Looking Whose Coming to the Foreign Policy Dinner

Story here from the NyTimes. Bush now is negotiating a “time horizon” for withdrawal from Iraq. But it’s not a timetable, I promise (fingers crossed behind the back).

The Pentagon is looking to send more troops to Afghanistan. And rumors (which is all they are at this point) of opening a diplomatic “presence” in Iran (don’t call it a consulate).

In other words, without really wanting to, Bush is heading to Obama’s foreign policy.  Reality it appears intruded on his fantasies for the region.  A little late and kicking and screaming but the momentum and direction is clear (minus an Israeli attack on Iran).

A Reverse Sidney Poitier.

This leaves McCain even more isolated and radical in his thinking. His only homey at this point is John Bolton. And craptastic Romney on his VP-whoring circuit. It will be fascinating to see what Johnny does with this–come out and blast the President? Say that we need to keep those troops in there so we can win faster so we can withdrawal faster? Or just say this was the view he had all along (i.e. the old bald faced lie).

McCain can bluster on the trail all he wants, but the first day in office were he elected (Dear Krishna No) the Pentagon would sit down and have an adult talk with the Commander and let him know that his campaign promises and strategies in both Iraq and Afghanistan are unfeasible. They can not be undertaken with the current state of rotations, numbers of troops, etc.

And for all this talk for so long about how Obama was this naif more and more folk keep jumping on the wagon.

SOFA=DOA

The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) the Bush administration was pushing hard to get signed by the end of this month to leave in a place a military-diplomatic framework amenable to their view of a longer term US occupation (er “presence”) in Iraq is now officially done. Must read article from Karen DeYoung in WAPO on the subject here.

The same new resolve (so argued) by the US pro-occupation right in the Iraqi Army’s recent operations in Basra, Sadr City, Amara, Mosul is the same resolve that is causing him to call for an end to the US presence and refusing to sign a SOFA without a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops (and no permanent bases) both of which both the President and John McCain oppose.

[Extra Credit: Look for McCain to begin parroting the new right-wing talking point that this turn of event proves that we have won--the government is standing up!!! While likely continuing to send signals that he will take his own counsel on troops numbers--i.e doesn't matter what the Iraqis think on the subject.]

While the US post-Baathist/Saddam war in Iraq failed on numerous fronts–failing to predict and/or deal with for 3 years the insurgency, jerry-rigged and failed electoral process, failing to prevent ethnic cleansing & civil war, the humanitarian disaster/refugee problem–this is the first major attack at the nerve center of the occupation by a more united Iraqi resistance.

While Bush, almost alone in his cocoon, continued to believe that a long term occupation would lead Iraq to become the beacon of democracy to the Middle East/world thereby securing his future standing in history as a late-redeemed figure (a la his hero Truman), the Iraqi government’s stance puts an end to his vision for Iraq.

It is the opening scene of Act IV of the Iraq Drama. [I=the Invasion II=The Insurgency/Gov't III=Surge IV=Post-US draw down, i.e. "the training wheels coming off."]

For the inside story on who was behind this new pressure, look to none other than (one of the best in the business) Gareth Porter.

And if there is any doubt who holds the power in Iraq, read this:

The statement by Rubaie came immediately after he had met with Sistani, thus confirming earlier reports that Sistani was opposed to any continuing US military presence.

The government takes its orders from the moral authority (and political power) of a cleric. I.e. Clearly it is a theocracy definitionallly (predicted by the value memetics of the country prior to invasion)

And this–Silly Bush Tricks are for Kids:

The Bush administration has had doubts in the past about the loyalties of those two Shi’ite groups and of the SIIC’s Badr Corps paramilitary organization, and it maneuvered in 2005 and early 2006 to try to weaken their grip on the Interior Ministry and the police.

By 2007, however, the Bush administration hoped that it had forged a new level of cooperation with Maliki aimed at weakening their common enemy, Muqtada al-Sadr’s anti-occupation Mahdi Army. SIIC leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim was invited to the White House in December 2006 and met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in November 2007.

As has been argued on the pages of this blog (and elsewhere) the US army was always in a militia on militia fight and was being used by the other militias for their own internal fights and never had anything to do with the US objectives for the region or ideas concerning governance/alliances. With the possible October parliamentary elections, Maliki and SIIC needed the US to help them defeat Sadr. The US having learned in the Gaza Elections that the “bad guys” would win (i.e. Sadrists) decided to ditch the pretense to fair elections and use the interim period to undercut the Sadrist movement, politically under the guise of a military-only operation.

Though even in this round of intra-Shia fighting, Maliki went with the Iranian brokered “ceasefires” with Sadr. (Ceasefires in quotes because fighting continued during the peace time). This was, as Porter demonstrates, against Gen. Petraeus’ plan to link publicly the Iranians to funding for Sadr and a larger full scale assault on the Sadrist movement.

Maliki knowing the terrain better knew I bet that such a full out attack on Sadr would only have further undermined his own parties (and his allies) chances. Their plan seems to have been some deals to gain security in some strongholds, open up some markets, and try to pull a “win the hearts and minds” strategy for electoral success. As well as undermine the capacity for Sadr and his movement to run their campaign unencumbered.

Nevertheless though Moqtada’s party may be suffering some setbacks, he is achieving his goal–ending the US occupation. His cagey embrace of the street and politics–weekly rally protests against the US occupation–and playing the role of persecuted minority for religio-political truth (in the tradition of the great Shia martyr Husayn) has put the pressure on both Sistani and Maliki to take this hard line. Even in (partial) defeat, Sadr is winning.

So now the Bush administration has been double-crossed by the other Shia parties and surprise–the two political parties funded by and started in Iran side with Iran over the US. What are the odds? Who would have seen that coming?  This is why Obama shrewdly got both Petraeus and Crocker to admit in their last Senate testimony that Iran would always have influence in Iraq and any attempt to eradicate it as a definitional plank for victory in Iraq is/was self-defeating lunacy.

All of which all of course would make for the thinking person a laughingstock of the new right wing meme that this is a sign of victory–given the cost of US dead and killed, the perfect outcome this entails for Iran and its ascendancy to regional hegemon, the massive debt the US has now bankrolled to install an Iranian-puppet regime, and the loss of international support over the mission, as well as the resurgence of al-Qaeda in Pakistan and the deterioration of Afghanistan as a result of the near absolute focus on Iraq.

But of course admitting such isn’t going to happen of course. Their entire dream (more like hallucination) of imposing some order has been unmasked.

Obama has to come out swinging on this one.  Force McCain into the corner–what does this mean for his policy?  The Iraqis clearly want a timetable–will he give one?  If not, is he simply going to keep US forces in Iraq against the will of the majority of the US populace AND the majority of the Iraqi populace AND the Iraqi government?  Not to mention the Legislative Branch of the US.

This lets Obama shift away from McCain’s stupid question about “is the surge working” to the central issue:  the occupation is unsustainable. It has been rejected by both countries populations and is putting stress on the military it can not afford. And leaves untouched the actual culprits behind the attack on the US who continue to pose a threat to US national security, clearly seeking to attack US soil (unlike any actors in Iraq).

Obama can then say he was both right about the not getting into the war in the first place and has been right in his judgment of where strategically the country has to move (draw down Iraq, focus on the Afghan-Pak border region).

P. Cockburn on Iraq

From a reporter who actually is in Iraq and sees many different angles than that of the pre-approved US Army tours given to the US media, a very lucid analysis of the current state of play in Iraq.  Much subtler than say this fluff piece by Andrew Sullivan which has got so many holes below the water line tough to know where to begin (did I mention he is supposedly one of the “critical” voices in the blogosphere on the topic?).

On the one hand, Cockburn notes that Maliki’s government is stronger than it has been probably ever.  This is leading to claims of “the surge is working” “victory is at hand if only the Democrats don’t cut and run” for the umpteenth trillion time from the right.  Strong enough however (contra McCain-Bush) that they have rejected a Security of Forces Agreement for the time being (due to in part Iranian pressure).

However:

The government’s position looks stronger than it is because its opponents are waiting for the Americans to leave or draw  down their forces.

The Provincial Elections are a major sticking point and likely won’t take place in October.  Kirkuk is outstanding.  One of the Sunni Iraqi parties has rejoined the government so that Maliki and crew can help break the (Sunni competitors) Sons of Iraq who likely would knock the older Sunni parties out of power if the elections were actually free.  Same with Maliki and the ISCI in relation to Sadr (hence the crackdown on his militia).

And even if it succeeds, what would be “victory”:

Their aim seems to be to be eliminate their domestic Iraqi  opponents while they still have the backing of American firepower. It is a  brutal plan but it might come off. Maliki could become the Iraqi version of  Vladimir Putin in Russia. Like Putin, Maliki controls the state machine, a  large if unreliable army and benefits from the high price of oil so he has  control of over $40 billion in unspent reserves. Iraqis do not trust their  own government but, like Russians when Putin first came to power in  1999, they are desperately war weary. Many people will support anybody  who provides peace and security. But the analogy should not be carried  too far. Putin’s enemies were fictional or in distant Chechnya, while Maliki’s  opponents are real, dangerous and close by.

And even were that to happen, there is the issue of Iran:

An increase in Iranian influence in Iraq has been  inevitable since 2003. Once the US had decided to overthrow Saddam  Hussein the beneficiaries were always going to be the Shia religious  parties, because they represented the majority of Iraqis, and they would  be supported by Iran. Many of America’s problems in Iraq over the last five  years have happened because Washington believed it could prevent or  dilute the triumph of Iran and the Shia in Iraq.

As Joe Biden had said repeatedly there are three ways this ends:

1)Total Slaughter/Exodus of the Sunnis (reduction of their population to complete servitude, minority status)

2)A return of a Dictator.  That is the Maliki cum Putin scenario.

3)Break/Federalization of the Country.

The scenario Cockburn outlines where the US follows to the T the history of the British in Iraq and attempts to create permanent bases with a puppet government would certainly end the same way the British occupation of Iraq did–in ignominious defeat, as well as the overthrow of the puppet government and the installation of a new anti-British (i.e. anti-American in this case) regime.  In the short term that seems off the table as Maliki seems to have effectively pushed back on the deal.  McCain and Bush still want it, Obama doesn’t.  And more importantly the vast majority of the Iraqi population doesn’t either.

As Cockburn points out the only reason the American occupation continues is because the Shia and Sunni are fighting a low-grade civil war as well as intra-Shia and intra-Sunni wars.  The US policy of arming and training the Iraqi forces, the Sons of Iraq, and the new attempt to create Sons of Iraq Shia-style in former Mahdi Army strongholds, is what allows the occupation to continue but only further weakens the hold of the central government, tenuous at best, and prevents a large scale political endgame.  The Surge and attendant tactics works at cross purposes to the stated goal and strategy of Iraq.  Even in this best case scenario, the return is to a strongman dictator.  In which case why have spent so much time, blood, and money to get another dictator in power? Unless it is so that dictator (like Saddam a la 1985 becomes back to being “our son of a bitch.”  And so foreign oil companies can reap the benefits, Disaster Capitalism style, of pillaging the oil in Iraq leaving the country (minus some power elites) destitute and war torn.

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