Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Long Road To Losing in Iraq

[At Union Square a couple weeks ago, a candlelight vigil for the troops in Iraq. Photo by Sam Lewis.]

Dueling banjos, singing of war: tell me, which is a more revealing piece on Iraq, the NY Times' Baghdad-based A-hed or the Washington Post's Washington-focused A-hed?

I cut out the NY Times feature, detailed maps included, and posted it on my wall. Unfortunately, I couldn't do the same with the Washington Post article because I read it online.

I hardly even planned to get into the Iraq coverage today. The debates have been nauseating. Between reports on the dire state of Iraq's parliament and security forces, Bush's photo op in Anbar Province and John McCain and Hillary Clinton's assertions, using the same report, that both success and failure are probable in Iraq, I lost faith that our government can do much but bicker.

The debate, I think, ignores something crucial: Our management of the war in Iraq is an absolute shambles. It's not the fault of General Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker--it is the result of running an immensely complicated war in an atmosphere of politics and sound-bytes.

With every success, there is a setback. We're focusing on a parliament that couldn't form a quorum at the beginning of the surge and we're aching for the passage of a bill about sharing oil, even though Iraqis lack basic infrastructure and necessities. All the while, one side of Americans points to Anbar as the answer to the war (despite the growing Sadr movement) and another complains that we need to begin a withdrawal.

And as much as Bush has said we have, we have not maintained the commitment to improve Iraqis' lives. Our post-war plan materialized a year and a half after the post-war began. We don't have enough troops to have a presence on the streets, or enough funds to contribute to a nation-wide, multi-billion dollar project of reconstruction. We haven't assisted over two million refugees in any significant way. And last week, the U.S. military dismissed the cases of troops responsible for the Haditha massacre.

Next week, when Petraeus and Crocker report their post-surge assessments to Congress, we're undoubtedly going to look at troop numbers again. Petraeus has said that he doesn't want to pull soldiers out of Iraq--which is no surprise, because a low troop level would encourage failure in any future strategic endeavor. But he has considered withdrawing about 4,000 troops. Is he joking? That's a tiny sliver of over 20,000 troops who are already set to withdraw by the end of this year.

We are in a graduated stage of quitting, you see. So why don't we forgo the talk of surging, withdrawing and timelining, face the tragic reality, and just plain quit?

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