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Surge to Purge: The 80% Solution in Iraq

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In the press of post-Christmas events, which included the rush to execute Saddam Hussein, the stately, drawn-out dirge of the Ford funeral, and the advent of a new Democratic Congress, one might be forgiven for forgetting that January 16 will mark the sixteenth anniversary of the U.S. war on Iraq, which began in 1991 with a shock-and-awe campaign that within days destroyed the Iraqi air force, giving the U.S. command of Iraq's air space-space it has never relinquished. This week, President Bush will pre-empt the occasion by announcing a new strategy for winning this war. The centerpiece of the plan will be an increase in troop levels, carefully couched in terms to make it appear as if Iraq's Shiite-dominated government is assuming more responsibility for combat operations. The plan will include, but probably not mention, a transfer of authority over Iraqi skies to Iraq. That authority, of course, will be, only a paper covering. The only planes flying the unfriendly skies will be those of the U.S. and Britain.

The plan is all part of the Bush administration's effort to "redeploy" American combat forces to the peripheries and allow Iraq's Shiite-controlled security forces to "purge" Baghdad, with U.S. air support, of its suspected Sunni insurgents. With Baghdad sufficiently "cleansed" of sectarian strife, the U.S. will be able to claim victory, turn remaining control of Iraq's security forces over to the Iraqi government, and go home, or at least redeploy to friendlier Gulf states in anticipation of war with Iran. Dick Cheney's office reportedly calls this "the eighty-percent solution" after what's left of the Iraqi population of Kurds and Shiia once the twenty percent Sunni population is dispatched or relocated to already predominant Sunni provinces (or, in some cases, countries). I call the Bush plan, intended to make it look as though the U.S. remains neutral in the Iraq civil war, "surge to purge."

What's "new" about this strategy is that there is nothing new about it: It has been the dominant strategy all along. The problem, at least since the beginning of 2006, has been the unwillingness of the Shiite government to rein in Shiite militias from taking revenge upon Sunni insurgent sympathizers or bystanders for crimes against Shiia who have collaborated with Iraq's U.S. occupiers. And who can blame the Shiia for collaborating with the country's dominant military player after decades (if not centuries) of Sunni domination?

But whereas the weak post-Saddam Shiite rulers were willing to let the U.S. take the lead against the Sunni insurgents in the name of fighting "al-Qaeda in Iraq," the U.S. now insists that the Shiites perform the dirty work of sectarian cleansing. The U.S. will inject a few brigades (the "surge") temporarily in order to affect the transition, but the U.S. army and marines have taken far too much heat for war crimes committed in places like Haditha and abu-Ghraib to lead the block-by-block charge through Baghdad's neighborhoods.

All this cosmetic change in strategy does is to shift the "responsibility" or blame for the coming massacre onto the Iraqis themselves. Cries, even by newly invested Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, for the Iraqis to assume more responsibility for their own security simply mask the fundamental fact that, justly or not, like Saddam, the Sunnis, insurgent or civilian, are being hung out to twist slowly in the wind. Just listen to the chants of Shiite leaders helicoptered in at the last minute by the U.S. military to witness Saddam's execution: "Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!" They taunt Hussein with the name of the Shiite cleric who commands the al-Sadr militia, which has been implicated in the majority of sectarian violence, including executions, over the past year ever since the bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra last February.

Listen to the rhetoric leading up to the latest U.S. change in plans. During a joint November news conference with Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan, Bush declared that the U.S. was ready to "accelerate the transfer of responsibility for security" to the Iraqis in its efforts to demonstrate its willingness to make a well-orchestrated stay-the-course correction in Mesopotamia. Since handing power over to the Iraqis was the declared strategy all along, what could such rhetoric possibly mean? The problem, according to Bush, was that the Shiite PM didn't have the necessary means to protect the Iraqi people who elected him to bring peace and unity to Iraq. With only two of ten Iraqi army divisions under Iraqi command, Maliki had lobbied the president for more authority, but it was Bush, ventriloquating a policy already in the works, who proclaimed Maliki the "right guy for Iraq." For his part al-Maliki set wildly unrealistic milestones for the transfer of military power, saying the Iraqi Army would be ready to take over by mid-2007-six or seven months from now-so long as the Americans didn't abandon his government. The subtext of this colloquy was that Maliki needed the equipment, arms, and combat training to conduct a campaign of sectarian cleansing. By turning over operational command to the Iraqis while embedding "trainers" down to the company level, the U.S. would be able to reduce its combat presence under the guise of Iraqiazation-according to critics the "El Salvadorization"-of the Iraqi forces into efficient death squads bent on terrorizing the Sunnis into abandoning their support of the insurgents. Of course, Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi militia, the force behind al-Maliki's government, was already implicated in carrying out such a campaign of terror through death squads, much to the embarrassment of al Maliki's government. What al-Maliki needed was the sanction afforded by "official" U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces. U.S. special forces would provide backup to hunt down Sunni insurgents suspected of having ties to al Qaeda. As a graphic derived from a report by Globalterroralert.com and published by the New York Times of January 7 shows, the list of insurgent groups suspected of ties to al Qaeda grew in 2006 under the umbrella of the Mujahedeen Shura Council to declare an "Islamic State of Iraq." If Globalterroralert.com is to be believed, then the Sunni insurgency is more than ever driven by al-Qaeda in Iraq, whose numbers the Iraq Study Group estimated to be no more than 1800. In other words, it's open season on all Sunnis who are "suspected" militants, that is, insurgents with ties to al Qaeda.

When the day after the news conference, the announcement that U.S. had killed 20 suspected al-Qaeda terrorists in Ishagi signaled to hard-liners that the U.S. was very much still open for business as usual. Sunni leaders subsequently accused the U.S. of having killed 17 civilians, including six women and five children in the attack. "Going forward," of course, the worst atrocities will be carried out by the Iraqi Army itself, providing Americans with the cover of plausible deniability that has so long eluded them as an occupying force in command of the Iraqi Army. The Chronicle News Service reported this past weekend that Iraqi forces began a "neighborhood-by-neighborhood assault on militants in the capital . . . as a first step in the new White House strategy to contain Sunni insurgents and Shiite death squads." Make no mistake, though, the Iraqi Army is firmly in Shiite hands and the likelihood of attacks against the Mahdi Army are close to nil.

What The Washington Post identified on December 9, 2006, as "the Shi'ite tilt" is not some tipping point. Defeating the insurgency, considered to consist largely of disaffected Sunnis deprived of any stake in the political and economic life of post-invasion Iraq by the U.S.'s de-Baathification purges, has always been the primary goal of the U.S. military campaign in Iraq. Like it or not, the Provisional Coalition Authority and its diplomatic successors have had to conduct business with so-called moderate Shiites willing to play the American game while U.S. forces attempted to quell the insurgents. But the American strategy of "clear, hold, and build"-that is, killing suspected insurgents, installing Iraqi security forces, and rebuilding former insurgent strongholds through American contractors-failed miserably when overwhelming firepower inflicted such heavy collateral damage on Sunni-dominated towns like Fallujah that civilians otherwise unsympathetic to the insurgents turned instead against their "liberators," making it impossible for collaborationist Iraqi security forces to operate and, thus, for American contractors and Iraqi subcontractors to rebuild infrastructure destroyed in the original assaults. In adopting the terrorist tactics of the insurgents, the American counterinsurgency committed war crimes that destroyed any illusions Sunnis and probably Shiites may have harbored that, as an occupying force, America stood above the sectarian fray. A similar strategy applied to Baghdad neighborhoods this summer was equally and brutally as ineffective in curbing violence. It is difficult to curb violence when you are inflicting it. The Bush policy of fighting terror with terror has placed Baghdad squarely in the grip of militias, offering those loyal to them with a measure of security that the U.S.-backed government has failed to provide civilians.

If there is to be a central government in Baghdad, militias must not be seen carrying out reprisals. Only a fully equipped Iraqi Army can "legitimately" perform the dirty work of sectarian cleansing. The Shiite tilt has been nothing more than a long slide to the 80-percent solution. According to a Washington Post's source, Cheney justified this view on the grounds that the U.S. could not again abandon the Shiites as it had in 1991 when it called upon the South to rise up against Saddam Hussein, only to leave them at the mercy of his Revolutionary Guard.

Al-Maliki's hold on power is shaky, and his usefulness in providing political cover for the U.S. surge to purge policy is undercut by his ties to al-Sadr and his militia. Members of Parliament loyal to al Sadr threatened to withdraw from Iraq's governing coalition when Maliki agreed to meet with Bush in Amman. In an effort to isolate al-Sadr politically, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the major Shiite political party in parliament, was summoned to Washington to meet with Bush and get with the program. Al Hakim is reported to command his own militia, which has been implicated in some sectarian violence as well, but he doesn't carry the same baggage as the Maliki-Sadr axis. Supposedly Condoleezza Rice advocates continued support of al-Maliki but in a new coalition with Sunni moderates, who are not party to the prime minister's current governing coalition of Shiite "moderates." Rice plans to win over Sunni support for the government that has been terrorizing its towns and Baghdad neighborhoods through employment and reconstruction programs, purportedly by taking advantage of disenchantment among Sunnis with the insurgency. But this so-called strategy for breaking the political impasse is simply more of the status quo ante. Moderate Sunni leaders have all along been trying to work with the U.S. and at great risk to themselves. Rice's strategy is nothing more than that of the clear-hold-and-build raids that have already sent Sunni civilians running to the insurgents for protection, where, to demonstrate their loyalty, they must join the insurgency. It may fit some third-world stereotype back home in Washington, but when an American commander such as Col. David Sutherland, stationed near Sunni-dominated Buqubah, blames "Public perceptions of corruption, inequity and fear" as "the driving force behind support to terrorist organizations," he is seriously deluding not only himself but those he works for and those he supposedly protects. Government corruption may be rampant, and ultimately it may be greed that motivates the militias, but it is the Shiia who dominate the government. Sunnis are fleeing for their lives, fueling the insurgency and filling its ranks. There appears to be a concerted effort on the part of the Shiite-dominated security forces to push Sunni residents out of Baghdad neighborhoods and into Sunni regions through a campaign of intimidation and terror. As Sudarsan Raghavan reported in the Washington Post of December 11, gangs of Shiite gunmen recently stormed the central Baghdad neighborhood of Hurriyah, killing at least two Sunni Arabs, torching houses, and driving away dozens of Sunni families, some of whom fled to Baqubah, a city north of Baghdad that is also racked by violence but where Sunni maintain a majority. That dynamic is not going to change just because Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi is invited to the White House, not when al-Hashimi, who has lost three siblings to the ongoing violence, called in April for the Sunni-backed insurgency to be crushed by force. Secretary Rice's plan is nothing less than the kinder-gentler version of Cheney's 80-percent solution. But since maintaining appearances is what the new strategy on the block is all about, look for a billion-dollar jobs package to be thrown to the Sunnis as a bone to gnaw on.

"Deciding to side with the Shia is probably the most inflammatory thing we could do right now," says Wayne White, a member of the Iraq Study Group, told the New York Times last week. "It would be a multi-headed catastrophe." The Sunni speaker of Parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, said, "It will be a disaster. I think the Americans are not so stupid as to do that." In the light of recent administration's soul-searching, the speaker may want to revise his intelligence estimate. Ersatz introspection on the part of the administration is designed only to return American forces to their core mission of crushing the insurgency with increased Iraqi (read: Shiite) participation and possibly a temporary increase (a surge) in American forces. Current estimates of a 25,000 to 50,000 surge in U.S. military personnel fall far short of the Iraq Study Group's estimate of 100,000 to 200,000 troops needed to restore Iraq-a number it rejected as politically and logistically impractical. "We could, however, support a short-term redeployment or surge of American combat forces to stabilize Baghdad or to speed up the training and equipping mission," the report added disingenuously. Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), who took great exception to the report's recommendations, particularly on this score, has advocated the deployment of an additional 35,000 troops to Iraq. For now the administration will settle for 20,000, to get the ball rolling and the war escalated. Bush and Cheney get cover from all sides, pointing to the Iraq Study Group's own acknowledgement that more troops may be needed while accepting the recommendation of the group's most vocal critic, John McCain. The administration, then, can be viewed as both accepting and rejecting the study's proposals. Anyone who thinks that this scenario hasn't been scripted well in advance of the mid-term elections should have his press credentials revoked. American policy toward Iraq has not changed. America's solution to sectarian violence is to transfer command of Iraqi's security forces to Shiite leaders and let God sort it out.

In Iraq the debate over an increased troop presence has fallen out, predictably enough, along sectarian lines. Sunni leaders like Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, fearing a humanitarian catastrophe if the U.S. retreats from Baghdad to its bases outside the capital, push for a temporary "surge" in U.S. troops in hopes of suppressing the Shiite militias. For their parts, the Shiia and Kurds want the Americans to withdraw from the capital. In the words of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, "We want our hands to be free, not paralyzed, in fighting terror." That means a free hand to carry out sectarian cleansing. Since the Kurds are also Sunnis, it is a mistake to see the civil war raging in Iraq simply in terms of sectarian violence. It is the Arab Sunnis that are most at risk. Ironic that Arab Sunnis, who have resisted the U.S. occupation most violently, should be calling for an increased American military presence while the Shiites, who have benefited most from the U.S. occupation, demand a partial withdrawal in the self-professed interest of Iraqi sovereignty. The only way to reconcile such a paradox is to see the American strategy as a "surge to purge"-giving the Shiite dominated security forces the tools they need to "purge" Baghdad of the Sunni insurgency. Sunni moderates who think the surge means protection for Sunnis may have sadly misplaced their faith in a U.S. that has consistently backed a Shiite majority.

The United States, having effectively marginalized the Sunni population, must recognize its responsibilities for having created the very conditions under which the insurgency continues to thrive and that drive the Shiia to extremes of retribution. There can be no peace in Iraq so long as United States forces, however peripherally, even as advisers, continue to occupy that country and kill Iraqi civilians. And certainly to continue to wage terror on the Sunni population is the diametrically opposite way to bring about what the administration euphemistically calls "national reconciliation." Despite the Iraq Study Group's estimated 1300 foreign jihadists in Iraq, the U.S., a foreign occupying power with over 100 times as many soldiers, is fighting Iraqis, not al Qaeda. Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, put forth the Iraq government's own plan for taking over Baghdad security at the Amman Bush-Maliki tête-à-tête, in which Americans retreat to the city's outskirts, thereby reducing their visibility but also "redefining" their mission so that they can become "free" to attack Al Qaeda and Sunni-based insurgent organizations, as if that had not been their mission all along, leaving the newly emboldened and outfitted Iraqi security forces to continue the sectarian cleansing of the capital. In all the talk of whether Cheney or Rice would prevail in their strategic tug-of-war over the conduct of the war, journalists conveniently ignored the fact that Bush had already signed off on al-Rubaie's plan when he enthusiastically endorsed al-Maliki's plan to fast-forward efforts to assume command of the Iraqi army. This was the plan a year ago on the eve of the Parliamentary elections. There is no Plan B.

Key to any policy of "train and retreat"-euphemism for "cut and run"-in which the administration embeds trainers in the Iraqi military as it reduces its combat forces (while at the same time increasing overall troop levels) is air power. Both Secretary of Defense-designate William Gates and Iraq Study Group co-chair Lee Hamilton made this abundantly but under-reportedly clear in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. According to Gates, "The Iraqi forces clearly have no logistical capability of their own. They have no air power of their own. So . . . we are still going to have some level of American support there for the Iraqi military and that could take quite some time . . ." Hamilton was more blunt: "I think you will have to have substantial capabilities to protect those advisors . . . when you put these men into Iraqi units they're very exposed and you have to do everything you can to protect them . . . . I think we used the word support and perhaps we weren't specific enough in some respects, but air support is clearly needed in large quantities, maybe needed even in larger quantities, if we go to this embedded idea so that equipment has to be available and the people have to be trained for that." Translation: American advisers will be in place to call in air strikes against suspected insurgent targets and the U.S. air force, which has operated within Iraq since 1991, will be on hand to carry them out. The U.S. will take some heat for collateral damage, but it will be the Iraqis who get blamed for calling in the air strikes.

There is nothing new in the U.S.'s reliance on air power to minimize American combat casualties while indigenous forces carry out ground operations. If you believe the New York Times of December 7, 2006 (I don't), Vietnamization produced a South Vietnamese military capable of resisting the North and not until Congress withheld authority for air strikes did the South go down to defeat in 1975. It's just such revisionist history that fuels the almost religious faith the Rumsfelds of the national security establishment maintain in air power. It was used to some effect in the Northern Alliance's victory over the Taliban in 2001, a proxy war that kept U.S. casualties to a minimum, but then High Value Target Osama bin Laden escaped during the Battle of Tora Bora, which was largely a spectator sport for the indigenous forces watching U.S. planes pummel rocks to dust. U.S. forces could not operate in such a hostile environment without sustaining large numbers of casualties from ambushes. For good reason America's hired guns on the ground had no appetite for that kind of combat, where all the air power in theater would have little chance of dislodging entrenched al-Qaeda positions. However grateful the Northern Alliance may have been for air cover on the road to Kabul, the hunt for bin Laden was not their fight. The "shock and awe" campaign at the beginning of the Iraq War achieved the military's objective of toppling Saddam's regime with minimum U.S. casualties, but the cost in collateral damage to Iraqi civilians caused irreparable harm to any good will Americans may have gained from ousting Hussein, laying the seeds for the insurgency that followed. And that is the problem with over-reliance on air power, as study after study has demonstrated: Collateral damage stiffens resistance. Lebanon provides only the latest example. Hezbollah, whose raison d'etre was undercut by Israel's 2000 withdraw to the blue line, and whose political fortunes were weakened when Syrian forces withdrew from Lebanon in the wake of the 2005 Cedar Revolution, is enjoying a popular resurgence for having stood up to the much vaunted Israeli military machine.
If, on the other hand, this "ninety-percent" solution was a dry run for the "eighty-percent" solution being run up the administration's flagpole as a means to sacrifice the Sunni minority to the aspirations of Shiites and Kurds who want autonomy and a decentralized national government, then the U.S.'s failure to apply the brakes on the Israel juggernaut must be seen as a qualified success. The Israel-Hezbollah conflict tested the limits to which world opinion, and more importantly, Arab opinion, would tolerate a policy of sectarian cleansing by proxy armies. The U.S. took some heat for its support of Israel-support that included munitions such as cluster bombs-but not nearly enough to threaten its control of the U.N. Security Council, where it choreographed a face-saving compromise for Israel, whose much-touted military and untested post-Sharon government had been embarrassed by the strength of Hezbollah's resistance. But the U.S. will have to give up on any idea of an Iraqi government of national unity-or, for that matter, much of a democracy.

As Vali R. Nasr, an adjunct senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, has argued, the air war on Lebanon's Shiite population was meant to signal Iran that its interference in Iraq and its pursuit of a nuclear deterrent would not be tolerated. Presumably the attacks on Lebanese Shiites would have also signaled Sunni Arab countries that that the U.S. would not permit Sunnis in Iraq to be massacred by Shiite militia or allow the country to be split three ways, with Sunnis getting the short end of the oil stick. The result, however, has not been a chastened Iran but an emboldened Hezbollah and a resurgence of Iranian regional prestige. On the local, Iraqi level, the U.S. regional strategy makes a fruit salad of any rationale behind the sectarian struggle between Sunni and Shiia in Iraq, where the common enemy is plainly the United States. Persian Shiia bear no love toward Arab Sunni in Iraq who led the charge against Iran in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.

The divide-and-conquer strategy the U.S. has adopted to exploit sectarian divisions places it between Iraq and a hard place. The hard place is that the U.S. cannot withdraw without creating a security vacuum that will suck up the Sunni Arab population into political oblivion. The 1300 al Qaeda in Iraq will simply melt back into Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia-Sunni countries all-and leave their secular brethren in Iraq to the mercy of the Iraqi military's power to command and control events from the air. Before the Shiia and U.S. turn on each other-they would have only their enemy the Sunni in common now-there will be a bloodbath that will make Fallujah look like a picnic on the battlefield. Having used its Shiite proxies in Iraq to dispatch the Sunni-led insurgency, the U.S. will be free to train its bunker busters on its real rival for Mideast hegemony-Iran.

By then, of course, it will be too late. Saudi Arabia, as it has threatened to do, will have joined the fray in Iraq to keep Iran (at once Persian, Shiite and militantly Islamic) from becoming a regional superpower and threat to its secular grip on power. Vice President Cheney was recently summoned to Riyadh and read the riot act. "If things become so bad in Iraq, like an ethnic cleansing, we will feel we are pulled into the war," Nawaf Obaid, a consultant to (now) former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. Prince Turki, wrote in an op-ed article for The Washington Post. "One of the first consequences" of an American pullout of Iraq would "be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis." The ensuing diplomatic firestorm over the article saw the departure of Prince Turki, a member of the royal family, back to Riyadh. And although Arab diplomats reputedly confirmed that Mr. Obaid's column reflected the Saudi government's opposition to an American withdrawal from Iraq, much damage control has been directed at downplaying the article's significance with claims that Sunnis in Iraq would only receive Saudi financial support. A group of prominent Saudi clerics, however, called on Sunni Muslims around the world to mobilize against Shiites in Iraq.

It is an ominous sign that Saudi Arabia would consider such engagement, which could lead to a regional conflict. Helene Cooper speculated in the New York Times on December 17 that the 80-percent solution, which she dubbed the Darwin Principle, may be part of a more diabolical regional strategy in which U.S. backing for Shiia in Iraq draws both Saudi Arabia (and other Sunni nations) and Iran into a conflict in which vastly outnumbered Iranian forces would be overwhelmed, even though superior Shiite numbers within Iraq might win the Battle of Baghdad. As far-fetched as it may sound, it's a theory that fits a pattern of recent proxy wars-Afghanistan, Lebanon-backed by overwhelming air superiority. But with the "surge and purge" of the new Bush strategy, the U.S. gains political cover by claiming that it sent in 20,000 or 30,000 more troops explicitly to defeat the Shiite militias.

Bush probably summed up the larger, regional strategy best at a recent news conference with Tony Blair: "When you throw into the mix radical Shia and radical Sunni trying to gain power and topple moderate governments, with energy which they could use to blackmail Great Britain or America, or anybody else who doesn't kowtow to them, and a nuclear weapon in the hands of a government that is - would be using that nuclear weapon to blackmail to achieve political objectives . . . ." Say what you will about the Blair Bush Project wrapping itself in the flag of ideological struggle between peace-loving moderates and democracy-hating extremists-a drum that Bush has been beating at least since abandoning the more metaphysical rhetoric of do-gooders and evil-doers-the robotic duo knows exactly what's at stake for America and Europe in the Mideast-future energy reserves that more fundamentalist or nationalist leaders than the current crop of Sunni "moderates" could wield to political advantage by threatening to hold Western economies hostage at the gas pump.

That is why I find it hard to accept Frank Rich's recent assertion in the New York Times that Bush has moved beyond a state of denial about Iraq to losing his grip on reality altogether. Yes, he is scary to watch, particularly when he plays ventriloquist to dummies like al-Maliki or even Blair, speaking for them. But his part and his partners' parts have been carefully scripted well in advance of the predictable election results. Leaks have been carefully orchestrated to make it appear as though he is considering all options-from jettisoning al-Maliki (the Stephen Hadley memo questioned the Iraqi PM's sincerity in unifying Iraq, bringing Maliki, after staging a temporary hissy fit to prove to Shiite parliamentarians that he wasn't Bush's lapdog, around to make extravagant promises to step up the pace of transition) to Rumsfeld's carefully crafted memo on the eve of his resignation that pre-empted many of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations, showing that such options have been on the table for a while-and in fact, many of them have already been set in motion. The media was treated to a flurry of pre-Christmas consultations-not only does Bush swing low over Jordan to pledge his support for al-Maliki, he descends to Foggy Bottom to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice-just to show he's not a prisoner of the White House and will go the extra mile for peace, or victory. His apparent ingenuousness masks a cynical disingenuousness in the same way his aw-shucks grin is really the smirk of one concealing a private joke. And as a scathing New York Times editorial made abundantly plain, the Iraq Study Group report itself provided little more than a smokescreen to give the president political cover while he ducks the tough choice, which was starkly summed up by Republican Oregon senator Gordon Smith: "So either we clear and hold and build or let's go home." The state of denial persists in Bushspeak like "I thought we would succeed quicker than we did" and "I am disappointed by the pace of success" made during the news conference with Blair (also scheduled to coincide with the release of the report). Is there anyone else left in Washington who actually counts Iraq a success, even a slow-paced success? Guardian International correspondent Jonathan Steele called Bush's and Blair's denial of the horrors attending the Iraq civil war "Panglossian"-referring to the ever optimistic Dr. Pangloss of Voltaire's novel Candide who, at every disaster, proclaims that ours is the best of all possible worlds.

Frank Rich is much more prescient in his most recent op-ed piece (January 7) when he writes more bluntly: "The 'surge,' then, is a sham." It's meant only to buy enough time for the Americans to abandon Iraq to the Iraqis, which I argue here means effectively means abandoning the Sunnis to the Shiia. An additional twenty thousand troops is only a tenth of what the Iraq Study Group believed was necessary to secure Iraq.

Bush's extravagant show of seeking advise from all quarters-one newspaper called it "conspicuous consultation"-only masks the fact that there is no plan B. It's the same plan as it has always been. It also masks the fundamental fact that Iraqi deaths have been downplayed by the administration and by Iraq, who have their own formulas for counting the dead that excludes some segment of the population. The Iraq Study Group acknowledged this discrepancy but came nowhere near the estimated 650,000 dead at which a recent Lancet study arrived. If the actual figure is only half that, it shows that "shock and awe" is just shuck and jive when it comes to hiding collateral damage behind the smoke and mirrors of an embedded media. Finally, in the words of former Pentagon analyst Anthony Cordesman, "The U.S. effectively sent a bull in to liberate the china shop. And the study group now called upon the U.S. to threaten to remove the bull if the shop doesn't fix the china." That's not all that's broken. Colin Powell echoed Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker when he said the U.S. army is "almost broken." General Schoomaker had said that the Army will break if more troops and money aren't made available. "We would not surge without a purpose," Schoomaker said. "And that purpose should be measurable." What that purpose might be could be summed up in the phrase "surge to purge"-to purge Baghdad of its Sunni population through forced relocation and killings. Since military progress is frequently measured in number of enemy killed or captured, we can expect to see a great many more "suspected insurgents" dead in the streets of Baghdad and in U.S. detention facilities facing torture.

If there is any doubt about the U.S.'s role in Iraq, the dismissal of Generals Abizzaid and Casey, who counseled against additional troop deployments, and the elevation of counterinsurgency guru Lieutenant General David Petraeus to commander in Iraq last week should lay them to rest. Petraeus was most recently charged with updating the Army's and Marine's counterinsurgency manual. He might take a page from the last manual, where "fighting fire with fire"-that is emulating the tactics of the insurgents themselves-was emphasized. A counterinsurgency, however, must begin early before the insurgency reaches a critical mass: "U.S. involvement after an insurgency as reached the 'point of no return' where it cannot be defeated at a reasonable cost is likely to be ineffective. If an insurgency reaches this point, the United States should pursue disengagement even given the strategic and political costs."

That "point of no return" in Iraq passed long ago.

 

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Richard Rawles works as a technical writer in the computer-security industry. Formerly a researcher at UC-Berkeley's Institute of International Studies and an editor at SRI International, he has written articles and edited texts on politics, (more...)
 

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Please carry more articles that of Richard Rawles.... by Richard Rawles on Tuesday, Jan 9, 2007 at 4:36:27 AM