Friday, February 22, 2008

Shifting Into Full "Get McCain Elected Mode" On The Iraq War

You never actually have to read past the headline to know what Charles Krauthammer is thinking, so today you read Democrats Dug In For Retreat and... nothing more needs to be said. (But that never seems to stop him.)

The column reflects Krauthammer's trademark mendacity, but probably highlights how McCain's supporters are going to try to depict the war in Iraq during the coming months. Never mind that it's another nine months before we will vote for the next President - plenty of time to see political progress based upon "the surge". Never mind that if there is real political progress within a year, the next President (of whatever party) will seek to build on that progress. No, under the Krauthammer model you rewrite history such that every missed benchmark for Iraq as set forth by Bush somehow becomes an artificial hurdle imposed by the Democrats. How absurd those Democrats are:
Democrats demand nothing less than federal-level reconciliation, and it has to be expressed in actual legislation.
To state the obvious, Democrats would see tremendous progress and cause for hope, even in the absence of federal level action, if there were an effective cessation of the armed conflict. Krauthammer, of course, promises no such thing - he is prepared to declare victory in the face of both the continuation of armed conflict and the failure of any progress in the formation of a national government. No benchmarks, no deadlines. Expecting measurable progress that suggests we could eventually reduce our troop forces or even withdraw? That's defeatist.

As the major newspapers love to remind us, they don't fact-check or edit editorials, so there's no check on Krauthammer-style mendacity. We don't have to look back very far to find the origins of the idea that progress in Iraq is marked by national reconciliation. The White House.
Today, President Bush gave an update to soldiers at Fort Jackson, S.C., on his September "Return on Success" speech and discussed some of the results of America's new strategy to win the fight in Iraq. Our new strategy in Iraq, including a surge in U.S. forces, has been fully operational for four months. This new strategy emphasizes securing the Iraqi population as the foundation for all other progress in the country; recognizes that once Iraqis feel safe they can begin to create jobs and opportunities; and builds on the idea that improvements in security will help the Iraqis achieve national reconciliation.
Which pretty much resolves the question of whether Krauthammer is ever going to let facts stand in the way of his opinions. As for this ridiculous expectation, foisted on us by our, um, Democratic President, Krauthammer continues,
The objection was not only highly legalistic but also politically convenient: Very few (including me) thought this would be possible under the Maliki government. Then last week, indeed on the day Cordesman published his report, it happened. Mirabile dictu, the Iraqi parliament approved three very significant pieces of legislation.
It was highly politically convenient to the Bush White House, because nobody thought that it could happen? Fascinating.
First, a provincial powers law that turns Iraq into arguably the most federal state in the entire Arab world. ... Second, parliament passed a partial amnesty for prisoners, 80 percent of whom are Sunni. Finally, it approved a $48 billion national budget that allocates government revenue - about 85 percent of which is from oil - to the provinces. Kurdistan, for example, gets one-sixth.
I think Krauthammer is being intentionally deceptive when he speaks of a single budget while ignoring total legislative gridlock over the division of oil revenues.
A law that could shape Iraq's future by clearing the way for investment in its oil fields is deadlocked by a battle for control of the reserves and no end to the impasse is in sight, lawmakers and officials say.
Also, the budget is not expected to improve the plight of individual Iraqis.

Okay... so what about the amnesty? An amnesty law will be progress, but once again we're discussing a law not yet approved or in effect (although it looks promising) and where it is not even clear how many people will benefit.
The measure would provide limited amnesty to detainees in Iraqi custody, although the precise number of people it would affect is not known. To become law, it must be signed by the other two members of the three-member presidency council: President Jalal Talabani and Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite.

"The vice president has no objections to the amnesty law, which will serve a big segment of detainees and convicted persons," a statement from his office said.

The measure excludes those held in U.S. custody and those imprisoned for a variety of crimes under Iraqi law, including terrorism, kidnapping, rape, antiquities smuggling, adultery and homosexuality.

It also excludes senior figures of the former Baath regime.

An amnesty law has been a key demand from the largest Sunni Arab bloc in parliament, and is widely seen as a significant step toward national reconciliation.

"Approving this law will be a big achievement for all Iraqi people and also for the Iraqi Accordance Front, because of all its efforts to get it passed in the parliament," said Sunni lawmaker Asmaa al-Dulaimi.

"But the most important thing is how this law will be implemented," which needs to be reliable and consistent, al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
So yes, if the law passes and if the Sunnis find its implementation sufficient, that's a positive step. I am wary - it was only a few weeks ago that the new legislation supposedly reversing de-Baathification was being ballyhooed as a clear sign of progress, yet now even Krauthammer has dropped it from his list.

Finally, we have a provincial powers law, calling for provincial elections to be held no later than October 1. If the Iraqis pull this off, as I previously suggested, we will have a clear indication of whether this constitutes progress in advance of our own November elections. (But perhaps this time we will avoid hubris over "purple fingers of freedom".) I've been a strong advocate of trying to create a toehold for democracy at the local level, not that anybody has cared to listen to my opinion, so in my book this type of action is coming about four-and-a-half years behind schedule.

But you can see why the idea has Krauthammer retreating, full speed, from the idea of national reconciliation.
It will allow, for example, the pro-American Anbar sheiks to become the legitimate rulers of their province, exercise regional autonomy and forge official relations with the Shiite-dominated central government.
That is, it could create the context for eventual national reconciliation through federal elections, or it could lead to a fractious nation (or nations) comprised of assorted sheikhdoms with private armies - a recipe for long-term instability. While Krauthammer is willing to define as success the idea of an Iraq that is "arguably the most federal state in the entire Arab world", that's pretty much the opposite of what the Bush Administration has advocated for the past five years. Perhaps Krauthammer should pick up the phone and ask one of his White House contacts why they don't share his glee over the failure of their policies.
Despite all the progress, military and political, the Democrats remain unwavering in their commitment to withdrawal on an artificial timetable that inherently jeopardizes our "very real chance that Iraq will emerge as a secure and stable state."
Hm... What "artificial timetable" would that be? One that apparently exists only within the confines of Krauthammer's imagination.

What alternate timetable does Krauthammer endorse? As I indicated, this is his pro-McCain pitch, and there's not one word challenging McCain's notion that, progress or not, we should be prepared to keep doing the same thing for the next century or more.
Imagine the transformative effects in the region, and indeed in the entire Muslim world, of achieving a secure and stable Iraq, friendly to the United States and victorious over al-Qaeda. Are the Democrats so intent on denying George Bush retroactive vindication for a war they insist is his that they would deny their own country a now-achievable victory?
Bush has a year to prove his strategy in Iraq before the next President either takes over to build on his successes - successes that Krauthammer concedes we have to "imagine" - or tries to mitigate the damage from his many, many failures. If Bush ends up, as I expect, with a legacy of failure and incompetence, he will have nobody to blame but himself.

1 comment:

  1. Michael Kinsley takes a look at what people like Krauthammer deem "victory":

    And consider how modest the administration's standard of success has become. Can there be any doubt that they would go for a reduction to 100,000 troops -- and claim victory -- if they had any confidence at all that the gains they brag about would hold at that level of support?

    Kinsley continues:

    The proper comparison isn't to the situation a year ago. It's to the situation before we got there. Imagine that you had been told in 2003 that when George W. Bush finished his second term, dozens of American soldiers and hundreds of Iraqis would be dying violently every month; that a major American goal would be getting the Iraqi government to temper its "debaathification" campaign so that Saddam Hussein's former henchmen could start running things again (because they know how); and that "only" 100,000 American troops would be needed to sustain this equilibrium.

    I agree with Kinsley to a point - it is fair to point out that by any reasonable measure, today's "best case scenario" betrays the failure of Bush's Iraq strategy.

    At the same time, if we can find a path to victory from this point forward, we should consider that possible path. And that can include comparisons to a year ago, if the comparison demonstrates that we are now on the right path.

    The problem with hacks like Krauthammer is that they never have any ideas - nor do they even think that they need any. It's enough to direct a "j'accuse" at anybody who is willing to state the obvious - that G.W., to the cheers of people like Krauthammer, has pulled us into a foreign policy debacle for which there is no obvious solution.

    Kinsley's conclusion, from the perspective of somebody at the outset of the war,

    You might have several words to describe this situation, but "success" would not be one of them.