May 21, 2007

Come September...Come January...Come May...Come September...

You can believe Patrick Cockburn, an incisively intelligent and knowledgeable reporter who has worked in and observed the Middle East for decades (and whose work I have highlighted in Embracing Ignorance on Principle, Sacred Ignorance, Give Up the Fantasies, and A Genuine Mission Impossible, among other entries), when he writes the following:
The war in Iraq that started in 2003 has now lasted longer than the First World War. Militarily, the conflicts could not be more different. The scale of the fighting in Iraq is far below anything seen in 1914-18, but the political significance of the Iraq war has been enormous. America blithely invaded Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein to show its great political and military strength. Instead it demonstrated its weakness. The vastly expensive U.S. war machine failed to defeat a limited number of Sunni Arab guerrillas. International leaders such as Tony Blair who confidently allied themselves to Washington at the start of the war, convinced that they were betting on a winner, are either discredited or out of power.

At times, President Bush seemed intent on finding out how much damage could be done to the U.S. by the conflict in Iraq. He did so by believing a high proportion of his own propaganda about the resistance to the occupation being limited in scale and inspired from outside the country. By 2007, the administration was even claiming that the fervently anti-Iranian Sunni insurgents were being equipped by Iran. It was a repeat performance of U.S, assertions four years earlier that Saddam Hussein was backing al-Qaeda. In this fantasy world, constructed to impress American voters, in which failures were sold as successes, it was impossible to devise sensible policies.

The U.S. occupation has destabilized Iraq and the Middle East. Stability will not return until the occupation has ended. The Iraqi government, penned into the Green Zone, has become tainted in the eyes of Iraqis by reliance on a foreign power. Even when it tries to be independent, it seldom escapes the culture of dependency in which its members live. Much of what has gone wrong has more to do with the U.S. than Iraq. The weaknesses of its government and army have been exposed. Iraq has joined the list of small wars -- as France found in Algeria in the 1950s and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s -- that inflict extraordinary damage on their occupiers.
Those are the concluding paragraphs of a lengthy article detailing recent chapters in the Iraq catastrophe, which I urge you to read in its entirety.

Or you can believe a fantasist and propagandist like Frederick Kagan, who corresponds from an alternative universe which he fervently hopes and prays will, by some miraculous means heretofore unknown to man, supplant the real world, when he writes, in "You Bet We Can Win":
Iraq is the central front in the war against Al Qaeda. And we are beginning to win. These are not talking points. They are facts on the ground, as I saw during my recent trips there.


This is not the moment to consider withdrawal time lines that would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, as the U.S. Congress seems determined to do. It is the time to redouble our efforts.

It is true that the overall level of violence in Iraq remains high, and American soldiers are still dying. Scores of terrorists flow into Iraq every month, detonating suicide car bombs against civilians, Iraqi security forces and American troops. This is the core of the security problem faced by our troops and by innocent Iraqis.

But looking at these casualty numbers alone distorts reality. Security is improving across Baghdad, even in traditionally bad areas. In early May, I walked and drove through these neighborhoods. Haifa St., scene of day-long gunfights between Al Qaeda terrorists and coalition forces in January, is calm and starting to revive. Its market is open and flourishing.

Even in Baghdad's Dora neighborhood, some of which remains very dangerous, the market now has more than 200 shops - up from zero in February. Across the city, Iraqis are reaching out to coalition and Iraqi troops with tips and requests for help.
But these repetitions of the propaganda we've heard countless times before are not the important part of Kagan's column. This is:
It will take time for that safety to take hold. It will take time for our enemies to accept their defeat and stop fighting. Demanding total victory by September is unrealistic. But we are making progress, and by then, I am confident we will be making more.
I cannot make the following point without appearing rude. The truth is not subject to endless manipulation, much as the Kagans of the world might wish it were: anyone who believed for a minute that September, or "the fall," or any other month or time period, represented the moment when a fundamental reassessment of our Iraq policy would occur, perhaps to be followed by an American withdrawal, is a fool.

Even if a withdrawal did take place, it would only be a withdrawal of "combat troops," and not even all of those. Combat troops represent less than one-quarter of all the U.S. forces in Iraq.

The permanent bases will remain, and many thousands of troops will be stationed at them.

It appears one project may be completed by September -- the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad:
Rising from the dust of the city's Green Zone it is destined, at $592m (£300m), to become the biggest and most expensive US embassy on earth when it opens in September.

It will cover 104 acres (42 hectares) of land, about the size of the Vatican. It will include 27 separate buildings and house about 615 people behind bomb-proof walls. Most of the embassy staff will live in simple, if not quite monastic, accommodation in one-bedroom apartments.

The US ambassador, however, will enjoy a little more elbow room in a high-security home on the compound reported to fill 16,000 square feet (1,500 sq metres). His deputy will have to make do with a more modest 9,500 sq ft.

They will have a pool, gym and communal living areas, and the embassy will have its own power and water supplies.


Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 about 1,000 US diplomatic and military staff have been using one of his former palaces as a make-shift embassy, which several observers have criticised as giving the regrettable impression that the Americans merely replaced Saddam's authoritarian rule with their own. ...

Joost Hildermann, an Iraq analyst with the International Crisis Group, said of the new embassy: "This sends a really poor signal to Iraqis that the Americans are building such a huge compound in Baghdad. It does very little to assuage Iraqis who are angry that America is running the country, and not very well at that."


Already, however, there have been suggestions that the compound will not be large enough to house hundreds of diplomats and military personnel likely to remain in Iraq for some time.
I have explained these issues in detail before, and I will once again state the primary point very simply:





Unless most of the Middle East erupts in a regional war, with nuclear Armageddon possibly thrown into the mix to make it especially interesting -- and which eventuality would most likely result from a United States attack on Iran -- tens of thousands of U.S. troops will be in Iraq for the rest of your lifetime. I confidently say that with regard to every one of you reading this.

For the rest of your lifetime. Get used to it.