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It's Still Our War

Below, down there in italics, is what I wrote just about a year ago on the subject of the surge, under the title "It's Our War." At the time I knew nothing of the Anbar awakening that has been a major boon to our military and political efforts. In another post I compared the odds of success to the odds of hitting a single number in roulette: not impossible, but long.

The surge has clearly worked. It has reduced casualties, and it has given us some breathing room. But we have not achieved our strategic goals. Iraq is no closer to being a model for the rest of the middle east. On the contrary, at this point it is a cautionary tale for those in the middle east who have advocated democracy. A somewhat benign authoritarianism like Jordan's seems a safer bet for most middle easterners.

But, that may change. Iraq may get its act together. If so it will be thanks to the savagery of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which ignited the awakening; thanks to the surge; and thanks to general Petraeus.

Why am I leaving Mr. Bush out? Because you're not a hero for picking up the pieces of the vase you broke.

Anyway, one year ago:

George W. Bush is mulish, shallow, close-minded, incurious, incapable of self-examination or self-criticism. He is ignorant of the constitution and indifferent to his oath to defend it. He's divisive, mean and destructive. He's out of his depth. He has lousy judgment. He's been a disaster. He is an awful president. I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw his lying, delusional vice-president.

But . . .

The Iraq War, while very much "Mr. Bush's war," is also ours. We are responsible for the outcome because in a democracy we are responsible for having put this dolt in the White House not once but twice. It's an American war, and we're Americans, so we own it.

So set aside Mr. Bush. Set aside the yammering jackasses who've offered him uncritical support as he dug the hole we're now in. Set aside the absolutely justifiable contempt you may have for Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, the GOP, Fox News, the nitwit enablers of the Rightosphere, and ask yourself what the United States should do right now in Iraq.

If your answer is "Get the hell out," I can absolutely understand that. You're not crazy or unpatriotic for reaching that conclusion. This war has been a fiasco. And there is nothing wrong with concluding that we should stop sending men to have their faces blown off in a futile attempt to salvage Mr. Bush's folly.

But I would make this point: the new strategy (okay, half-new) we are pursuing in Baghdad is not a stupid strategy. It is highly unlikely to succeed, but it is not stupid. It's a micro version of the strategy we should have pursued four years ago.

The new strategy is, in effect, the old "take, hold and build," but with the addition of perhaps enough (barely, maybe) to actually do some "holding." Mr. Bush and his generals have not doubled-down on stupidity for once. Instead, driven by desperation and left with no alternative, they've actually reached a rational approach to this war. Probably too late.

Mr. Bush has been driven to this new strategy by the voters, by the Democratic Party, and by GOP critics like Mr. McCain and Mr. Hagel. The critics made this change in policy possible. Mr. Bush's enablers did their best to keep us on the path to defeat. We, the rational and patriotic war critics of all parties, can claim credit for this change: having long rejected deadlines Mr. Bush has now wielded an implicit deadline to bully Mr. Maliki into whatever cooperation he's going to give. The president's enablers have rejected the very sorts of threats and deadlines Mr. Bush is now relying on, and have just as vociferously rejected the very sort of increase in manpower that Mr. Bush is now deploying.

So the point has been made and won by the president's honest critics. The White House has effectively conceded that we needed a firmer hand with Maliki, and more boots on the ground. Yes, too little. Yes, probably too late. But this is the best we can do right now. Yes, yes, it's Mr. Bush's fault that we didn't increase the size of the military and so we find ourselves in this bind, but nevertheless, this is what we can do right now.

The surge doesn't make grand, cosmic, transcendent sense, but down here in the deep hole Mr. Bush dug for us it's as close as we can get to anything that might conceivably salvage this hideous situation.

It is our war. The Iraqi civil war that would almost certainly follow withdrawal would be in part our fault, those deaths on our hands. We can't escape moral responsibility just by pointing an accusing finger at the fool we elected to the presidency. Just as win, lose or draw we won't be able to escape the responsibility for soldiers in coffins and marines in wheelchairs. It's all on us. That's the deal with democracy. It's still our war.

We'll know within a couple of months whether this is going to work. Look for whether we are shooting Shiites or only Sunnis. Look for whether ethnic cleansing is continuing apace. Look for Muqtada to start screaming and threatening -- if he doesn't, if he's okay with all this then we're being played. Don't just look at casualty figures, see whether those casualties are Iraqi army as well as US. If more GI's than Iraqi troops are dying, we're being played.

But give it a couple of months.

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“It's Still Our War”

  1. Blogger kreiz1 Says:

    Really liked your piece a year ago-prescient indeed.

    You're right about both things- the surge has created a bit of breathing room (though no one's taken advantage of it) and there's still no light or prospect of light at the tunnel's end. The GOP's indefinite commitment to the occupation won't endear it to 08 voters, even if the casualty levels remain low. Nearly 5 years into it and at enormous cost, we're still looking for a way out. Guess we can always wipe the dust off of 'peace with honor'... it worked 35 years ago.