Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Can't Stay, Can't Go

Michael Ware's reporting on Iraq is generally interesting, though he seems to be locked in a struggle with himself, simultaneously acknowledging that things can't continue like this even though they'll continue.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, clearly, there has been progress in this war. I mean, the number of deaths of both American troops and civilians are clearly down. In Baghdad alone, comparing this month to the same month last year, 1,000 people died from terrorist attacks last year, less than 200 this last year, 800 from sectarian killings last year, only about 40 this year.

There's a number of factors to consider. One is, what is the price of this? Let's look at the surge. What is the surge? I know it's taken on a phenomenon, this phrase, in America, and in the political campaigns. But, whilst it's been successful, there's none of the triumphalism that we hear from the campaigns here on the ground, nor is anyone setting benchmarks for withdrawal. It's far too fragile for that.

The surge is much more than just 30,000 troops. It's about cutting a deal with the Sunni insurgents, about getting the Shia militias to back off and what that takes. It's about the political surge forcing the politicians to move, which is going much more slowly.

It's not just about American boots on the ground. And there's long-term consequences for all of these things that none of the candidates are talking about. And how sustainable is this? There will be costs in the future. Again, the American people need to hear this, Anderson.

So, what's happening on the ground is indeed a success in many ways. But you're not getting the full picture on the campaign trail, and perhaps that shouldn't surprise anyone -- Anderson.


WARE: Well, that's certainly a number that members of the Iraqi government are bandying about, 100,000 U.S. troops, down from what we will soon have of just over 130,000.

And, certainly, there's an expectation that America will hit that by the end of the year, an expectation held by some Iraqis. That's not necessarily an expectation held by American war commanders here on the ground.

Now, after the surge troops, the 30,000 extra combat forces that were sent here to flush through this war last year, once they go home in July, American force levels, American combat power will have been reduced by 25 percent already. Nonetheless, we're still going to have more Americans here after the surge, just by a few thousand, than before. So, in some ways, that's not a true indicator.

But I can tell you now, Anderson, Senator McCain mentioned 100 years American troops will be here. No one can speak to that. But I can tell you that American commanders here on the ground know that they're going to be here a lot longer than many people would otherwise expect.

Certainly, this sense of once people get into office they will start pulling the troops home is not a view shared by many here on the ground. And many believe that what's being said on the campaign will not necessarily be the action that a new president will take, no matter what party they're from. There's realities here. You just can't pull out -- Anderson.


WARE: Well, certainly from the State Department. They believe that what they call the political surge, which has been an unsung success of all of this, has been working.

And they're talking about the benchmarks. Absolutely, there's been significant gains on the political front. The deals that have been cut, the way Baghdad has been segregated off with massive blast barriers, so that it resembles a sectarian divided Sarajevo, where people can't cross the lines, has brought this down and bought some breathing room for political progress.

But, again, there's a cost for that. Can you pull the barriers down? No, or the bloodletting will resume. But, on the benchmarks, there has been progress on many of the fronts. But, again, remember, what are the costs? How long can it last? And don't forget, it's all completely underwritten by the presence of hundreds of -- more than 100,000 U.S. troops keeping everybody apart -- Anderson.

Can't stay, can't go. I believe there's a word for that.