Monday, April 30
In defense of timetables.
Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to . . . something something.
It's kind of ironic, I guess, that exactly four years to the day after our Mission was declared Accomplished by the president, he finds himself embroiled in a debate that mainly serves to remind all of us just how un-Accomplished it in fact is. Some might call that "karma," but that would be looking to the past, and I'm interested in looking to the future for a little bit. What if, rather than surrendering or declaring defeat, the Democrats' plan for a pullout timetable was actually the only real way to win in Iraq?
First of all, since I know individual opinions of what constitutes "winning" in Iraq could be as varied as snowflakes, let me tell you what my ideal situation is: My ideal situation involves an Iraq with a stable democratic government that can run its own legislative affairs and its own defenses -- and can do so by itself, without requiring a single American soldier on hand for any of it. That's not so wacky, you might be saying. And obviously I think you're right, but I think my scenario does sound wacky to a lot of the neocons in the Bush administration, because I think their intention from the get-go has been to rebuild Iraq as a forward operating base where our troops will be stationed in perpetuity. The fact that our "phased pullout" from Saudi Arabia began almost simultaneously with the invasion of Iraq is not, I think, a coincidence, and there's plenty of other evidence to indicate that our presence in Iraq is not something the Pentagon is in any hurry to end.
And I think even the most ardent supporters of Bush's Iraq policy, to the extent that he has one, would have to admit that he has taken a decidedly open-ended attitude toward our troop presence there, particularly as it relates to the Iraqi government. Obviously he hasn't given any indication of a date when our troops might be able to come home, and it doesn't even seem like anyone in the administration is leaning on the Maliki government particularly hard to take control of their own military and their own defense. That hands-offness has brought us to a point where Maliki is now actually purging security officials who are policing Shiite militias too aggressively.
How can Maliki get away with doing stuff like that, particularly at a time when the rest of his military is languishing in incompetence and disarray? Simple: Because the Bush administration has let him. Bush hasn't given any indication that U.S. troops are going to be leaving anytime soon, and he certainly hasn't exercised a lot of oversight over the Maliki government in terms of holding them to some of the goals that supposedly have been set, so as far as Maliki is concerned, he can just sit back and let the American troops do the dirty work for as long as he wants; he has been given absolutely no incentive to do otherwise. You'd think that the Bush administration would be upset about this, but apparently they're not. And again, it fits into the idea of the U.S. troop presence as being more or less permanent.
One way or another, someone's going to have to light a fire under the collective ass of Maliki's inner circle and get them to put some actual muscle behind the development of the national government and the training of the Iraqi defense forces. Bush doesn't appear much interested in doing so; in fact, the Pentagon has just de-prioritized the training of Iraqi troops. So maybe we're just at a point where someone's going to have to set a date. People on the right may look at a timetable as a "surrender," as a date until which the insurgents can officially stop waiting us out, but when you frame the debate in those terms, what alternative is there other than keeping our troops in Iraq forever? And if we don't give the Maliki government some kind of indication as to when we expect them to get their shit together, what makes us think they're ever going to do it?
Look, I'm not someone who considers the Democratic timetable plan a perfect option; anyone who thinks there are any perfect options left at this point is pretty much kidding themselves. Maybe you can quibble with precisely when they're saying we should have the troops out of the country (or at least out of the most violent central region). But when someone says that pulling the troops out of Baghdad would leave the region open to violence and chaos, I have to ask them, just exactly what the hell is going on there now? How much worse can things get, really? Why should we be forcing our military to chase their own tails in the midst of someone else's civil war when we could move them to the northern Kurdish territory where they could do some good -- keeping a closer eye on the Iranian border, perhaps? And given the choice between forcing the Iraqi government to confront this and letting them skate, shouldn't we be leaning toward the former?
I mean, if what you want is a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq, then come right out and say that. Certainly you wouldn't be the only one. But I think you'd also be in a definite minority, because the American public was sold on a quick, easy, fairly sacrifice-free invasion of Iraq, and if current public opinion is any indication, they've gotten pretty sour at the fact that that didn't happen. If we're ever going to start clearing a path for our troops to come home, then at some point we're going to have to tell Maliki and his government that the time has come to either shit or get off the pot. And again, while the Democrats' plan for doing that may not necessarily be perfect, they seem to be the only ones who are even looking in that direction at this point. It's time for Bush to ask himself whether he's going to sack up and actually hold Maliki to account for anything, or whether he's going to allow himself to be remembered as the president who slunk off with his tail between his legs and did everything he could to make sure he could dump the Iraq problem off on the next guy.
ADDED: Good freaking Lord. The irony . . . is . . . killing . . . me.