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January 10, 2008

Kicking the Can Down the Road


by William S. Lind

A piece in the December 27, 2007 Cleveland Plain Dealer, "Vote on fate of Kirkuk postponed," by Tina Susman and Asso Ahmed of the L.A. Times, reported that

"Kurdish lawmakers agreed Wednesday to a six-month delay in a referendum on whether the oil-rich city of Kirkuk should join the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan or remain under Iraqi central government control….

"Also Wednesday, the head of the Iraqi parliament's constitutional review committee, Humam Hamoudi, said he would request a three-month delay in rewriting the national constitution. That would mark the fourth time the target date…has been put off….

"The delay in the constitutional revision could hinder progress on other issues…."

As the Iraqis kick the can down the road, so do the Americans. The American-funded Sunni militia, aka the Concerned Local Citizens or the Awakening, has grown to 72,000 volunteers in nearly 300 communities in Iraq. They have been credited with reducing violence in some of Iraq's most violent areas. But many people, including some Sunnis, worry that the groups could destabilize Iraq.

The concern is a valid one. With our usual charming naiveté, we seem to think the Sunnis have become our friends. But they are merely using us to help them get ready for the next round with the Shi'ites and, in the case of Kirkuk, the Kurds.

In fact, kicking the can down the road, more formally a strategy of delay, makes good sense in the face of Iraqi realities – provided we do something with the time gained. Regrettably, it appears we are doing little but sitting on our bayonets, waiting, like Mr. McCawber, for something to turn up.

What might we do with this pause between phases of the Iraqi civil war? Obviously, get out. Violence is not likely to diminish much further; at some point it will almost certainly start to rise again. What better moment can we hope for than the present to announce "Mission accomplished" and head for the door?

The Bush administration will not make a decision to withdraw no matter how favorable the opportunity. It has adopted the ugly baby approach, planning to hand the war off to its (probably Democratic) successor.

But what of the Democrats who control both Houses of Congress? Why do they keep funding the war, as they just did again?

The reasons are several, and none of them are pretty. Obviously, Democrats think they will garner more votes in November if the war is still going on with no end in sight. Running against "Bush's war" appears more promising than ending it.

Most of the leading Democratic Presidential candidates are ambiguous, at best, about ending the war in Iraq if they win. Why? In part, because just as the neocons now dominate Republican circles, so the Democratic Establishment is in thrall to the neoliberals. Both cabals of neos favor a world-dominating American empire, run of course by themselves. We are reminded once again that while there may be, at least on paper, two parties, there is one Establishment. It does not look favorably on ending the games off which it feeds.

Then there is the matter of a certain Small Middle Eastern Country which likes the war in Iraq, and hopes for a war on Iran as well. Said SMEC speaks with a loud voice in Democratic Party circles, the voice of campaign contributions. Never does money speak more audibly than in an election year.

So the politicians will sit and wait while the time we have so dearly bought in Iraq runs out. In no human activity is time more precious than in war. Frittered away, it can never be recovered. There is good reason why Napoleon said, "I may lost a battle but I will never lose a minute."

If we are to make good use of the time kicking the can down the road has bought us, it falls to the senior military to do so. The moral burden of command demands that they go public and say, "If we are going to get out of Iraq, the time to do so is now." Some of them may get fired for it, although General Petraeus is probably (again, for a time) untouchable. The Bush White House still will not be moved, but squirm as they might the Democrats in Congress would almost have to act or risk a revolt of their base, which is not very happy at the moment in any case.

Regrettably, as we saw throughout the war in Vietnam, American generals are more likely to step up to the trough than to the plate.


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  • William Lind is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation. He is a former Congressional Aide and the author
    of many books and articles on military strategy and war.

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