Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Surge of Illusion

Up until a month ago, President Bush and his spokespeople were pronouncing “The Surge” of American troops into Iran over this past year “a success.” The proof: Iraqi and American death statistics during this period have been down cumulatively. Less deaths = more success. That was the yardstick.

Then, Premier al-Maliki (our staunch ally?) unilaterally decided to play Iraqi macho-man. With no consultation or notice to American troop leaders, he decided to storm into Basra and Sadr City to disarm Shiite militiamen and bring those areas under central government control. His tool for this ill-planned endeavor was the much-heralded “new Iraqi army,” a principal multi-year focus of our $25B security force building project. From this incursion, Iraqi killing spiked yet again. In his best Bush-speak, we were now told that “increased violence shows the success of the surge and our efforts, because it demonstrates the Iraqi government’s willingness and ability to enforce security within the country.” Violence is Progress! What?

Except the funniest thing happened on the way to Basra. Many Shiite army and police force members deserted, unwilling to attack their kindred. Moreover, the militiamen defended themselves well. The Iraqi army ― they who are supposed to “stand up so we can stand down” ― blew it, unable to win the battle and disarm the militiamen. The un-consulted US had to be brought in after the fact to provide air power and weaponry to protect the Iraqi army stuck in their tracks. The army stalled, objective un-won. And we had to create a spin to make it all sound OK.

The objective was for a well-equipped and organized “army” to overpower and eliminate the cleric al-Sadr’s street militia. To remove a powerbase threat to the installed Bagdad government. But the fighting stopped only when al-Maliki made a pitch to Iran’s leaders to intercede in the conflict (which they happily did) and when al-Sadr (not the official government) offered to institute a truce. Only winners can declare a truce, not losers; the fighting stopped only because al-Sadr decreed it.

The whole exercise eerily resembled Israel’s incursion into Lebanon awhile back. A dominant military force invaded to disarm and neutralize a loose street militia, only to be ground down and neutralized itself. Thereby diminishing Israeli prowess and dispelling the aura of invincibility that is in itself a key to its defense. As a result, legitimacy and authority was given to the very force Israel set out to destroy. Lebanon has been stuck with and paralyzed ever since by political disruption from this new legitimized power within its border. Likely Iraq will now be similarly disrupted, forced to acknowledge openly that the real cardholder in Iraq is not the fantasy government in Bagdad. The real power is al-Sadr and the other tribal chieftains. Saddam Hussein understood that there is no natural indigenous “country” of Iraq; it existed only through the brute force of his terror towards the people themselves. (See also the People’s Republic of China.)

So General Petraeus continues to masterfully try to fight a war that will ultimately destroy him. He marches up to Capital Hill for his latest briefing to Congress, a report essentially pre-scripted by the word signals already issued by Bush/Cheney. He says, in words / pictures / graphs, “the surge has been a success.” But we can’t leave because it would all fall apart. And if we stay, “the gains are all very fragile” and could disappear in a flash. We lose whichever way we go. This is not how most of us would define “success.”

Violence in Iraq has been reduced not because of The Surge provided by our young military men and women. It is down because al-Sadr and other chieftains have opted to pull back and protect their resources and turfs, expel the al-Qaida outsiders who threaten their control, and then bide their time waiting for their moment to come. The outcome of Iraq is not in our hands. Nor is it in the hands of the illusionary government in Bagdad ― an empty empire with a king who has been shown to wear no regal clothes.

Yet just after general Petraeus’s testimony, Bush-speak says that we are witnessing a “brilliant turnaround” in Iraq. Have the garden’s rose bushes completely covered the windows of the White House? Through what bizarre colored lens does this President see? And is anyone listening to him anymore? The only “brilliance” that I can see is the decision to “turnaround” and come home. Let be what is ultimately going to be anyway.