If the op-ed page of the New York Times has often served as the first battleground in America’s wars, where the arguments and counter-arguments for intervention are debated, then the past week or so has certainly brought this institutional tradition to the fore: last week, we had Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack averring that it’s too early to sing a dirge over the "surge," which has been cited by the War Party as proof positive that "victory" is at hand or, at any rate, is at least possible.
These two Brookings Institution scholars, who spent a total of eight days in Iraq recently, have come back to tell us the "surge" is working, "morale is high," and Gen. Petraeus will save us. Their article has been touted by the administration and its amen corner in the media as the answer to the rising tide of public discontent over the war.
Aside from the content of their arguments anecdotes, really we are told that these two are "harsh critics of the war," when the reality is that both supported it. Pollack wrote an entire book, The Threatening Storm, that was instrumental in mobilizing Democratic Party leaders to lend their support to the invasion. Indeed, in the article, the authors describe themselves as "two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq" (emphasis added).
On the other side of the barricades, we have an article signed by seven soldiers in Iraq, who describe the political debate in Washington where O’Hanlon and Pollack can get away with being called "war critics" as "surreal." They write:
"To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict."
In other words, the much-touted "success" of the "surge" is a fraud. These guys are on the ground in Iraq, with the famed 82nd Airborne, and they’re telling us and Bill Kristol, Rich Lowry, and Messrs. O’Hanlon and Pollack that it isn’t working. No one questions American military superiority over the insurgents, but, they say, this has not brought about success, by any measure. Instead, we find ourselves confronted with a proliferating array of "actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, al-Qaeda terrorists, Shi’ite militiamen, criminals, and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense."
The details of this "Janus-faced role" are bloodcurdling. The seven describe an incident in which the Iraqi army and police helped ambush U.S. units, causing one American death and two critical injuries: "Iraqi police and army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb."
Yet how can this be? Aren’t we in Iraq precisely to support the very army and police units these soldiers say are killing Americans?
It makes no sense, unless one takes into consideration what Seymour Hersh calls "the redirection" of U.S. strategy in the region, which is geared to the next target of the neocons’ "regime change" agenda: Iran. The redirection requires a sudden and radical shift in our alliances, sundering our ties with the Shi’ites and taking up the cause of the defeated Sunnis with Saudi Arabia, our primary regional satrap, standing behind them. Those ambushed soldiers were caught in the shifting currents of the American about-face, and they will not be the only ones to suffer severe whiplash. The seven authors of "The War as We Saw It" recognize this new turn yet seem bewildered by it:
"Sunnis, who have been underrepresented in the new Iraqi armed forces, now find themselves forming militias, sometimes with our tacit support. Sunnis recognize that the best guarantee they may have against Shi’ite militias and the Shi’ite-dominated government is to form their own armed bands. We arm them to aid in our fight against al-Qaeda.
"However, while creating proxies is essential in winning a counterinsurgency, it requires that the proxies are loyal to the center that we claim to support. Armed Sunni tribes have indeed become effective surrogates, but the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence. The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave."
What they don’t see is that this is part of a larger anti-Shi’ite, anti-Iranian strategic turn that Washington is already fighting the next war, as the invasion and occupation of Iraq merges seamlessly into an armed conflict with Iran.
Their lack of comprehension as far as this issue is concerned is shared by Sen. Carl Levin, who has lately taken up the Sunni cause and is now demanding that the Maliki government step down. Has there ever been a more blatant expression of America’s imperialistic arrogance? Usually, as in the case of Vietnam e.g., the toppling of President Ngo Dinh Diem this sort of thing is done sub rosa. However, in a fit of irrational exuberance perhaps unwarranted the latest bearers of the White Man’s Burden are openly talking about exercising their imperial prerogatives. Added to this vulgar display is the spectacle of Iyad Allawi formerly the CIA’s favorite candidate for prime minister trying to make a comeback, not in Iraq but in the editorial pages of the Washington Post, where he calls for "change at the top of the Iraqi government." It isn’t clear if he’s asking to be installed in office by force of U.S. arms, but if he isn’t, he’s coming awfully close.
What is very interesting about all this is the new confluence of Democratic rhetoric and administration policy when it comes to measuring "success" in Iraq: Sen. Levin is essentially demanding that the Bush people implement the "redirection" faster, and harder. As one blogger reported:
"Barbour, Griffith & Rogers LLC, the registered lobbyists working on behalf of Ayad Allawi, sent out Levin’s statements to their mailing list, from the account of DrAyadAllawi@allawi-for-iraq.com
"I wonder if the lobbyists canvassed Levin before he made his remarks, thereby influencing his views.
"Don’t reporters find this odd: Ayad Allawi has lobbyists running around D.C. peddling him as Maliki’s replacement, probably influencing Democratic thinking on Iraq, and consequently shaping Democratic strategies for the upcoming U.S. presidential elections. Doesn’t this count as news?"
Well, yes, it does, but, aside from merely reporting this news, there is the question of what it means. Rather than the assessment advanced by the aforementioned blogger the "surge" is working, and Levin is simply grasping at another partisan straw I would suggest another explanation entirely.
A Levin-Allawi-Sunni alliance amounts to the Democratic leadership helping to write the next chapter in the history of America’s conquest of the Middle East indeed, if, as is widely expected, the Democrats take the White House in ’08, they’ll be the primary authors of that bloodstained and thoroughly wretched saga. While this odd alliance presents the Sunni "moderate" case in terms of stabilizing Iraq to the point where our presence is no longer required Allawi calls for aiming at a U.S. withdrawal two years from now the revival of the Democrats’ call for "benchmarks" is just a cover story for a darker, deadlier narrative.
The tempo of events is increasing as we approach the much-touted September report on "progress" in Iraq, in which Gen. Petraeus is expected to note the "gains" we have supposedly made by allying with our former Sunni enemies, while targeting the Iranians as the real obstacles to lasting success. There are increasing reports of border incidents, and we are very close, I believe, to a major confrontation between U.S. and Iranian forces. By taking up the Allawi lobby, the Democrats are helping to set the stage for a disaster that will dwarf our present predicament in Iraq by several degrees of magnitude war with Iran.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I‘ll be a speaker at the upcoming 18th annual meeting of the John Randolph Club, "Speaking Truth To Power," Sept. 21-22, 2007. I’ll be discussing the bipartisan "consensus" on the alleged necessity of interventionism. Go here for details.