Saturday, November 22, 2008

Iraq War: Nobody comes out entirely clean ...

... in these counterinsurgency wars. Some come out much dirtier than others.

That Iraqi status-of-force agreement needs to be treated as a treaty and ratified by Congress according to their current procedure for treaties. Tom Hayden in Frankenstein in Mesopotamia TPM Cafe 11/21/08 reminds us of some of the problems. Not least of which is, as he puts it:

The pact being negotiated between the US and Baghdad governments includes a direct rebuff to president-elect Barack Obama's promised policy of withdrawing American combat troops in 16-18 months. The pact instead would leave those troops in place until the end of 2011, a doubling of the timeline to which Obama pledged himself.
In this connection, it's important to recognize that there is already strong resistance in the military to Obama's 16-month withdrawal schedule. The days when the leaks from the officer corps mostly sound bad for the Cheney-Bush administration one way or the other are already over.

Tom Engelhardt in The Pentagon's Argument of Last Resort on Iraq TomDispatch.com 11/20/08 discusses the current situation, in which the Pentagon is arguing that it's physically impossible to implement a complete withdrawal in less than three years. Engelhart contrasts this to the much-celebrated speed with which the Pentagon got all those soldiers, vehicles and equipment into Iraq in the first place.


Bob Dreyfuss sketches out the following possible scenario of the potential civil-military conflict in 2009 (Obama's Iraq Challenge The Nation 11/13/08):

Most of all, the pressure on Obama will come from the military, whose leadership won't look kindly on an incoming administration that wants to change course. Indeed, a showdown with the military command could be the most dramatic event of Obama's first weeks in office. It would pit him squarely against Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. David Petraeus, the Centcom commander; and Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of US forces in Iraq, all of whom will argue strenuously against anything more than a limited withdrawal, tied to conditions on the ground.

Early in his administration, Obama may sit down with Petraeus--a politically savvy general who, it is rumored, is thinking about running for office himself, and who is the darling of the neoconservative movement--and tell him he intends to pull one to two combat brigades out of Iraq every month, starting immediately. And he'll have to look around the room--at Mullen, Odierno, the Joint Chiefs and others, one by one. Each one of them will be aware of the pressure Obama will be under from hawks and right-wingers, and behind the scenes they're likely to do what they can to fuel it. The Constitution gives Obama the power to order them to carry out the new policy, whether they like it or not. If they don't, well, he can tell them not to let the door rattle their medals on the way out.

It may not be the equivalent of President Truman's firing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, but it's possible Obama will have to clean house, putting in place generals prepared to accommodate the new commander in chief. There are many, typified by Gen. George Casey, the former US commander in Iraq, and Gen. John Abizaid, the former Centcom commander, who advocated a pullback in 2005-06 and who might be expected to go along with Obama's policy. And in dealing with his generals, Obama can point out that the Iraqi government supports his timetable and that Baghdad is unwilling to sign a status-of-forces agreement that gives the United States a blank check to stay.
This is another very good reason not to retain Robert Gates at Defense. If Obama is going to have to face down our Savior-General Petraeus, maybe even fire him and a couple of other generals, you can imagine the howls the Republicans will make, and how our pathetic press corps will hype the thing to the high heavens. So Obama is going to need a Defense Secretary who will have his back. Bush family crony Bob Gates ain't that guy.

Obviously, Dreyfuss' reading of the timeline in the status-of-forces agreement is different from Hayden's. It appears that Hayden reads it as an agreement to a three-year deadline while Dreyfuss reads it as a maximum deadline.

Hayden emphasizes that the government in power in Baghdad thanks to us is a Shi'a fundamentalist police state. And the status-of-force agreement apparently envisions the US simply turning over the prisoners we're currently holding directly to the Iraqi government. Which would mean the Shi'a combatants allied with the regime parties would go free, while the Sunni prisoners and maybe Muqtada al-Sadr's followers were be tortured and/or killed.

And he reminds us that there is a great deal of the dark side of the Iraq War that has to be forced into the light:

For example, there has not been a single Congressional inquiry into the oblique revelations in Bob Woodward's latest book about secret operations launched in May 2006 to "locate, target, and kill individuals in extremist groups". The top intelligence adviser on these operations, Derek Harvey, told Woodward that the killings gave him orgasms. These were extra-judicial killings, with the Pentagon acting as judge, jury and executioner. The definition of "extremist" was stretched to include anyone named by an informant as a supporter of the Sunni insurgency, supported by an overwhelming majority of Sunnis.

During Vietnam, the Phoenix program, exposed as killing over 20,000 Vietcong suspects, was closed down after an outburst of ethical fury. In 2004, the Phoenix program's revival was recommended by Dr. David Kilkullen, described in the Washington Post as "chief adviser on counterinsurgency operations" to Gen. David Petraeus. Kilkullen advocated a "global Phoenix program" to combat global terror in a 2004 article in Small Wars Journal. He later reissued the article without the Phoenix label, having already described the Phoenix project as "unfairly maligned" and "highly effective." He also advocates applying "armed social science" against the "physical and mental vulnerabilities" of Iraqi detainees. He walks the streets of Washington today, widely accepted in the world of national security advisers. No one in that select establishment has ever criticised his writings.
Hayden isn't arguing that the horrible human rights situation we'll leave behind is a reason to stay longer than necessary. On the contrary, he's criticizing the pending pact for making it harder for Obama to implement his own withdrawal plan.

But he is arguing that the US should use its leverage during the withdrawal process to mitigate human rights abuses. And that simply turning over prisoners in US custody to the the Shi'a government without regard for their likely fates is a bad option.

The war cheeleaders back in 2002-3 told us this would be a cakewalk and that the US would cover itself with glory in this war. That's not what happened.

And nobody comes out of this entirely clean.

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