BAGHDAD, Iraq – The Bush administration’s decision to move thousands of U.S. soldiers into Baghdad to quell sectarian warfare before it explodes into outright civil war underscores a problem that’s hindered the U.S. effort to rebuild Iraq from the beginning: There aren’t enough troops to do the job.
Many U.S. officials in Baghdad and in Washington privately concede the point. They say they’ve been forced to shuffle U.S. units from one part of the country to another for at least two years because there haven’t been enough soldiers and Marines to deal simultaneously with Sunni Muslim insurgents and Shiite militias; train Iraqi forces; and secure roads, power lines, border crossings and ammunition dumps.
“We have been pointed toward civil war since the new Iraqi constitution was approved last October and reinforced in the December elections,” a senior U.S. intelligence official told me last week. “The Sunnis have united behind the insurgency because they don’t believe the Shi’ites will give them a fair deal.” In recent months, according to U.S. intelligence sources, the Saudis and Jordanians, who are predominantly Sunni, have quietly moved to support the insurgency with money and intelligence, fearing that Shi’ite Iran will dominate the new Iraqi government if the U.S. decides to leave.
“They absolutely think we’re leaving,” said retired Marine Colonel Thomas X. Hammes, author of The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century. “This is what happened in Afghanistan when it became clear the Russians were leaving. The factions began fighting each other.” Afghanistan is instructive: civil war led to the Taliban government; the Taliban provided a safe haven for al-Qaeda; and you know the rest. A U.S. skedaddle from Iraq would probably lead to far worse consequences, given Iraq’s strategic location and potential oil wealth. So what do we do now? I asked six leading U.S. military strategists, four of them on active duty, and the despair was universal.
Why are we in this condition? The main culprit is self-evident: the criminally incompetent Bush administration. But in political terms the Bush administration is already past tense. Mr. Bush has left his stain on American history and now we’re moving into a post-Bush world.
In the post-Bush environment who will take the blame for losing Iraq?
There are two scapegoats up for consideration by a Right wing that has no choice but to try and spread the blame for this fiasco around:
1) The media.
2) The Democrats.
Not at all surprisingly there is a major push on by the conservative blogosphere to blame the Media and their supposed dupes, the Left. At least a year ago prominent pro-war bloggers began what seemed to me a doomed effort to blame the media.
The main line of attack — and it seems even more bizarre now — was that the media was hurting morale by failing to report the “good news” from Iraq. I ridiculed that then, and today I don’t even have to bother. That line of attack seems to have largely evaporated. No one who is not actively experiencing hallucinations can talk about the “good news” from Iraq. 100 Iraqis a day die in the chaos of Iraq, the equivalent of 1100 Americans a day. For us that would mean losing the entire population of Omaha or Miami between now and next year this time. How exactly do you put a silver lining on that? Remind people that Fort Lauderdale has a nice beach, too?
But still, the Denialist Right will blame the media because, they will say, without the media we would have convinced the Iraqis we were staying forever, not leaving, and thus the Iraqis would have behaved themselves. In other words, it was only because the media insisted on saying that an insurgency existed, and insisted on announcing that the insurgency was killing US troops that the insurgency the media reported on became an insurgency for the media to report on.
In this fascinating cause-effect reversal scenario media reporting on the insurgency and US casualties did not follow but rather preceded the insurgency and resulting deaths. And, once the media has caused the insurgency, the media should have refused to report on it for fear that the American people might not think things were going well. What with an insurgency and all.
Any attempt to blame the Democrats or the Left is equally absurd. Number of troop requests turned down because of Democratic opposition? Zero. Number of Defense budgets cut by Democrats? Zero. Number of times the Democrats have called for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq? Zero. Impact of the Democratic party or the Left on the actual conduct of this war? Non-existent.
The Democrats are insulated from blame for the conduct of this war by their utter impotence. Everyone knows the Democrats did nothing. Nothing. Didn’t even try.
I have a third choice for supplemental scapegoat, if we’re in the market:
Uncritical supporters of this war.
I’m talking about the patriotic chest-thumpers, the shrill denouncers-of-traitors, the more-macho-than-thou bloggers who attacked every critic of this war, trashed generals and former officials, savaged pundits and ridiculed books that questioned the conduct of this monumental disaster in the making.
Setting aside issues of whether we should have fought this war to begin with, one thing has been clear for three years now: we didn’t have enough men in Iraq. WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ. It has been as clear as a waving flag on a bright sunny day. Everyone knew it. Everyone saw it. It could hardly have been more obvious.
And this was something we could have fixed. We could have fixed this. Lots of things we couldn’t fix, but this we could have fixed.
But to the Denialists to say that WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ was lese majeste against our Boy King and his All-Jester Court. Only traitors said WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ. Only naive fools who didn’t understand the oh-so-deep subtleties of the Rumsfeld reforms said WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ. Only the impatient, week-kneed sob-sisters said WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ.
So month after month, and season after season, and year after year, we did nothing to address the fact that WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ. As former military officers, former secretaries of state, war hero Senators, and finally even Right-wing pundits said WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH MEN IN IRAQ, our fool of a President and his imbecile Secretary of Defense were insulated, defended, protected from presure to do the right thing.
And now it is too late.
Now there is no chance of us putting significantly more men into Iraq. Now we’re running our overworked men back and forth across the country playing whack-a-mole while the Denialist Right calls for more patience. Patience and silence, silence and patience and acceptance and patience and shhhh, don’t criticize, let’s leave it all in the capable hands of good King George.
The United States has been incalculably weakened by this Iraq fiasco. The terrorists and Iran have been greatly strengthened. That’s what the Denialists have brought about. By pretending that day was night, and night day, they ennabled fools to continue making foolish decisions and hurt the country they claim to love.
Patriotism is not uncritical support for whatever man happens to be president. Patriotism is love for our country. Our president is not our country. Patriotism was trying to fix this fiasco, not ennabling it. In this case the critics were the patriots.
(Tip to Raw Story.)
(cross posted from Mighty Middle.)