Friday, June 08, 2007

Iraq 4Ever

Finally a bit of comprehension from a mainstream media source.

Just how long is the issue of the day in Iraq-obsessed Washington. And frighteningly, no one seems more confused about the plan than Bush himself. In two separate appearances in the last week, he alternately invoked last fall’s Baker-Hamilton report—which envisioned a substantial pullout by early 2008—and America’s South Korea occupation, which has been a robust front-line presence for more than 50 years. Which is it?

Neither, as it turns out. The Washington commentariat has suggested recently that Bush seems ready to pronounce the imminent end of his “surge,” which by several accounts has failed both to secure large parts of Baghdad and, on a more strategic level, to prod the still-paralyzed Iraqi government to govern. “I would like to see us in a different configuration at some point in time in Iraq,” the president said at a Rose Garden news conference on May 24. So is he talking about a “Plan B?” he was asked. “Actually, I would call that a plan recommended by Baker-Hamilton, so it would be a Plan B-H,” the president joked.

In fact Bush has no intention of going back to Baker-Hamilton, says a senior White House official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the record. Sure, he’s paying a lot more lip service to its recommendations, partly in an effort to gain new bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill after the White House’s successful effort to thwart a Democrat-led withdrawal plan. But one of the central recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton report called for a dramatic consolidation of the U.S. presence onto a handful of large bases like Balad. There, U.S. air units and special ops would mainly focus on killing Al Qaeda and leave the Iraqis more or less to their own devices. A long-term presence at Balad is still part of the plan—it always was—but the White House official told NEWSWEEK this week that the Baker-Hamilton panel misunderstood the mission. “What Baker-Hamilton didn’t get right is the military feasibility of doing anti-Al Qaeda missions based primarily on special forces operations,” he told me. “That isn’t feasible because Al Qaeda is so entrenched in the population.” When the National Intelligence Estimate “gamed this out,” he said, it concluded that sectarian violence was now so out of control that to allow Shiite reprisals to occur while the Americans remained hunkered down on their bases would only fuel support among the Sunnis for Al Qaeda, which would grow even more entrenched. Hence the surge’s effort to rein in Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and other chief culprits.


The upshot is there really is no Plan B, or Plan B-H, or indeed anything coherent. The goal is Baker-Hamilton’s “end-state,” but without the training up of Iraqis that would allow the recommended pullout to happen by March 2008. It’s the South Korean occupation without the truce, or a status-of-forces pact. It’s just Iraq, in other words— a quagmire that is as resistant to solutions as ever.

While there are other reasons, the main reason we stay in Iraq is because of the vanities of incompetent people.