Dirge for the ‘Surge’

by , August 28, 2007

Just when it seemed that the neocons would get away with their echo chamber tactic of talking up the "success" of the "surge" – and even getting a few Democrats to go along with their contention that we can’t even think about pulling out now – the War Party was hit with three major blows that have them reeling.

First and foremost is the suggestion by Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the retiring head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that we begin downsizing our troop commitment to Iraq – before the over-extension of the U.S. military snaps American readiness and fatally saps our resources.

When Gen. David Petraeus delivers his much-vaunted report to the president, the Congress, and the nation in September – widely anticipated as the shot in the arm Bush needs to continue on his present course of reckless escalation – Pace is likely to provide a crucial counterpoint that will more than balance out the equation and present us with a clear choice.

On the one hand, Petraeus is slated to offer a somewhat more subdued and considered version of the War Party’s by-now-familiar mantra: the war is going better than anyone realizes, we’re making considerable progress in Anbar and Diyala provinces, don’t cut us off at the knees when we’re just beginning to get up on our feet. In short, give war a chance.

On the other hand, the Los Angeles Times reports that Pace is going to recommend withdrawal of about half the present force of 162,000:

"Administration and military officials say Marine Gen. Peter Pace is likely to convey concerns by the Joint Chiefs that keeping well in excess of 100,000 troops in Iraq through 2008 will severely strain the military. This assessment could collide with one being prepared by the U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, calling for the U.S. to maintain higher troop levels for 2008 and beyond."

Pace represents the institutional voice and spirit of the American military, which has been fighting a rearguard action against the monomania of this administration. Pace and others have been futilely calling for some consideration of the U.S. military’s ability to carry out its existing commitments in view of the strain placed on its resources by the Iraq and Afghan wars. That’s why Pace is on the way out. The same fate befell Generals Eric Shinseki and Anthony Zinni and others who spoke up previously to defend the military’s institutional integrity. Zinni even took on the neoconservatives, arguing that their motives in dragging us into this unnecessary war were and are well-known:

"I think it’s the worst kept secret in Washington. That everybody – everybody I talk to in Washington has known and fully knows what their agenda was and what they were trying to do."

The neocons were openly disdainful of the military’s institutional interests and didn’t care about the effectiveness of our forces: their obsession with the Middle East overrode everything else. Their ideological bias in favor of war – as well as their tendency to put Israeli interests on a par with those of the U.S. – militated against any such considerations. When the neocons hijacked American foreign policy and began to use the armed forces as their personal plaything, they ran up against the natural opposition of career military personnel. These same dissenters-in-uniform have decried the degradation of the U.S. military machine, which is being ground to bits in the sands of Mesopotamia much as Napoleon’s imperial army was frozen in the snow of the Russian steppes.

That, by the way, is a good way to analogize the two sides in this dispute: the Napoleonic tendency, embodied by the neocons and their sock puppets, including the president and vice president, versus the generals, holdovers from the old republican (small r) pre-imperial order. Pace and his co-thinkers in the Pentagon are not "antiwar" in the classic sense, of course, yet they have a military man’s suspicion of reckless foreign entanglements that seem slated for defeat before they’re launched.

A whole generation of the American officers corps did indeed learn the lessons of the Vietnam War, even if Bush and his gaggle of "revisionist" court historians seem to have so far successfully avoided it: Andrew Bacevich‘s books and articles perfectly represent this viewpoint. It is the same view as expressed in that New York Times op-ed by seven members of the 82nd Airborne, and it is generally shared by the on-the-ground grunts expected to carry out the impossible demands of civilian military planners divorced from reality, blinded by ideology, and driven by purely political considerations.

These voices were raised in the run-up to war, and now that the disaster they feared has come to pass they are being listened to at last. The timing of Sen. John Warner’s apparent defection from the once-solid GOP ranks on the war question is hardly coincidental. He’s been hinting at a break with the administration on the war for months now, and, with the Joint Chiefs coming out forthrightly against the "surge" and the continuation of a disastrous war policy, it was time for Warner – long the Pentagon’s most reliable ally in the Senate, and a leading Republican maven on matters of foreign policy – to make his move.

Warner’s defection could be the beginning of a Republican stampede for the exits on the war question. While I wouldn’t venture to predict how many will follow Warner and, in the House, Walter B. Jones, out the back door, I would note that (a) a few Republicans, like Ron Paul, never even entered that perilous portal, and (b) Republicans can read polls, and they no doubt realize they are heading for an electoral disaster that could decimate their political fortunes for a generation. Are they ready to cast off their ideological incubus (or is that succubus?) and free themselves of the curse of the neocons, whose dominance of the Bush administration and the Republican Party has brought the GOP to the edge of the abyss?

Another blow to the War Party was the recently issued National Intelligence Estimate of the situation on the ground in Iraq, which presents a mixed portrait of "uneven" military success combined with an absolutely dismal view of the prospects for a political settlement of the ongoing civil war.

The report, I would argue, represents fresh evidence of the new turn in American war aims in the Middle East. For all intents and purposes, our military and political efforts are now directed against perceived Iranian assets in Iraq – this includes not just alleged Iranian infiltrators, of whom not one has been found or identified, but also the governing coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, consisting of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (formerly SCIRI), the Da’wa Party, and the Sadrists, along with a disparate collection of regional and sub-ethnic parties.

The Americans are now opting for the Sunnis, with Iyad Allawi, the CIA’s former favorite, openly lobbying for a Washington-sponsored coup against Maliki, and the Democrats, led by Senators Clinton and Levin, picking up on this blame-the-Iraqis line. The same complaints against the Iraqi government – they’re ineffective and too sectarian, and then there are those militias – permeate the National Intelligence Estimate, which really is a blow aimed at Maliki.

The NIE also touts the supposed "success" in Anbar and Diyala provinces, which has incited the pro-war sectors of the blogosphere to bray over this supposedly epic "victory" as evidence that the "surge" is working and we must stay the course. The new triumphalism – as short-lived as it was – was exemplified by Captain’s Quarters, a pro-war blog that typifies the Right blogosphere’s view of war as identical to a game of Risk. It hailed the supposed "turning" of Ba’athist leader Izzat al-Douri as yet another triumph for our glorious forces in Iraq. This ignores the fact that Douri’s group denies these reports, and, also, that he’s a murderously sadistic monster we have no business allying with or aiding in any way, shape, or manner. Go here for some of the horrific details.

We have reached a critical juncture in the debate over the war, and the next few months will determine the course we take for a generation. Will we take the road to empire and ruination, or will we take the road less traveled – the road we set out on as a nation to begin with, first traveled by men who abhorred militarism and even hesitated to endorse a standing army, for fear it would subvert the republican ideals of the Constitution?

I hope I know the answer to that question, but, then again, as they say, hope springs eternal, even though the War Party never rests…

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