Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Strange fruit

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Today’s LA Times’ top of the page news analysis has the basic “strategy” of the stay-the-course talk you are hearing this week from Gen. David Petraeus and his White House puppet masters pretty much pegged:

The talk in Washington on Monday was all about troop reductions, yet it also brought into sharp focus President Bush's plans to end his term with a strong U.S. military presence in Iraq, and to leave tough decisions about ending the unpopular war to his successor.

The plans outlined by the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, would retain a large force in the country -- perhaps more than 100,000 troops -- when the time comes for Bush to move out of the White House in January 2009.

And the NY Times editorial board was none too impressed, either:

For months, President Bush has been promising an honest accounting of the situation in Iraq, a fresh look at the war strategy and a new plan for how to extricate the United States from the death spiral of the Iraqi civil war. The nation got none of that yesterday from the Congressional testimony by Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. It got more excuses for delaying serious decisions for many more months, keeping the war going into 2008 and probably well beyond.

. . . .

The headline out of General Petraeus’s testimony was a prediction that the United States should be able to reduce its forces from 160,000 to 130,000 by next summer. That sounds like a big number, but it would only bring American troops to the level that were in Iraq when Mr. Bush announced his “surge” last January. And it’s the rough equivalent of dropping an object and taking credit for gravity.

That’s because US military forces cannot sustain current levels in Iraq past early Spring without precipitously undermining the capabilities of the Army and Marines. By ‘round about the time of the Republican National Convention next Summer, US troop levels in Iraq will roughly resemble the pre-2007 escalation totals—and Republican candidates up and down the ticket will claim that President Bush has brought us closer to “victory” in Iraq.

While several other editorials also recognize this “kick the can” strategy, it is a much-touted tactic—the arming of Sunni warlords in Anbar Province (which, in truth, started months before Bush announced his “surge”—and was actually proposed by the Sunnis three years before that)—that is providing the White House and wingnuts, alike, with the political cover necessary to keep WINOs (wobblers in name only) and the beltway pundit class in line.

Well, almost. Take a gander at noted conservative beltway insider George Will’s Washington Post column. Will is also unambiguously unimpressed with the Bush administration’s September policy roll-out, but—his declaration of improving security aside (how can it be “real” if it is mismeasured?)—it is his assessment of what lies beneath this “improvement” that bears special attention:

First, measuring sectarian violence is problematic: The Post reports that a body with a bullet hole in the front of the skull is considered a victim of criminality; a hole in the back of the skull is evidence of sectarian violence. But even if violence is declining, that might be partly because violent sectarian cleansing has separated Sunni and Shiite communities. This homogenization of hostile factions -- trained and armed by U.S. forces -- may bear poisonous fruit in a full-blown civil war.

Got that? Homogenized hostile factions “trained and armed by US forces” resulting in a “full-blown civil war.”

I know what you’re thinking—there is already a full-blown civil war playing out daily in Iraq—but think a bit more: imagine a full-blown civil war with each faction trained and armed by the US.

If Ambassador Ryan Crocker and his White House pals get their way, you won’t have to imagine too hard.

You heard on Monday, and will hear more and more in coming days, about the new new administration “strategy” (which, again, is really a tactic) of “bottom up” security in Iraq—and that “bottom up” tactic means arming sectarian and ethnic factions all across Iraq, just like the US military did in Anbar.

It is important now to note that the “23 tribes”—as administration hacks call them—that are now supposedly fighting alongside US troops in Anbar Province to help stamp out the nefarious forces we feel the political need to call “al-Qaeda in Iraq” have sworn allegiance to US military commanders, and not to any Iraqi national government. That there is no grand national “strategy” that can work with this Anbar tactic is evident on its face, but, furthermore, we must ask: what happens when this tactic begins to fail?

I say “when” and not “if” because I would like to go on record right now and say it will, in the long run, fail. It will fail if your goal is to build a strong, multi-ethnic, cross-sectarian government in Iraq; it will fail if your goal is to provide predictable and long-running security for US occupying forces.

Perhaps you are now wondering what could possibly make me so pessimistic after four-and-a-half years of Bush’s “victory strategy,” so, let me explain. If Ambassador Crocker’s proposal to expand the “bottom up” plan is to come to fruition, then (and this was more than implied) the US will have to also arm and train—and bribe—Shiite militias (or “tribes,” if you must) so that they, too, won’t try to kill Americans. The question of which Shiite faction we will choose to arm notwithstanding, what will the Sunni minority think when larger Shiite populations get even more arms and money to fight those that they (the Shiites) call enemies? Sooner or later, one faction or another will decide that some other group is getting a dangerously unfair slice of America’s largesse, and then, all bets are off.

Except my bet that this latest strategic tactic will be a bloody failure.

And the bet that it will be up to the next administration to try to mop up Bush’s bloody mess.

As I observed exactly three months ago, you reap what you sow. As George Will now knows, like Abel Meeropol did long ago, our harvest will be a strange, bitter, and shameful one.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos; thoughts on the anniversary of 9/11 over on guy2k)

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