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Handing off the quagmire

Cartoon courtesy Steve Bell.

By Terry Canaan, special to Fog City Journal

February 4, 2007

"Al-Qaida knows the surge is working. They no longer have a safe haven in Anbar province; they're on the run."
-- President George Bush, speaking in Las Vegas

"The new strategy clearly is succeeding. The surge is working. The forces of freedom are winning."
-- Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking in Charlotte, North Carolina

Take up the lotus position and chant, "The surge is working. The surge is working. The surge is working. The surge is working..." until your mind is clear of any other thoughts. This is how you reach war monger enlightenment. Michael Duffy of TIME magazine seems like a hawk bodhisattva. When writing about how well things are going in Iraq, the article title isn't "Why the Surge is Working," it's "Why the Surge Worked." The war in Iraq is, apparently, over. Peace reigns and the only reason we still have troops there is that it's really, really nice and they don't want to leave.

Actually, he doesn't go quite that far. In fact, reading through the piece, you get the feeling that the title was forced on him by his editor. He writes of progress coming "slowly, unevenly—and only with a lot of well-armed help." An Iraqi shopkeeper tells him, "Things are improving slightly. But not as much as we hoped." He warns -- contrary to the title -- that the triumphalism of Republican presidential candidates may be a tiny bit premature.

One year and 937 U.S. fatalities later, the surge is a fragile and limited success, an operation that has helped stabilize the capital and its surroundings but has yet to spark the political gains that could set the stage for a larger American withdrawal.

As a result of improving security in Iraq, the war no longer is the most pressing issue in the presidential campaign, having been supplanted by the faltering U.S. economy. Voters still oppose the war by nearly 2 to 1, but Democrats sense the issue could be less galvanizing as troops begin to return home.

Republicans who supported the surge, like Arizona Senator John McCain, have been trying out tiny victory laps lately, but because the hard-won stability could reverse itself, both parties are proceeding carefully. Interviews with top officials in Baghdad and Washington and on-the-ground assessments by Time reporters in Iraq reveal why the surge has produced real gains -- but also why the war still has the capacity to cause collateral damage half a world away.

The surge is working in the same sense that you are after you punch in at work -- you're working only so long as you're there. Once you go home, you aren't working anymore.

Washington Post:

Senior U.S. military commanders here say they want to freeze troop reductions starting this summer for at least a month, making it more likely that the next administration will inherit as many troops in Iraq as there were before President Bush announced a "surge" of forces a year ago.

There are about 155,000 U.S. troops in Iraq now, with about 5,000 leaving every month; the proposed freeze would go into effect in July, when troops levels reach around 130,000. Although violence is dropping in Iraq, commanders say they want to halt withdrawals to assess whether they can control the situation with fewer troops.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, will probably argue for what the military calls an operational "pause" at his next round of congressional testimony, expected in early April, another senior U.S. military official here said. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and top military officers have said they would like to see continued withdrawals throughout this year, but Bush has indicated he is likely to be guided by Petraeus's views.

The surge is a success in the sense that it's absolutely, positively certain to make the occupation of Iraq someone else's problem. Forgive an analogy from a nearly snowbound northerner, but this is like a drunk getting your car stuck in a snow bank, walking away from it, and telling you, "I got things this far, you take it from here."

This is Bush's idea of that "personal responsibility" thing Republicans are always talking about -- when you really screw things up royally, you personally hand off your mess to someone else. Then it's not your problem anymore. In fact, Bush seems hellbent on sticking someone with his mess for a long, long time.

The Guardian:

George Bush has resumed his practice of disregarding portions of new laws, quietly reserving the right to build permanent military bases in Iraq, keep Congress in the dark on spying activity and block two accountability measures aimed at private security firms accused of wartime abuses.

As he signed a defence bill into law yesterday, Bush quietly added a "signing statement" that asserts his ability to ignore several parts of the measure. The signing statement is not a new tactic for Bush -- he has issued hundreds during seven years in office, many more than his predecessors -- but Democrats now are planning restraints on the presidential prerogative.

Way to get right on that, Congress. By sitting on your hands, you've let Bush gain much more power than a lame duck should have. Now, he's planning on permanent bases in Iraq -- in short, attempting to force the next president to continue his stupid, stupid occupation.

The law Bush added his statement to was a bill expressly forbidding permanent bases and control of Iraqi oil. Bush is using his signing statement -- which is constitutional BS -- to interpret the law as meaning exactly the opposite of what it clearly states. Once again, President Bush declares himself above the law and claims the dictatorial power to rule by proclamation. The legal argument is completely insane, since it requires you to assume that the founders meant for Congress to be a pretense of democracy.

So much for "strict constructionism."

About the only upside to all of this is that it signals that Bush believes the next president will pull troops out of Iraq at the first opportunity. And, since both GOP frontrunners are committed to staying in Iraq until the sun burns out, that means that he believes the next Commander in Chief will be a Democrat. Yay for that, at least.

And Bush's attempt to force the hand of the next command in chief is undercut by his own arguments. If Congress has absolutely no say in a war prosecuted by the Executive, you've got to assume that the Executive isn't bound by the actions of the previous Executive. There's nothing to stop President Obama or Clinton from converting these bases to Supercenters and selling them to Wal-Mart.

By claiming that the President is a Dictator in matters of war, Bush allows the next resident of the White House to easily undo anything he tries to rope them into.

In the end, Bush's surge is working in the sense that it reduces everything to a slow burn until he leaves office. It's not a plan for victory, because it was never meant to be. It's more like putting a video game on pause -- you can't win, you can't lose, because you're not actually doing anything.

Meanwhile, Iraq is a police state -- which is ironic, since the only remaining justification for the war is that Saddam kept Iraqis in a police state. I'm not really sure how this can be defined as "progress."

The surge isn't working in any way we'd been led to expect. The fact that military commanders in Iraq call for the drawdown to stop proves that. It's not a fix, it's a patch -- and Bush is hoping that patch holds until he's safely out of town.

Terry Canaan is a former political fundraiser living and writing in Wisconsin. He publishes the blog "Griper Blade."






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