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Barack in Iraq

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More than five years after the Bush administration's March 2003 illegal and immoral invasion and occupation of Iraq, many of the Americans who initially were duped into supporting this worst of U. S. foreign policy blunders are finally beginning to recognize the wisdom of the cliché, "It's always easier to start a war than end it." That cliché has proven to be especially applicable to the current Bush administration, because it launched a war of choice without formulating a plan (called Phase IV in military parlance) about what to do after Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled.

According to Army historian, Maj. Isaiah Wilson, even as late as 1 May 2004 (more than a year into the occupation) there was "no single plan…that described an executable approach to achieving the stated strategic endstate for the war." [Thomas E. Ricks, FIASCO: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, p. 110] And, according to Lt. General Joseph Kellogg, Jr., "The thought was, you didn't need it [a plan]. The assumption was that everything would be fine after the war, that they'd be happy they got rid of Saddam." [Ibid, pp. 109-110]

Consequently, not only was the Bush administration unprepared for the high probability of looting, insurgency and civil war that, in fact, would occur in succession, it also was unprepared to deal with the political ascendancy of Iraq's Shiites. Yet, it was precisely the looting, insurgency, civil war and rise of Iraq's Shiites that paved the way for Iran's Shiite government to pursue its own Phase IV plans for Iraq.

Iran appears to have played a role in the Iraqi government's recent demand that the United States agree to a timetable for withdrawing all U. S. forces. As Gareth Porter has reported, "The two strongly pro-Iranian Shiite factions supporting the regime in Baghdad, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) and [Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki's own Dawa Party, were under strong pressure from both Iran and their own Shiite population and from Shiite clerics, including Ayatollah Ali Sistani, to demand U.S. withdrawal." ["Pullout Demand Signals Final Bush Defeat in Iraq,", July 11, 2008]

Thus, CNN's Baghdad correspondent, Michael Ware, appears to be correct when he claimed: "Pundits sitting in the beltway haven't got a clue. Now, anyone who says that America is avoiding defeat has, like, missed the point. Defeat is already on the cusp. Iran already has the momentum in this war." [CNN "Election Center," July 3, 2008]

(Should you doubt Ware's assertion, simply recall the stark contrast distinguishing Bush's secret visits to Iraq from the publicly announced, open, red carpet treatment given to Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his recent visit.)

Thus, if Gareth Porter and Michael Ware are correct, then President Bush and Senator John McCain have some explaining to do when they claim, not only that the "surge" (i.e., escalation) is working, but also that America now is "winning" in Iraq.

First of all, it wasn't the surge alone that reduced violence in Iraq. Violence also fell because Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army to temporarily stand down. And violence also fell, due to a decision by Sunni tribal leaders to cease their insurgency against the "occupiers" and instead join U.S. forces in the fight against al-Qaeda. It's called the Sunni "Awakening."

The "Awakening" actually preceded the surge and was prompted, in part, by the indiscriminate terror of al Qaeda, which didn't shy away from killing Muslims. But it also was prompted by the Democratic Party's takeover of Congress and the rising sentiment for withdrawal. As Maj. Niel Smith and Col. Sean McFarland have written in Military Review, "A growing concern that the U.S. would leave Iraq and leave Sunnis defenseless against al-Qaeda and Iranian-supported militias made these younger [tribal] leaders open to our overtures." [Colin H. Kahl, "When to Leave Iraq," Foreign Affairs, July/August 2008, p. 152].

In addition, Bush's surge (for which McCain properly claims partial credit) was designed to create the relative safety and security that would allow the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds the time and space necessary for achieving the stability that comes from political reconciliation. It is one of the Bush administration's preconditions for withdrawing U. S. troops. But, using that criterion, the surge has failed to work. Thus far, very little political reconciliation has been achieved.

In fact, some analysts (e.g., William E. Odom and Steve Simon) claim that the surge has fostered tribalism, warlordism and sectarianism; divides which, according to Odom, are "unlikely to be bridged by any means other than a civil war fought to a decisive conclusion."

(On 2 April 2008 Odom challenged the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to ask the Bush administration's witnesses "to name a single historical instance where power has been aggregated successfully from local strong men to a central government except through bloody violence leading to a single winner, most often a dictator.")

Nevertheless, now that Maliki's government has demanded a U.S. timetable for leaving Iraq -- which eventually influenced the Bush administration to reverse its opposition to timetables and agree to "a general time horizon for meeting aspiration goals" -- both the President and Senator McCain are now crediting the improved conditions created by the surge for Bush's change of mind.

Yet, just two weeks ago, McCain casually dismissed Maliki's demand for a withdrawal timetable. And, just five days ago, Iraqi demands for a timetable prompted Bush to repeat his opposition to "artificial" timetables - those that are not based upon "conditions on the ground." Which prompts the question: "What improved conditions over the last five days caused you to change your mind?

Crediting the surge, Bush and McCain must dismiss all the Iraqi politicians, who are scrambling to demonstrate their resolute opposition to the continuing U. S. occupation of their country. Why are they scrambling? Because elections will be held this fall and some 70 percent of the population want the U.S. out of their country.

More significantly, Bush and McCain also credit the surge, because they absolutely can't admit that Barack Obama's bold proposals for ending the war in Iraq -- including his promise to withdraw all U. S. combat brigades from Iraq within 16 months of his inauguration and his renunciation of permanent U. S. military bases -- have stiffened the resolve of Iraqi politicians to act like representatives of a sovereign state and demand that Bush accept a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops -- or face "the large possibility of postponing the signing of a long-term agreement between Iraq and the U. S., until a new administration is elected."

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Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San (more...)
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