As Gen. David Petraeus retired from the Army on Wednesday, he received a 17-gun salute and was hailed across the U.S. news media as the strategic genius who organized the "successful surge" in Iraq and similarly achieved gains against the Taliban in Afghanistan. He is now off to run the CIA.
However, the less glorious truth about Petraeus' much-heralded "surge" in Iraq was that it cost the lives of almost 1,000 more U.S. soldiers, inflicted more violence upon the people of Iraq and will likely only have achieved a delay in a U.S. military defeat of historic proportions. Much the same could be said for Petraeus' "surge" in Afghanistan.
The Iraq surge's primary accomplishment may have been to spare President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their neocon advisers the embarrassment of having invaded and occupied Iraq, only to see a bloodied U.S. army essentially kicked out by the Iraqis. The surge put off the forced withdrawal of the American military at least until President Barack Obama's watch.
Washington's still-influential neocons are now pressing for a revised "status of forces agreement" with Iraq that will allow some U.S. "advisers" to remain in Iraq after the end of the year. That way, the image of the last American troops racing to the Kuwaiti border in December 2011 -- much as Soviet troops retreated from Afghanistan in 1989 -- won't be so stark.
But even the fig leaf of several thousand left-behind U.S. trainers won't change the strategic reality of a major neocon-driven disaster.
Another measure of that American failure in Iraq could be found Thursday in a Washington Post op-ed by former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who paints his own bleak picture of what life is like in Iraq after the eight-year U.S occupation.
Allawi, who also heads the largest political bloc in Iraq's legislature, frames his op-ed as an appeal for more economic and political support from the United States but does so in the context of describing a devastated nation. He writes:
"More than eight years after Saddam Hussein's regime was overthrown, basic services are in a woeful state: Most of the country has only a few hours of electricity a day. Blackouts were increasingly common this summer.
"Oil exports, still Iraq's only source of income, are barely more than they were when Hussein was toppled. The government has squandered the boon of high oil prices and failed to create real and sustainable job growth. Iraq's economy has become an ever more dysfunctional mix of cronyism and mismanagement, with high unemployment and endemic corruption.
"Transparency International ranks Iraq the world's fourth-most-corrupt country and by far the worst in the Middle East. The promise of improved security has been empty, with sectarianism on the rise."
Allawi also cites the false promises of democracy:
"Despite failing to win the most seats in last year's elections, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki clung to power through a combination of Iranian support and U.S. compliance. He now shows an alarming disregard for democratic principles and the rule of law.
"Vital independent institutions such as the election commission, the transparency commission and Iraq's central bank have been ordered to report directly to the office of the prime minister. Meanwhile, Maliki refuses to appoint consensus candidates as defense and interior ministers, as per last year's power-sharing agreement.- Advertisement -
"The government is using blatant dictatorial tactics and intimidation to quell opposition, ignoring the most basic human rights. Human Rights Watch reported in February on secret torture prisons under Maliki's authority.
"In June, it exposed the government's use of hired thugs to beat, stab and even sexually assault peaceful demonstrators in Baghdad who were complaining about corruption and poor services. These horrors are reminiscent of autocratic responses to demonstrations by failing regimes elsewhere in the region, and a far cry from the freedom and democracy promised in the new Iraq.
"Is this really what the United States sacrificed more than 4,000 young men and women, and hundreds of billions of dollars, to build? The trend of failure is becoming irreversible."