Monday, April 09, 2007

Senator Kyl's upside-down view of the Iraq War

Senators Carl Levin (D–MI) and John Kyl (R–AZ) squared off on yesterday's ABC This Week with George Stephanopoulos over the issue of President Bush's request for supplemental appropriations for the Iraq War. Senator Kyl said some things that are just plain ass-backwards. First of all, he has a Pollyanna view of the political progress in Iraq. Beyond that, though, he has no understanding whatsoever of the nature of the conflict in Iraq.

When asked if it would be acceptable to keep the references to "benchmarks" for the Iraqi government in a second pass at the funding bill (eliminating the "date certain" for withdrawal, but keeping the idea that the Iraqis have to demonstrate that they are doing their part, too), Senator Kyl said, "No, absolutely not. First of all, it's premised on the notion that the Iraqis aren't listening to us. General Barry McCaffrey was over there, issued a long report, in which he said that the Iraqis are beginning to do the things that we've asked them to do. That same report has come back in many other forms; I was over there about a month ago: we saw the reactions of the Iraqis, they are cooperating with us, so that's 'old news' that they're not cooperating. That's one of the reasons this new surge strategy is working."

As Senator Levin pointed out, of the 17 "benchmarks" that the Iraqi government set for itself, to be met by 2007-01-31, only two were actually achieved. In most contexts, 12% is not considered a passing grade. The city of Baghdad itself is well along in the process of "de-Sunnification." De-Ba'athification is the term for removing former members of Saddam's Ba'ath Party from positions of authority in the government and military; de-Sunnification is straight-up ethnic cleansing. The overly harsh de-Ba'athification law imposed by the Coalition Provisional Authority has not been amended as needed, because the Shia factions have blocked it. The legislation to divide oil revenues was killed by the Shia. The so-called "central government" has authority that extends almost the length and breadth of the Green Zone — almost 1/400 of 1% of the national territory! There are a few other pockets of government control here and there, but it is more than a stretch to pretend it controls the whole country. Iraqi security forces are still divided along sectarian lines, and their allegiance to the national government is weaker than factional allegiances. The Iraqi government has thwarted the U.S. military's pursuit of Shia extremists; the lip service paid to factional neutrality has not yet translated into reality. Indeed, the notion that Iraq is making meaningful progress towards "national reconciliation" seems to be nothing more than a pipe dream.

Time and again, the United States and the Iraqi government have set targets. When those targets have not been met — not even close — the refrain has been the same, "Oh, but we're making progress! We're almost there!!" In the fall of 2006, the Iraqis set 17 goals to be achieved by 2007-01-31. Only 2 of the 17 goals were met. That's not "almost there." If you don't see that point, you probably shouldn't try out for Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?

The surge has been called a "whack-a-mole" game, with the intensified U.S. military presence quelling violence in one specific area, but with the violence simply springing up in another area with less vigorous suppression. The problem is that the extremists know full well that the Republican bluster about having the determination to stay "as long as it takes" is nothing more than empty rhetoric. Senator Kyl parroted the Republican talking points, saying, "When you send a message to the Iraqis that they need to do better, by withholding funds from our troops, you're also sending a message to our troops and to our enemies, who know that all they have to do is wait the conflict out. This is not the way to try to micromanage a war from the U.S. Senate."

"Our enemies" in Iraq already know that they can outwait us. The American people, with the exception of a few Republican die-hards, already know that the Iraqis can outwait us. The rest of the world already knows that the Iraqis can outwait us. So why do people like President Bush and Senator Kyl try so hard to pretend that the determination of the United States will outlast the determination of the Iraqis? It's nothing less than delusional. The American people are already fed up with this war and want out, yesterday if not sooner; Congress is finally giving voice to that overwhelming popular sentiment. The Iraqi insurgents are prepared to stay and fight for centuries, particularly since part of the conflict goes back almost 1,400 years. Do the math! Pretending that we can outlast the insurgents is like bluffing in open-hand poker.

As to the issue of managing the war, it's not "micromanaging" to say that we need to end the war. It is, in fact, the very definition of macromanaging. As is so often the case in Bushspeak, "up" means "down" and "black" means "white."

Senator Kyl did say one thing about the Iraq war that started out making sense: "The best way for [the United States] to be able to leave Iraq is to have a strategy that succeeds in stabilizing the country, so that the Iraqi government can maintain the security there," but he went on to blather, "and have a situation in which the Iraqi government and people support the United States in the war on terror. The political issues that have to be resolved, cannot be resolved in a situation of instability and violence; I think everybody agrees with that. Everybody also agrees that we have to have a political solution at the end of the day. But the answer is to create that stability so that the political compromises can be made."

The idea that the Iraqi people are going to "support the United States in the war on terror" can only be described as a drug-fueled hallucination. There are some respects in which the animosity is warranted, and other respects in which it is misplaced, but the fact remains that the United States must expect at least a generation of hostility from the people of Iraq; furthermore, the longer we remain in Iraq, the longer the animosity will last after we leave.

As to political compromises in an era of instability and violence, the flip side is that the instability and violence cannot be resolved in a situation in which the fundamental political compromises have not yet been established. Absence of violence isn't a prerequisite to political compromise; exactly the reverse! The political issues must be resolved in the midst of "instability and violence," or there is no hope for the Iraqi people — much less for American "success" in Iraq. Peace and stability are the building; political compromise is the cornerstone. If we don't understand that fundamental truth, we will be bogged down in Iraq forever.

There is certainly a "chicken and egg" feel to the problem: President Bush says that the United States will not withdraw from Iraq until it is stable, but Iraq will not be stable until the United States withdraws. It is difficult to craft political compromises in the middle of a war zone, but the violence will not end until those compromises are made.

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