Monday, May 19, 2008

Iraq: Will We Ever Get Out?

And will we wind up Hucked in 2013?

Iraq: Will We Ever Get Out? is the title of an article by Thomas Powers in the New York Review of Books (article dated 04/30/08; issue date 05/29/08) that's well worth a read. A couple of excerpts:

The state of play in what some writers call the Greater Middle East is roughly this: 190,000 American troops are at the moment engaged in two unresolved hot wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The magnitude of this endeavor is hard to exaggerate - two wars thousands of miles from home, covering a total area roughly as big as California and Texas, with a combined population of almost 60 million, speaking half a dozen major languages few Americans know. In addition, both wars are insurgencies, and in both the "enemy" is not a well-defined political, social, or military entity under central command, but something much more fluid. The difficulty of defining the "enemy" helps to explain why success, not to mention "victory," is so elusive. In Iraq and Afghanistan alike the Americans have been trying to establish a government of convenience—friendly to the West, moderate in politics, predictable in business, open to peace with Israel, hostile to Islamic fundamentalists. The United States has been trying to establish such governments in the Middle East for sixty years. (my emphasis)

... But in Afghanistan the United States and its reluctant NATO allies face a revived Taliban with the simplest of war aims - they want the foreigners to go. What is remarkable about the situation in Afghanistan - even astonishing - is that the Americans, after watching 100,000 Russians fight Afghans at great expense with no success for nine years, have signed on for a dose of the same. ...

... After their invasion in December 1979, the Russians walked into Kabul with ease, as invaders of Afghanistan invariably do, but after that it was mounting trouble all the way. The Russians paid a substantial price for thinking they could "win" if they stuck to it ...
Powers does a very good job at the end describing how a Democratic President, despite their initial intentions and despite public opposition to the Iraq War, could wind up having their Presidency and the chance for a major politica realignment favoring the Democrats wrecked by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:

[T]o my ear Clinton and Obama don't sound drained of hope or bright ideas, determined to cut losses and end the agony. Why should they? They're coming in fresh from the sidelines. Getting out, giving up, admitting defeat are not what we expect from the psychology of newly elected presidents who have just overcome all odds and battled through to personal victory. They've managed the impossible once; why not again? Planning for withdrawals might begin on Day One, but the plans will be hostage to events.

At first, perhaps, all runs smoothly. Then things begin to happen. The situation on the first day has altered by the tenth. Some faction of Iraqis joins or drops out of the fight. A troublesome law is passed, or left standing. A helicopter goes down with casualties in two digits. The Green Zone is hit by a new wave of rockets or mortars from Sadr City in Baghdad. The US Army protests that the rockets or mortars were provided by Iran. The new president warns Iran to stay out of the fight. The government in Tehran dismisses the warning. This is already a long-established pattern. Why should we expect it to change? So it goes. At an unmarked moment somewhere between the third and the sixth month a sea change occurs: Bush's war becomes the new president's war, and getting out means failure, means defeat, means rising opposition at home, means no second term. It's not hard to see where this is going.

We are committed in Afghanistan. We are not ready to leave Iraq. In both countries our friends are in trouble. The pride of American arms is at stake. The world is watching. To me the logic of events seems inescapable. Unless something quite unexpected happens, four years from now the presidential candidates will be arguing about two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, one going into its ninth year, the other into its eleventh. The choice will be the one Americans hate most - get out or fight on. (my emphasis)
What has to happen in that case is that the peace movement and the Democratic base keep the pressure on the new Democratic administration to set a early timetable to get out of Iraq, refrain from escalating in Afghanistan and find some kind of sensible exist strategy out of Afghanistan.

Otherwise, we could wind up having four years of an Obama Presidency during which the Congressional Republicans obstruct everything from judicial nominations to a new national health-insurance program and wind up looking at President Mike Huckabee on a mission from God in 2013.

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"It is the logic of our times
No subject for immortal verse
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."

-- Cecil Day-Lewis from Where Are The War Poets?


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