2008/11/30

WaPo editorial misinforms

Re: "Road Map in Iraq" Nov 30

This piece appears to be designed to appeal to what political writers call the "low-information voter." First of all, it is true that President-Elect Obama has not "acknowledged its [the "Surges"] success in greatly reducing violence around Iraq." Yes, the "Surge," a temporary increase in the number of US troops in Iraq, was an element in the quieting of Iraq over the last two years, but as several Democratic Presidential candidates pointed out at the time, the increase in troops was only one of the many factors that produced that success. The stand-down of Muqtada al-Sadr and the anti-al Qaeda-in-Iraq "Anbar Awakening" were also very crucial elements without which the "Surge" would have gotten nowhere.

Yes, the "new democratic system" has indeed gained a footing in Iraq, but the editorial goes to great lengths to avoid pointing out that the happy situation owes far less to American leadership than it does to tough bargaining by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The statement "The Bush administration worked patiently and tirelessly to negotiate the new agreement" is flat-out false. President Bush's original idea was to make a "conditions-based" as opposed to a "calendar-based" withdrawal, in other words, for American troops to remain in Iraq essentially forever. Bush gave way under pressure from Iraq's Prime Minister.

It's not at all clear that Iraq stood up to pressure from Iran. It's hard to believe that Iran opposed an American timetable for withdrawal.

Has President Bush won a victory in Iraq or an equivalent thereof? I would argue that no he hasn't, as by my understanding, victory in Bush's eyes meant a permanent American presence and an American monopoly on oil drilling in Iraq. This definition of victory is not just that of the American left wing, but of much of the world, including the great majority of Iraqis. The idea that America invaded Iraq simply to leave behind a better, more democratic system is certainly consistent with Bush's rhetoric, but not at all consistent with his actions.

Can we blame Bush's failure to secure a permanent American presence in Iraq on mere "mismanagement"? That strikes me as even more simplistic and reality-avoiding than the idea that Bush aimed merely for a stable and democratic Iraq. The main problem with pursuing a counter-insurgency strategy as opposed to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's idea of an American "light footprint" was always that a counter-insurgency strategy meant getting a serious number of "boots on the ground" in Iraq.

The only way to have done that was to have had a draft. Yes, Bush has never let the word "draft" escape his lips and has never explicitly advocated that Americans sign up for the Army in large numbers, but neither has anybody else on the Republican/conservative side of the political aisle. The entire subject has simply been a "don't go there" for the American right wing as a whole.
This editorial reminds me of how my brother-in-law described Secretary of State Colin Powell's dramatic UN presentation of February 2003: "Impressive, if you didn't know anything about the subject before watching him. If you were reasonably informed beforehand, not impressive at all."

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