Mon. Jul 30, 2007
Reality Has No Politics
I alluded recently to a desire to write about Iraq, one that was squelched. But if there’s such a thing as “fog of war,” there is also a “fog of talk about war.”
Though there’s been some “mind changing” there’s still a lot of people so invested in their position on the war that rational argument left the building some time ago (that goes for the “pro” and the “con”), leaving a harsh fog. Plus some sticky smelly stuff on the ground that you can’t see because of the fog, and that’s just as well. Then throw in a wide open presidential campaign with more candidates than I have appendages. Mix in one President who has the ear of 28% of the country, and you have a recipe for talking about the war without really talking about the war.
I’d like to try and strip away the fog and sweep away the crap.
The first layer to peel off is the recriminations. In this one case, Bush is right; history will decide the wisdom of invading Iraq, and judge the competency of what followed. Already, a series of excellent books have been written on the topic (I recommend Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor).
So lets stipulate … whatever you believe is true. Because whatever you believe, it is irrelevant to what happens next.
Also, “The Surge.” It’s working. Or it’s not working. You tell me. But some other time, because it is also surprisingly irrelevant to what comes next. It is a perhaps necessary coda to this dirge, and may create some breathing space. But it is not some final battle that will bring victory or defeat. It will bring some breathing space for the Iraqi government to grab control and for us to draw down forces. Or just for us to draw down forces.
Next let’s strip off what is primarily a symptom of this presidential campaign. The candidates offer a range of plans, from “get the troops out, all of them, today,” to “support the President and his surge.” In addition, we hear rumblings about the administration stretching the surge out even further, and attempting to maintain current troop levels of 160,000 through the remainder of Bush’s term.
In my opinion, so much of it is just hot air. All of these proffered plans must deal with (1) the laws of physics, (2) the reality of US troop rotations, and (3) the chain of command.
- (1) The Laws Of Physics — When you hear someone say we must get the troops out today, all of them, you’re listening to someone not fully acquainted with the laws of physics. Experts are saying that it is logistically possible to withdraw perhaps two combat brigades per month (one brigade per month is more likely).
With this surge, there are 20 combat brigades currently in Iraq. You do the math. Also, add in well over 100,000 “civilian contractors,” and a few thousand employees of various US government agencies.
No one is going anywhere any time soon. That is a physical reality no policy can alter.
- (2) The Reality Of US Troop Rotations — On the other side of the coin, we have the question of just when do we start drawing down one combat brigade a month? And the alternate question, can Bush maintain these troop levels the rest of his term?
From what I’ve read in multiple places, come March/April of 2008, brigades will have to begin rotating home. Or, the administration will have to extend the already extended 15 month deployments to something like 18 months. In other words, come next spring, the Army and Marines will be on the verge of breaking from this strain, and there will be little choice but to begin a draw down.
- (3) The Chain of Command — I’m beginning to think the candidates on both sides should focus on telling us what they will do in January of 2009 if they take office. Not what we should do today or tomorrow. How they will clean up the mess they inherit in 18 months, and what they think it will look like at that time?
Because like it (28%) or not (72%), the choices of the next 18 months are going to be left to George Bush, who has already said he will stick to his guns even if only Laura and Barney support him. If nothing else is clear, we know that no amount of logic or pressure will sway Bush from his choices.
He’s the Decider. That is another physical reality no policy can alter, short of impeachment, and I think we all know the odds of that are slim.
Given the above, it seems to me there’s one Most Likely Scenario, and two Minor Variants.
Most likely, “the surge” will be continued through January, at which time some rationalization will be made it is time to end the surge and start drawing down our troop levels. Oh, say, March. We may be told it’s because we’re “winning.” It may be because we have begrudgingly admitted we can do nothing more in Iraq. No matter what you are told, the reality is it will be because of troop rotations hitting the wall next spring.
By the end of 2008, I think we will have drawn down from 160,000 to about 80,000 troops still in Iraq. They may be engaged in training Iraqi forces we once disbanded, chasing an Al Qaeda presence that did not exist prior to our arrival, or hunkering down in their bases while “ethnic cleansing” occurs around them. Who knows?
In January of 2009, some new President will take office, and what really happens to US policy in Iraq in the coming years will be up to them. We’re pretty much on a very noisy autopilot until that time.
In my dry cynical outlook, that’s the reality. It has nothing to do with my desires. It has nothing to do with the desires of the Iraqi people, nearly 20% of whom have been “displaced” from their homes in the past few years.
It has nothing to do with international obligations, or US image abroad, or even simple morality. Those items were broken and removed from the field of play some time ago.
That’s just the way this ugly string is physically going to play out, relatively soon. It’s time everyone admitted it. Because the first step is admission. Democrat or Republican, what you want to happen .. isn’t. What your candidate says they would do now, they can’t. Ask your candidates for 2008 what they are going to do when they take over. After hearing months of it from all of them, Pollyanna talk of what they would do “today” is just more hot air at this point.
A near certain reality is going to play out, and it is time everyone started dealing with it. Because there are important questions the next President will have to answer. What will you do with those 80,000 troops still in Iraq when you take office? What will their orders be in the face of genocide or ethnic cleansing? What if al-Maliki is ousted and new Iraqi leaders ally with Iran? What will our forces do then?
There’s a lot of important issues to be discussed about our future in Iraq. Very few of them are, because they are covered in the fog of this wide-open epic-length Presidential campaign, as well as the emissions of an administration that has rarely shot straight with us on Iraq and seems primarily focused on their own propaganda. The media can’t see past September … or Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, or the latest psychic death cat.
It also doesn’t matter what Gen. Petraeus says before Congress in September, except as another Act in this interminable play. The broad strokes of the final act seem plain to me. Gen. Petraeus can’t order up more troops, or keep the number he has past spring. The rest is bunting and blather.
Oh, those two “Minor Variants”? One is the chance that the Bush administration decides to attack Iran, oh, say, next spring. They then would argue “war” means all deployments must be extended everywhere. The second Minor Variant is that some breach so egregious no one can ignore is uncovered and the Bush administration literally goes under. Off the top of my head, I’d say the odds are at least a 15% chance of variant one, and at most a 5% chance of variant two.
But about 80% chance, most likely, the next President isn’t going take office with a world largely at peace and a domestic economy with a slight limp, as Bush did. They are going to take over the remnants of two wars either lost or in the process of being lost and America’s image abroad in tatters.