Monday evening's broadcast of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer included a maddening interview with four members of Congress--two Democrats and two Republicans--who'd just listened to Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker recommend staying the course in Iraq until next summer. It was infuriating on several levels: The two Dems--Lynn Woolsey and Donald Payne--were as mush-mouthed and inarticulate as they come; the two GOPers--Joe Wilson and Mike Pence--fell back on terrorism fear-mongering to rationalize the continued occupation of Iraq; and Lehrer failed to drill down into the crux of the issue--what is victory and where are we going to find the troops to achieve it?
Lehrer allowed his guests to stick close to their talking points by asking how they received Petraeus and Crocker's testimony and when do they want the troops to come home. Pence said that what's important is that the troops come home with honor. As if the only way to have honor is by achieving 'victory,' which, at this stage of the Mess in the Middle East, is a blurry moving target.
No, Congressman Pence, what's important is that the troops come home alive.
These are mostly young kids who were asked to invade and occupy a foreign country without adequate equipment or a proper plan for keeping the post-invasion peace and for reasons that have changed several times since the president first started selling the war to us based on disinformation. They're already honorable.
President Bush told us in January that he was going to send an additional 30,000 troops into Baghdad and al Anbar province in order to suppress sectarian violence enough so that Iraq's government of competing ethnic interests can settle their differences and live happily ever after. Petraeus cited some successes in curbing sectarian violence as a way to justify staying the course, but his opinion is based on statistics that have drawn plenty of criticism, and it's likely that even if there has been a drop in sectarian killings, it's largely due to the ethnic cleansing that has already occurred in many Baghdad neighborhoods.
For argument's sake, let's say that security in and around Iraq's capital is improving, and let's say that extending the so-called 'surge' of troops until next year is sound military strategy. To what end? Crocker acknowledged that the political side of the policy has thus far failed. No credible analyst can see any light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to relations between the numerous factions of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. Ethnic separation has already happened, just like it did in Yugoslavia in the 1990s after a power vacuum tore that country apart.
Petraeus also cited success in al Anbar, where Sunnis who once were shooting at Americans have turned their weapons on the terrorist cells that set up shop amid the post-Saddam vacuum. The Sunnis of al Anbar have decided it's in their best interest to fight terrorists rather than fight the occupiers; it has nothing to do with Sunni confidence in the Shiite-dominated government. Meanwhile, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia are in a much better position for long-term influence in Iraq than is the U.S.
Crocker himself could point to no real reasons for optimism, but he said the U.S. mustn't just pick up and leave the Iraqi people in a morass of inconceivable brutality. Problem is, everyone agrees that securing Iraq is a long-term proposition, and, as of next spring, the U.S. military will be fresh out of fresh Marine and Army soldiers. Why do you suppose Petraeus recommends dropping to pre-surge troop levels by next summer? It's certainly not because fewer troops is a better prescription for military success than more troops. The only options are a draft, a massive call-up of inactive reservists and extending tours of duty upwards of 15 months--and those are all political nonstarters.
So, what the hell are we doing?
We'll tell you what we're doing--we're allowing a president to get away with the unnecessary deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, more Americans, just so he doesn't have to admit he made a catastrophic foreign-policy mistake before leaving office.
So, here we are, at the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which was dishonestly, brazenly used as a selling point for the invasion. Republicans are using a threat of terrorism--that the U.S. invasion created where none had existed before--to rationalize staying the course in an unnecessary war that has already claimed the lives of 3,774 U.S. servicemen and women (as of Tuesday morning) and so far has cost taxpayers nearly half a trillion dollars. And now Petraeus has given the Republicans the political cover they need.
The Democrats are left with no recourse but to wait until we run out of deployable troops because they've been unable to convince enough Republicans to abandon their lame-ass, lame-duck president despite overwhelming public disfavor for Bush and his handling of the war. Meanwhile, many more Americans will die honorably--but needlessly.
Got something to say? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.