As Washington waits with bated bipartisan breath to unwrap the shiny Christmas present known as "the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group," it becomes more and more obvious that the newly empowered Democrats are walking into a trap.
But it’s not an artful contrivance prepared for their demise by the infinitely devious Karl Rove — the "political genius" who, since his appearance on the national stage, has managed to lose two elections (2000 and 2004) and eke out very narrow, dubious victories in two others. (And it wasn’t Rove who cheated Bush into office in 2000, so that doesn’t count even as a technical KO for him. The post-election coup d’tat was directed by Bush family fixer James Baker — now chairman of the, er, Iraq Study Group.)
No, the trap awaiting the Democrats has been laid by reality itself. As so often noted here before, there is no good solution to the blood-puking hell that George W. Bush has wrought in Iraq. There is no path out of this killing field that won’t involve more slaughter, more suffering, more hate, more grief. No "bipartisan panel" — certainly not one led by the lifelong peddler of Bush Family snake oil, Jim Baker, and the Democratic whitewasher for all seasons, Lee Hamilton — is going to find some new, unlooked-for way to untangle this knotted gut. They can only sift through the same reality that we all can see. The options are extremely limited, and all of them have ugly consequences.
Writer and documentary-maker Edward Cox gives a mostly excellent analysis of the situation in a recent Guardian article, Same as it Ever Was. (He is, I think, off base in a brief look at the 2008 presidential election, but this is a minor point in a penetrating takedown of the wildly unrealistic expectations rising around the "Baker Commission.") Very briefly, the main choices break down this way:
1. More of the same. Basically continuing the current "strategy," if that’s what it is, of "training" Iraqi police and military forces while maintaining a more or less full-scale occupation of the country. The fact that this approach is already a proven failure in no way precludes its continuation, with a few cosmetic changes here and there, at least until the end of Bush’s term or the final collapse of the Iraqi government. This option will very likely lead to full-blown civil war.
2. Phased withdrawal, in-country. This would involve removing U.S. forces from direct occupation of Iraqi cities. Some troops would go home, but most would relocate to the giant permanent bases now being built in remote areas. These troops would continue to "train" the Iraqi security forces, while essentially abandoning the rest of the country to sectarian warfare until somebody comes out on top and we can sign oil deals with them. If Bush swallows the bone and decides to make any major changes, this is a likely scenario. Its many drawbacks are apparent, as Cox outlines, but again, the evident stupidity of a strategy rarely stops stupid leaders from implementing it. This option will very likely lead to full-blown civil war.
3. Phased withdrawal, "over the horizon." This the option first bruited by Rep. Jack Murtha, the former defense contractor bagman who unexpectedly became the point man for Establishment criticism of the war. This involves pulling all U.S. troops out of Iraq proper, but somehow keeping enough of them lurking over the border so they can rush in at any time and help the Iraqi government out of a jam. There are manifold difficulties with this approach as well, not least how happily the surrounding Muslim nations would welcome a long-term American military force darting in and out of Iraq — and attracting reprisals from terrorists and Iraqi insurgents on the host country’s soil. This option is really only a fig-leaf for a later (or sooner) full withdrawal — at the "request" of the host nations, no doubt. In any case, Bush will not choose this option, because it defeats the entire purpose of the war — establishing a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq to secure dominance (or at least a tasty slice) of Iraq’s energy resources and serve as a linchpin for further adventures in "full spectrum dominance" over geopolitical affairs in a "new American century." Such "hyper-power" dreams are of course receding into the distance with each passing year, but that doesn’t mean that true believers in unlimited power and wealth for the American elite will stop chasing them. This option will very likely lead to full-blown civil war.
4. Phased withdrawal, piecemeal. This is similar to No. 3, except that as the troops come out, bit by bit, they come home rather than move to some transborder base for a while. This approach could actually be the worst of all possible worlds, leaving a dwindling number of troops to face an increasingly powerful insurgency and ever more virulent sectarian militias, with mounting deaths on all sides until the inevitable last-second bugout of the handful of suckers left in the final "phase." This option will very likely lead to full-blown civil war.
5. Send in more troops. This is the "McCain Option": somehow scare up tens of thousands of new U.S. troops, presumably without a draft, and fling ’em into the fire, then, as Cox notes, "take the cities street by street and hold them through a massive security and intelligence clamp-down." But he also notes the further undeniable truth: "It is of course politically inconceivable, on either side of the Atlantic." However, this is the only serious option that would not very likely lead to full-blown civil war — mostly because it would unite many of the Iraqi factions now at odds into the mother of all insurgencies against the intensified occupation.
6. Immediate withdrawal — "immediate" here meaning as fast as humanly possible commensurate with a more or less secure and more or less orderly extraction. The troops come home, they don’t dawdle on the doorstep in some other country for a while. But Bush will certainly never adopt this option, and neither will the Democrats, who, as Cox points out, will be too eager to prove their still-vulnerable "national security" bona fides, especially with the 2008 election looming, and blanch at being labeled the party who "cut and ran" from Iraq. And yes, it goes without saying by now, this option will very likely lead to full-blown civil war.
7. Help us, Syria! Help us, Iran! This is the option now being proffered by Tony Blair (and mooted earlier by Don Rumsfeld’s replacement, Robert Gates). It is so lame and unrealistic that it scarcely rates being mentioned at all, but there will be a good deal of blather about it in the days to come, so it should be dealt with. However, it is not entirely clear why either nation — having been demonized without ceasing by the Bush Faction, and put squarely in the frame for the old "path of action" regime change — would leap to help America out its spot of bother in Iraq. Cox points out the utter absurdity of this approach:
"Negotiations would doubtless involve some interesting elements. If the Iranians promised to keep their hands off the Basra oilfields, perhaps they could be allowed to develop whatever nuclear weapons they wanted, and if they absolutely insisted on being given free rein to wipe Israel off the map, well, there you go. Maybe Syria could be allowed to re-annex Lebanon, in return for leaving Iraq’s Sunnis to their fate."
8. Partition. This is another idea so bad that it can hardly be taken seriously — except that it is taken seriously by a lot of people who, while perhaps not serious themselves, are in serious positions. It was a favorite of "conservative Democrats" in the last election, such as Tennessee’s Harold Ford Jr. in his failed Senate race. Again, Cox deals with this idea succinctly:
Unfortunately, although the north is Kurdish and the south is Shia, most of the cities, including Baghdad, are mixed. In any case, the integrity of Iraq is the key to regional stability. An autonomous Shia south would effectively become part of a greater, and more dangerous, Iran. The Turks know that an independent Kurdistan would foster secession in their own Kurdish south-east. The Syrians would feel obliged to support their threatened Sunni co-religionists against the more numerous Shia. Neither, Russia, Israel or Saudi Arabia could be expected to view such developments with equanimity.
And, needless to say, this option would certainly lead to full-blown civil war.
These are the options; this is the reality. What will the vaunted "Baker Commission" do with this intractable material? Cox’s conclusion is, I think, right on the money:
So, what’s going to happen is this: Baker will recommend the status quo with minor variations, which will be hyped as dramatic revisions. Bush will announce that he completely accepts every jot and tittle of the Baker formula. What then? Bush has already signalled that, understandably enough, he now wants a bipartisan approach to the country’s problems. As soon as the Baker report is on his desk, he will call in the leaders of both houses of Congress for a chat.
The Democrats will doubtless see the dangers of such an invitation all too clearly. However, Iraq has been their springboard to office. They will hardly be able to refuse to engage with the issue when given the chance. Indeed, Pelosi has already been talking of a "partnership" with the White House to solve the country’s problems. To cut off the Democrats’ escape route, Bush need only promise to accept any amendments they may choose to make to the Baker scheme. Doubtless, they will insist upon one or two tweaks, and flaunt them as major triumphs. Sheepishly, though, they will have to acknowledge that in all other respects the Bush-Baker scheme will pretty much have to do.
Thereafter, criticism of what will have become a joint approach will slowly begin to subside. Thus reinforced, the policy will trundle on much as it does now, bringing ever more misery in its wake. Voters will blame Congress more than the White House for this state of affairs, because, unlike Bush, the Democrats had appeared to promise a way out.
At this point — assuming that anyone is still reading at this point — the question arises: OK, Floyd, which of these horrible options would you choose? In which particular way would you inflict even more pain and suffering on the people of Iraq, who never asked to be invaded — or to be lorded over by a tyrant who was put in place and kept in place for years with the helping hand of the United States?
I answered this question in April 2004 in a piece called No Direction Home: The Red Wheel of War Crime Keeps Rolling, and it still holds true for me today:
As the red wheel of Operation Iraqi FUBAR continues to roll, spewing hundreds of corpses in its wake, it becomes clearer by the hour that there is only one way for America to end this stomach-churning nightmare it has created: get out.
That’s it. The occupying armies — including Bush’s 20,000 corporate mercenaries — should leave now. They should never have been sent in the first place on this ghoul’s errand: a war of aggression, a mission of murder and plunder — the perversion of every enlightened value of the civilization that the Coalition’s "Christian leaders" purport to defend.
And what a sickening spectacle these "leaders" presented last weekend: George W. Bush and Tony Blair piously kneeling in prayer on Easter Sunday, pledging their fealty to Jesus Christ and His teaching of mercy and lovingkindness — while ordering missile strikes on crowded cities, while filling hospitals with the mutilated bodies of young children, while shoveling fat war profits to their cronies and contributors. Only the most craven, bootlicking sycophant could fail to be revolted at the hypocrisy of these murderous cynics. They are a perfect match in moral idiocy for their crack-brained brother-in-arms, Osama bin Laden.
Their chest-beating pronouncements about "staying the course" and "seeing it through" are just so much rag-chewing nonsense. The way to rectify a crime is not to keep doing it — or in John Kerry’s ludicrous formulations, to keep doing it in some different, "better" way — but simply to stop doing it. The illegal invasion was a crime, the occupation is a crime, and if you would not be a criminal, you must stop committing crimes.
At the time, I admit I too entertained a fanciful notion that perhaps "a United Nations force — made up of troops from counties acceptable to the Iraqis — [could move in] to provide security and stability while the Iraqis themselves reconstruct their society, hold elections, etc. America and its war allies would have nothing to do with this stabilization force, beyond helping to fund and supply it." I noted even then that this was a very slim and tenuous hope — and of course it is a dead letter now. Under Bush’s rule, Iraq has been driven into ruin and chaos far beyond the remedy of such a solution. Who would send "peacekeeping" troops there now? And who in Iraq would now accept them?
However, one other aspect of the immediate withdrawal scenario I envisioned could still be — and should still be — implemented today, if only to mitigate in some small measure the horror that America will inevitably leave behind, no matter what happens:
The departing Americans should then give the $18 billion slush fund now earmarked for Bush’s "reconstruction" bagmen to the Iraqi people, as reparations for the Coalition’s war crime. Iraq’s foreign loans, procured by Saddam Hussein from sugar daddies like George Bush I, should be written off — and all of Little Bush’s imperial edicts opening Iraq’s economy for despoliation by his cronies should be rescinded. The United States and Britain should also be prepared to take in the vast horde of refugees who will flee the hardline Islamic regime that will doubtless be created in the ruins Bush has made of the once-secular state.
Here too, I fell short of present reality. America owes the Iraqis far more than $18 billion in reparations for Bush’s war crime of aggression. Of course, they will get nothing of the sort — not one thin dime — from either Republicans or Democrats. Nor will there be any move from either party toward letting more dusky immigrants into the country, no matter how imperative our moral obligation to do so.
And so immediate withdrawal, while still the "best" option on the table, is far worse now than it would have been a year ago, two years ago, three years ago. Again, this is the reality. This is what we can’t escape. There is no good way out. There is no good way forward. Tonight, tomorrow night, and for nights uncounted to come, some innocent will die in agony because of what we’ve done.