Presidential spokesman Tony Snow was asked a very simple and direct question, "Are we losing in Iraq"? He answered with one word, "No". Which means one of two things; he is very well suited to his job or he is delusional. We most certainly are losing in Iraq. It is self-evident in any number of ways. The rules of an insurgency are very different than the rules by which conventional warfare is governed. Most importantly: the insurrection need only stay active to win. Yes, the American forces will continue to win nearly every engagement in which the enemy chooses to stand and fight, but such successes are getting them, and us, absolutely nowhere.
In spite of Mr Snow's succinct bravado; things have gotten so bad in Iraq, we may actually leave. Many who read that will rear back and shout, "hallelujah"! And while I happen to agree with them, I am shocked that it may happen. That the Bush A team what a misnomer that is is even considering a time-line for a full turnover of military control of Iraq is an extraordinary turn of events for a very simple reason: doing so has never been an option.
The Bush administration came to the conclusion very early on that in order to prevent any further expansion of Islamic extremism in the Persian Gulf , a sizable contingent of US military forces needed to be hardwired into the region. Iraq under Saddam Hussein conveniently provided any number of reasons some far more credible than others to be chosen as the point of entry. The decision, of course, was tragically flawed from its conception.
The tiny group of people who made this decision truly believed that their grandiose scheme would work exactly as drawn up on the chalkboard. Crush Saddam's army and then wade through the rose petals. Which is why coupled with incompetence, arrogance, short-sightedness and petty in-fighting among the principals on an epic scale the occupation has turned into a FUBAR. As ridiculous as it may seem; these people never planned for an armed resistance because they didn't think there would be any. A lapse in judgement with catastrophic consequences.
The American military effort in Iraq is entering its 45 month of duration. As has been noted by others, the Iraq war is the longest in American history with the exception of Vietnam. And we all know how that turned out. The problem is bigger and far worse than merely a temporal one however. It is that we are no closer to our ultimate objective than we were 10, 20, or 30 months ago. (That chestnut about how only four of the Iraqi provinces are violent is like saying during the American Civil War that only Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas were a problem.)
Whether or not our troops leave Iraq is still far from a fait accompli. One of the key prerequisites being floated for any draw-down is the disarmament of the militias. At this stage in the war effort that is like telling your kids, 'sure you can go swimming. Just wait until I build the pool". Disarming/dismembering/destroying the militias is precisely what we have been trying to do for the past 45 months. With very little success.
In spite of all the blood spilled and all the treasure squandered, the militias of the various factions are as strong now as they ever have been. Moqtada al-Sadr, a true believer only a step or two outside of a Taliban style modus operandi, has gone from a nobody, to a somebody with a dead or alive price on his head, to a figure of immense strategic importance. (Prime Minister Maliki not only met with al-Sadr recently; he came to him.) President Bush has been known to ask wistfully on many an occasion, "where is the Iraqi Washington or Jefferson"? Sadr may not fit the bill in Bush's mind but he's got several million impassioned followers who think he does. His power has grown to the point where if he ever utters those dreaded words, "the time to strike is now" we are in even worse way worse trouble then we are right now.
He will most likely belay that order though. He knows that we know that he has that power. And he also knows that as long as the level of violence stays at a level comparable to what it is now, there is the growing possibility I still say I'll believe when I see it that we may disengage militarily.
As welcome as that outcome may be, I have terrible news. The Bush Administration has screwed this up so badly that if we leave Iraq with the situation anywhere near where it is today we will not being going far. We will be back: most likely within five years but, I would bet the farm on it, it is almost a certainly that the American military will re-engage on a divisional level within ten years. Just as the first Gulf War led directly to the second, this one will do the same with the third.
The revamping of the status quo which has taken place over the past two decades in the region will only gather strength and rapidity when we leave. As it stands now, the end result of the American occupation of Iraq will be a marked increase in the power and influence of Islamic extremists. They will be shouting from the mountaintops from Morocco to Karachi of their glorious victory. And oh yeah, Syria and even more so, Iran would come out smelling like roses. Which is all precisely what we went into Iraq to prevent in the first place.
To say that the idiots who got us into this mess have failed is being kind.