Monday, September 10, 2007

Bottoms Up

All the way back in April 2006, I wrote:

"As a society, we're probably not ready to accept that a three state solution is now the best outcome we can hope to retrieve in Iraq. But the good news, if you want to call it that, is that three states is where Iraq is heading whether we like it or not. We can always get behind it later. But the effort would be easier, more plausible, and probably less bloody if we did so now."

I've seen nothing since to persuade me that Iraq is heading anywhere other than into three separate states. The only thing that's changed is that the Bush administration now seems to have accepted the inevitable three-state outcome. Rather than calling it a "soft partition," though, as Democrat Joe Biden prefers, the favored Republican moniker is "bottom-up approach." Google the phrase and you'll see: BUA is the new Surge.

BUA refers to the strategy of bypassing Baghdad and cutting deals with warlords -- sorry, make that "tribal leaders." Today, the Bush administration describes BUA as a way to put Iraq back together, but the rhetoric is as much a figleaf as the BUA moniker itself. Logically, arming, supplying, and otherwise cementing the power and patronage of warlords will calcify Iraq's de facto division, not reverse it.

Which is a good thing, by the way. As I've argued before, Iraq is breaking up anyway. It's hard to see how fighting the inevitable will lessen the pain.

A few predictions:

As ethnic cleansing continues in Baghdad's mixed neighborhoods, we'll see a lower incidence of sectarian killings. The Bush administration will credit the Surge and the BUA with the ease in sectarian violence, rather than acknowledging that the ease is largely the result of a successful campaign of ethnic cleansing. Indeed, General Patraeus and Ambassador Crocker's testimony to Congress this week is part of a campaign intended to conflate correlation (by certain measures, sectarian violence is down; there's also a Surge and a BUA) with causality (violence is down *because* of the Surge and the BUA).

Speaking of the general and the ambassador, after hearing their report, you might be tempted to ask: What was the big deal? "We're making progress, it's a tough fight, we need to reassess in March '08." Did anyone expect Patraeus and Crocker to say anything else?

Of course not. But remember, beyond obfuscation, the purpose of this report wasn't substantive; it was to create another milestone to eat up time. How many times in the last six months did President Bush avoid a question about Iraq by responding, "Let's just see what General Patraeus has to say in September..."

Well, now we know (as though we didn't know then). General Patraeus would like to get back to us in... six months. Any guesses about what his report will consist of then?

(It all reminds me of that child's prank, the sheet of paper that says on the front, "How do you keep an idiot occupied? Turn over." With an identical message on the back.)

The question to ask at this point is: how and to what extent can a continued US presence ease Iraq's division into three. I hope that despite the posturing, the ego protection, and the obfuscation, at least some of our policymakers and military leadership are asking it. A lot of lives hang in the balance.


Jessica B. Burstrem said...

I hate to be pessimistic - I'm tired of it - but what can policymakers and military leadership do anymore? Whatever laws are passed in Congress, President Bush can attach to it a statement changing it or interpreting it however he chooses - or veto it altogether, as he's had no qualms doing either. Even subpoenas are meaningless to him. I suspect that he'd even laugh in the face of an impeachment, and for some inexplicable reason, no one else in government seems willing to take a stand against him - perhaps because the American public doesn't realize into how dangerous a situation we've gotten ourselves, not least because it's just not as interesting as a large-breasted young woman breaking the law. And whoever has attempted to take a stand against him has lost his or her job, career, and credibility forever. It's horrifying if I think about it for very long. Fortunately, I'm an American, so I'll be saved by a large-breasted drug addict soon.

David Terrenoire said...

Jessica is right. It doesn't matter what anyone else says or does. Bush believes what he wants to believe and nothing will sway him from the opinion that he is right.

At this point he's just playing out the clock until it becomes someone else's failure.

Jim Winter said...

How much do you want to bet that, by the end of primary season, the leading heirs apparent will be doing some backroom note comparisons formulating a plan to get out, if not with a clear victory, then without the last helicopter leaving Baghdad with Shi'a clinging to its rails.

They all want to be president, but they're all (even Rudy. Don't kid yourself.) afraid of becoming President Nixon, even if the eventually winner is not likely to have 18 missing minutes of tape or a plan for a third-rate burglary.

Spy Scribbler said...

I, too, am holding my breath until our Mad King George leaves office.

I would love to add something thoughtful, but to be honest, the whole situation just makes me sick to my stomach. I'm glad to read your blog again, though! Is welcome back appropriate, even though it's your blog, LOL?

Oblivious to oblivion said...

Perhaps you should have started your blog “"As a society, we're probably not ready to accept that the surge in Iraq, lead by Gen. David Petraeus, has had a measurable success.” I mean, that there has been any kind of measurable success in Iraq, that the military surge has been [and is] working, must be a very bitter pill for you all to swallow.

Any kind of partitioning or separating of Iraq is no more significant than the state lines between Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. "Soft partitions" maybe – but still separate states (with their own governments) that answer to a higher national government.

And as for the military cutting deals with the local Sheiks – what’s the problem? Your referring to them as “warlords,” though perhaps accurate by western standards, is a cultural slap in the face. Logically, arming, supplying, and otherwise cementing the power and patronage of the local Sheiks is pushing the locals towards self reliance – where they have no need to rely upon the U.S. Military or al Qaeda for the security and welfare of their own people. Is this not direction we want them to go in? I should note that this obvious move in the right direction suffered an enormous blow today when Sheik Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, leader (a guy you refer to as a warlord) of the Anbar Salvation Council, (also known as the Anbar Awakening — an alliance of clans backing the Iraqi government and U.S. forces) was assassinated. As it is, this could be a huge setback for U.S. efforts in Iraq, because it sends a message to others who are cooperating with coalition forces or thinking about cooperating against al-Qaida. Two steps forward, one step back – war is hell.

As for your predictions, I think it’s rather bold of you to say that the ease in sectarian violence is “largely the result of a successful campaign of ethnic cleansing.” Really? And the significant drop in U.S. Soldier fatalities and casualties over all is due to…? Again, you just can’t accept any type of success in Iraq, which makes me wonder if any of you even WANT to see success in Iraq.

Gen. Petraeus told reporters Wednesday that a friend from his hometown sent him a copy of the poem "If" the day a critical newspaper ad came out accusing him of "cooking the books" on the troop cuts for the White House. In a play on words, the ad offered the rhyme: "General Petraeus or General Betray Us." Asked about the criticism on Wednesday, Petraeus said he still is carrying the poem with him. The first few lines of the poem, which Kipling wrote while living in the secluded English countryside after the death of his daughter Josephine early in the 20th century, seem fitting:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

Petraeus then said, "I have no idea where the debate will go from here in the U.S. I got to get back to my day job, and I'm actually looking forward to it.” And I would too, if I were in his shoes – getting away from all the mud and muck of politically driven remarks made by armchair quarterbacks who have no military experience whatsoever would be high on my list of things to do.

The surge is working and you all need to have more patience.