During the final year of WWI the Germans won a series of tactical victories before losing the war. A befuddled public was fed the right-wing myth that defeatists in the high command had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, essentially stabbing the Fatherland in the back. This falsehood would find favor with a certain bohemian corporal, one Adolf Hitler, who would launch a second world war to avenge Germany’s humiliation in the first. Needless to say, Germany’s decision to refight a war it had lost ended up creating an even greater catastrophe.
Fast forward 60 years, and George W. Bush is invoking America’s humiliation in Vietnam as a rationalization for staying the course in Iraq. Bush represents a fringe in American politics that believes America could have, should have, and would have prevailed in Vietnam, if only America’s leaders had had the will to win. This reactionary element has never seen America’s involvement in Vietnam as a strategic blunder, the product of defective assumptions and pathological misjudgments, but rather as a test of American character that the nation failed. In their view, spineless liberals lost Vietnam. Ipso facto, weak-willed leftists will be responsible for our failure in Iraq (notwithstanding conservative incompetence in waging the campaign in Iraq).
Over the next several months, the Bush administration will be trying to use whatever tactical benefits the so-called surge is producing to cover for the fact that America’s strategic position in Iraq is unraveling. Put simply, despite modestly encouraging developments associated with the surge – Sunni insurgents training their sights on al-Qaeda in Iraq, for instance -- the overall situation in Iraq is a worsening disaster for America’s interests. The longer the Bush administration remains in denial, the worse the denouement in Iraq is likely to be.
Bismarck once famously remarked that “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” If this is true, then in follows that so long as the United States is fighting in Iraq it is because the political process, diplomatic efforts, and reconciliation are failing. The question, of course, is can the United States military turn the situation in Iraq around?
A game changing moment is always possible, but the centrifugal forces in Iraq appear to be tipping in the direction of greater chaos. The Maliki government in Iraq appears to have no interest in pursuing political reconciliation. Indeed, the Shiite dominated government gives every indication of stalling for time, essentially waiting the Bush administration out, so that it can proceed apace with its campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Sunnis.
The Bush administration, eager to find some glimmer of hope in the disaster it has wrought, points to the recent Sunni-American alliance against al-Qaeda in Iraq, as proof of progress. This short-term success, however, may actually undermine Iraq’s long-term prospects (in so far as American efforts to arm Sunni militia are an unwelcome development as far as the Shiite dominated central government is concerned). Further, we should be under no illusions that the Sunni insurgents have suddenly become pro-American; they just hate al-Qaeda more than they hate us at the moment. In other words, once they finish fighting al-Qaeda, or Shiites, they might very well turn the guns we’ve given them back on us.
There’s another complication on the horizon for America’s efforts in Iraq; sometime in December, Iraq’s prime minister will have to request that the United Nations renew its Security Council Resolution that provides the legal basis for the U.S. occupation. It is possible that Maliki will no longer be in office at that point, but the Iraqi parliament has already passed a bill requiring the prime minister to consult the legislature on the matter of renewing the Security Council Resolution. They have also passed a non-binding resolution calling for a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal. The upshot, in other words, is that come December the U.S. could very easily be voted out of Iraq, while an American adversary (Iran or Russia) is invited in to fill the vacuum.
The Bush administration, of course, would likely ignore anything from the U.N. Security Council, but it may be tempted to launch a preemptive attack against Iran to change the equation ahead of time. One thing is for sure, the Bush administration is not about to let Iraq’s parliament decide the fate of Iraq.