Friday, August 22, 2008

The Iraq War and the American election

It's hard to know exactly what to make of the troop withdrawal timetable that the Cheney-Bush administration is negotiating with the Shi'a-dominated, pro-Iranian Iraqi government, which Wonky Muse described in a post yesterday. It seems like to me that Maliki's Shi'a government and their close friends and allies in Iran have decided that the Shi'a government in Iraq is strong enough to survive without a large-scale American combat presence. Or, at least, that the US effectiveness in fighting the Sunni opposition has become less effective than Maliki and his Shi'a supporters want to see occurring.

There are still huge flash-points, including the crackdown that seems to be underway by Maliki's government against those famous "Sons of Iraq" groups (aka, Awakening Councils) with which the US allied to fight some of the hardcore Qutbist Salafi ("Al Qa'ida in Iraq") militias. The Iraqi government denies they are behind it, claiming the crackdown is being carried out by some rogue death squad. Much larger clashes of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk sound virtually inevitable. And a lot is riding on how soon the postponed provincial elections are held, which could very well increase the political strength of Muqtada al-Sadr's JAM (Mahdi Army) in a big way.

On the American side, some part of this could be political scamming with an eye to the fall election. After all, it's a well-established tradition in this particular long war within Bush's larger Long War that in the fall, we start hearing about how great things are going, so much that we should be able to significantly reduce US troops levels in Iraq by the end of next year. It's kind of a standard ritual.

In 2003, the neocon daydream believers in the Pentagon planned to reduce the troops to around 30,000 (not counting mercenaries) by the end of 2003. That was back when we were still the all-powerful Superpower who could replace unfriendly regimes like pieces on a chessboard. Before Bush completely destroyed the world as we know it, to steal Bob Somerby's inspired phrase. Today, the non-mercenary US troop level in Iraq is around 140,000. Pretty much the same as what it was before that legendary event The Surge, which Maverick McCain of the Many Houses constantly tells us was so brilliantly successful.

On the success of The Surge Juan Cole writes in his Informed Comment post of 08/22/08:

The Shiite government of al-Maliki is mounting a campaign to arrest hundreds of leaders in the Awakening Council movement among Sunni Arabs, which the US military created and paid for as a way of getting Iraqis to fight fundamentalist radicals ("al-Qaeda"). Although the McCain camp confuses the temporary troop escalation of 2007-2008 and the Awakening Council policy, in fact they were two different tracks. Other observers have argued that neither was as important as the massive ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods in Baghdad and elsewhere, in leading to a reduction of civilian deaths (no one left to kill of the other sect in a lot of neighborhoods). The big question is whether al-Maliki can keep the peace in Sunni Arab neighborhoods without the assistance of the Awakening Councils.
Charles Babingon of the Wire Service That Must Not Be Named reports in Analysis: Iraq deal hovers over campaign TPM 08/22/08 that Obama is saying about the timetable negotiations, "They are working on a plan that looks, lo and behold, like the plan that I've been advocating. I will encourage the administration to move forward with it."

(Babington also quotes even-the-liberal Michael O'Hanlon offering the faint praise, "At this point, Obama looks a little less reckless than he might have a few months ago." Babington writes that O'Hanlon "once backed Obama". I wonder if that's true. Or is the former-Obama-backer O'Hanlon kind of like the former-opponent-of-the-Iraq-War O'Hanlon? Because O'Hanlon has backed the Iraq War all along.)

Now, I haven't obsessed over the timing of Obama's statements on this. If that were all he were saying, I would worry that he had adopted John Kerry's weirded-out position on Meet the Press a couple of weeks ago: vote for Obama because he agrees with Bush on the Iraq War!

I continue to think that drawing a contrast between his position and McCain's on this incredibly unpopular war is one of his strongest selling points. And if he fails to do that, McCain's going to wind up convincing some of those lower-information swing voters that he's the peace candidate on the Iraq War. In fact, I saw somewhere that the Reps were billing his appearance night at the Republican Convention as Peace Night. I suppose we should be grateful in the larger sense that the Reps still feel the need to set aside the worship of Ares for at least one evening and pretend to be seeking a peaceful foreign policy.

I'm even more grateful to see that Obama's position is actually stronger than that, taking credit for pushing Bush to a more realistic position and still drawing a contrast between himself and Bush and between himself and McCain. The talented Spencer Ackerman writes about this at his Attackerman blog in Are You Gonna Go My Way? 08/22/08:

He quotes from Obama's official statement today on the reported deal being developed, in which Obama says:

I am glad that the Administration has finally shifted to accepting a timetable for the removal of our combat troops from Iraq. Success in Iraq depends on an Iraqi government that is reconciling its differences and taking responsibility for its future, and a timetable is the best way to press the Iraqis to do just that. I welcome the growing convergence around this pragmatic and responsible position. ...

Senator McCain has stubbornly focused on maintaining an indefinite U.S presence in Iraq, but events have made his bluster and record increasingly out of touch with reality. While Senator McCain continues to offer unconditional military and economic support for Iraq, I strongly believe that we need to use our leverage with the Iraqi government to ensure a political settlement. In addition to a timetable, we should only train Iraqi Security Forces if Iraq's leaders reconcile their differences, and we must insist that Iraq invests its $79 billion surplus on rebuilding its own country. It's time to succeed in Iraq and to honor the sacrifice of our servicemen and women by leaving Iraq to a sovereign Iraqi government.

Ending the war in Iraq responsibly is in the broader strategic interests of the United States. It's long past time to drawdown our troop presence and to stop spending $10 billion a month in Iraq so that we can increase resources for the mission in Afghanistan, rebuild our military, and invest in our struggling economy at home. (my emphasis)
That's a much, much bettter position that hey, you should vote for me because now Bush and I agree on Iraq. I want to hear versions of that every week, preferably every day, between now and the election. Except for the increasing resources "for the mission in Afghanistan". Oy vey!

McCain is full of bluster and out of touch with reality. Good one! Define the nasty old warmonger for what he is.

As far as the substance of the withdrawal deal, though, it may not be much more than the ritual fall withdrawal kabuki in the making, timed to peak near the election. But since the Maliki government we installed in Baghdad is such a close ally of Iran, it's very possible that this Iraqi government could turn against the US, especially when McCain starts a war with their Iranian allies.

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"It is the logic of our times
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