. Bacevich, a platoon leader in Vietnam
who is now a professor of international relations at Boston University.
The U.S., said Bacevich, faces monumental problems as it recalibrates its national
security strategy to account for the failures of the Bush Doctrine, a shift
that is unlikely to occur while Bush remains in office.
Referring to the Iraq Study Group report, a bipartisan effort that the Bush
administration referred to as impractical and unrealistic, Bacevich said, "The
biggest requirement is for some kind of a full-scale regional diplomatic effort
based on the expectation
that every country in the region, even those
who don't like us, like Syria and Iran
have a common interest in avoiding
having the region descend into utter chaos."
Regardless of how the surge is couched, it will have to end, not due to shift
in strategy, but because the available resources will dry up.
"You can't take a 43 brigade force, and have 23 of those 43 brigades deployed,
and have a one to one exchange for time at home and time in the theater,"
said Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales, a Vietnam veteran and former president of the
Army War College.
"Without reshaping our national military strategy and without re-slicing
the defense pie to focus on the wars we have rather than the ones we want, we'll
never have the resources to prosecute any kind of conflict in the future,"
"Your national security strategy is supposed to determine the number of
troops that you need to affect that strategy rather than the actual number of
troops that you have determining the national military strategy," said
The last time the White House had to shift strategy to meet conditions on the
ground was during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s, he added.
(Inter Press Service)