– posted by thehim
I’m not going to speculate on why southwestern Washington Congressman Brian Baird is chugging the Bush Administration Kool-Aid right now. I understand the concerns over the growing humanitarian crisis, but believing that the way to stop it is to follow through on what created the humanitarian crisis in the first place is pretty horrendous logic. As Americans, we do tend to believe that we’re problem solvers and that our military is a jack-of-all-trades fixing machine that takes problems and turns them into solutions. Unfortunately, in reality, there are some things our military can not fix. Iraq and it’s current political stalemate is one of them. It’s very difficult to accept this, but it’s becoming more and more vital by the day that we do. I want to go through Baird’s op-ed and try to make this as clear as I can:
The invasion of Iraq may be one of the worst foreign-policy mistakes in the history of our nation. As tragic and costly as that mistake has been, a precipitous or premature withdrawal of our forces now has the potential to turn the initial errors into an even greater problem just as success looks possible.
I have absolutely no idea where he gets the idea that success has started to look possible. What many in the Bush Administration wanted us to believe is that the recent escalation of troops would provide some kind of breathing room for the Iraqi government to reconcile their differences peacefully. By all measures, this is not happening. The Iraqi government has become more fractured. The Iraqi populace has become less stable. The numbers of displaced Iraqis continues to rise rapidly. And the number of our troops succumbing to violence keeps growing.
As a Democrat who voted against the war from the outset and who has been frankly critical of the administration and the post-invasion strategy, I am convinced by the evidence that the situation has at long last begun to change substantially for the better.
If you’re interested in hearing the evidence, you’ll have to wait. While Baird repeats this claim that the situation has “begun to change substantially for the better,” he’s not too eager to share the evidence until a little later (you’ll see why).
I believe Iraq could have a positive future.
I do too, but I’m convinced that Iraq will have a better chance at a positive future the sooner we get out of there. No one believes that bad things won’t happen after we leave. What those who support withdrawal are saying is that our presence there is only raising the temperature. It’s fueling extremism. While many of us may believe that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for Iraq under our occupation, the Iraqis overwhelmingly don’t. And very few of them will sacrifice in order to reach that light as long as we’re there.
Our diplomatic and military leaders in Iraq, their current strategy, and most importantly, our troops and the Iraqi people themselves, deserve our continued support and more time to succeed.
The Iraqi people certainly need our support. What we’re questioning is whether or not our military presence is the most effective way to support them. If the Iraqis feel that our presence is counterproductive, then it’s very possible that we’re not supporting the Iraqi people by supporting President Bush’s strategy.
I understand the desire of many of our citizens and my colleagues in Congress to bring the troops home as soon as possible. The costs have been horrific for our soldiers, their families, the Iraqi people and the economy.
Then what has changed? Explain to us why the strategy that has been so disastrous before, is working now, when the only difference between the strategy now and the strategy then is about 30,000 troops. Not to mention that the huge advances in what kinds of black market arms the Iraqi insurgents are able to get their hands on wipes out any significant shift in power that our increased presence does. I’ll accept the notion that we’ve gotten smarter on counterinsurgency tactics, but what does that matter once we’ve already lost the trust of the local populace? We’re left with forming temporary alliances of convenience with the myriad numbers of groups that don’t trust us.
If we keep our troops on the ground we will lose more lives, continue to spend billions each week, and, given the history and complex interests of the region, there is no certainty that our efforts will succeed in the long run. We must be absolutely honest about these costs and risks and I am both profoundly saddened and angry that we are where we are.
We also have to be honest about who’s running this war. I certainly agree that Gates is a more competent man to run the Pentagon than Rumsfeld, but decisions are still being made at an even higher level. It was revealed recently that the Petraeus report will actually be written by the White House. Doesn’t that concern you? I think we have be honest about the risks involved here, but don’t we also have to be honest about whether we trust the Bush Administration to turn this occupation around and make it successful, considering how directly involved they are? Do you really think the Bush Administration has demonstrated the kind of competence to do that?
I think Congressman Baird has demonstrated in this editorial why the approval ratings of Congress are so low – because the Democrats in Congress are still treating the Bush Administration as competent and trustworthy stewards of the nation, when well over half the country does not feel that way.
Knowing all this, how can someone who opposed the war now call for continuing the new directions that have been taken in Iraq?
Mainly because they’re not really new directions. We’ve certainly changed tactics on the ground in how our troops deal with the local populace. But when it comes to the major issues that will allow for political reconciliation between the different factions, the stagnation we’re mired in now isn’t much different than it’s been for the last two years. Our official position is still to antagonize the new Iraqi government’s most natural ally, Iran, while ignoring the dangers posed by Turkish and Saudi interests towards the new regime. If you want to be taken seriously, Congressman, talk about how we’re going to deal with the Turkish-Kurdistan issue, or the problems with Iran. No victory will be coming out of Iraq solely because our military starts policing the cities and towns differently.
The answer is that the people, strategies and facts on the ground have changed for the better and those changes justify changing our position on what should be done.
Still, he offers no proof – because he has none.
To understand the magnitude of the challenge and why it is taking time for things to improve, consider what happened as the result of the invasion and post-invasion decisions. Tens of thousands of Iraqi lives have been lost and hundreds of thousands have fled the country. We dismantled the civil government, police, armed forces and the nation’s infrastructure. We closed critical industries and businesses, putting as many as a half million people, including those who best knew how to run the infrastructure and factories, out of work and filled with resentment. We left arms caches unguarded and the borders open to infiltration. We allowed schools, hospitals and public buildings to be looted and created conditions that fanned sectarian conflicts.
So, now, imagine you’re an Iraqi and you know that all these things have happened (and trust me, they all do). Do you really think they’ll trust us when we say “oh, yeah, all that stuff we fucked up over the past four years? Forget about it, we’ve changed our strategy now. You can trust us.” Do you really think that the Iraqis are going to believe that? Would you?
No matter how one justifies extending the occupation at this point, it must be very clear that we’re doing so against the desires of a majority of Iraqis who’ve seen their country torn to shreds by our incompetence and have little reason to trust us any more.
It is just not realistic to expect Iraq or any other nation to be able to rebuild its government, infrastructure, security forces and economy in just four years.
Iraq had all of those things in 2003. Sure, they were controlled by a dangerous and often malicious dictator, but Iraqi society functioned at a much greater level before the invasion than it does today. We’ve been led to believe in the myth that Iraq has slowly been rebuilt since 2003, when in reality, it has been slowly falling apart since 2003.
Despite the enormous challenges, the fact is, the situation on the ground in Iraq is improving in multiple and important ways.
Again, no evidence.
Regardless of one’s politics or position on the invasion, this must be recognized and welcomed as good news.
Hold on, I think it’s finally coming. Let’s see what talking points he was given:
Our soldiers are reclaiming ground and capturing or killing high-priority targets on a daily basis.
They’ve already been doing this for four years. As soon as U.S. troops reclaim ground in one area, they lose it in another. And the only reason we’re capturing and killing high-priority targets on a daily basis is because we’ve made so many enemies there for us to kill. It reminds me of that numerous times that anti-drug officials boast about how much drugs they confiscated when all they’re really proving is that the amount of drugs in that area is going up.
Sheiks and tribal groups are uniting to fight against the extremists and have virtually eliminated al-Qaida from certain areas.
They have? In 2003, Al Qaeda fighters were non-existent in Iraq. Now, they’re actually able to wage major battles against local populaces. It’s important to remember that the growth of Al Qaeda in Iraq stems from one major factor – our presence. To say that our continued presence is necessary to fight Al Qaeda is complete idiocy.
The Iraqi military and police are making progress in their training, taking more responsibility for bringing the fight to the insurgents and realizing important victories.
The problem with the Iraqi police isn’t about training, it’s about loyalty. In fact, stories like this are very common. We train and equip Iraqis to defend the elected government, and they simply fight for their own sectarian interests or directly against U.S. troops. It’s foolish to believe that we can stand up a cohesive Iraqi Army when the government they’re supposed to be serving is about to fall down.
Businesses and factories that were once closed are being reopened and people are working again.
The infrastructure is gradually being repaired and markets are returning to life.
Without question, these gains are still precarious and there are very real and troubling problems with the current Iraqi political regime and parliament at the national level.
The gains aren’t “precarious,” they’re significantly outnumbered by the problems. Saying that there’s somehow a net gain in Iraq, or that progress is being made, is completely disingenuous. I would love to see the situation in Iraq improve. It’s just not happening. Let’s be honest about that.
The Iraqis are addressing these problems along with our own State Department but these issues will not easily be resolved and could, if not solved, throw the success of the entire endeavor into jeopardy.
How do you solve them? Why are you asking Americans to sacrifice more money and more lives for a plan that has no specifics?
Those problems notwithstanding, to walk away now from the recent gains would be to lose all the progress that has been purchased at such a dear price in lives and dollars.
What gains? Who is looking at Iraq right now (other than Bush Administration cheerleaders) and seeing overall progress?
As one soldier said to me, “We have lost so many good people and invested so much, It just doesn’t make sense to quit now when we’re finally making progress. I want to go home as much as anyone else, but I want this mission to succeed and I’m willing to do what it takes. I just want to know the people back home know we’re making progress and support us.”
And there’s a reason why you were talking to that soldier, Congressman. Other soldiers have a very different opinion. I’m sure there are some soldiers who think we should bomb Iran. That doesn’t make it a good idea.
From a strategic perspective, if we leave now, Iraq is likely to break into even worse sectarian conflict. The extremist regime in Iran will expand its influence in Iraq and elsewhere in the region. Terrorist organizations, the people who cut off the heads of civilians, stone women to death, and preach hatred and intolerance, will be emboldened by our departure. In the ensuing chaos, the courageous Iraqi civilians, soldiers and political leaders who have counted on us will be left to the slaughter. No American who cares about human rights, security and our moral standing in the world can be comfortable letting these things happen.
Over in the comments at Josh Feit’s post, I rewrote this section:
From a strategic perspective, if we stay in Iraq, Iraq is likely to break into even worse sectarian conflict. The extremist regime in Iran will expand its influence in Iraq and elsewhere in the region. Terrorist organizations, the people who cut off the heads of civilians, stone women to death, and preach hatred and intolerance, will be emboldened by our weakness. In the ensuing chaos, the courageous Iraqi civilians, soldiers and political leaders who have counted on us will continue to be slaughtered. No American who cares about human rights, security and our moral standing in the world can be comfortable letting these things happen.
The point here has been made over and over again. It’s purely speculation to suggest that the trajectory of disaster we’re already on is going to get worse if we leave. And there’s even less reason to believe that the people who have been wrong about every goddamn thing in this entire war and occupation are somehow right about this one thing all of a sudden.
Our citizens should know that this belief is shared by virtually every national leader in the Middle East. There is also near-unanimity among Iraq’s neighbors and regional leaders that partition of Iraq is not an option.
Sorry, but some form of partitioning in Iraq is inevitable at this point. We definitely have to put together some kind of political agreement as we leave the country, one that will at least give the regional and sectarian leaders some ability to stop waging these internal conflicts, but that agreement is not likely to look like a unified Iraq any more. In fact, both foreign policy experts and even Presidential candidate Joe Biden (arguably the most knowledgeable Senator from either party on the Middle East) are already admitting this difficult fact.
“You may think you can walk away from Iraq,” I was told by one leader. “We cannot. We live here and have to deal with the consequences of what your nation has done. So will you eventually, if the Iraq conflict spreads and extremists bring us down as well.”
Unfortunately, the Iraqis leader who said this is most likely right. Those Iraqis who stood by us are very much at risk when we leave, but the best solution right now is to give as many of them political asylum here in the United States and to allow for the remaining Iraqis to start taking care of their country’s affairs.
I do not know the details of what the September report will contain, but I trust and respect Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
That’s irrelevant since, as we already know, the report is being written by the White House.
I have seen firsthand the progress they have made, and I firmly believe we must give them the time and resources they need to succeed.
You were hauled around Iraq to the areas where we’re temporarily working with our enemies to fight Al Qaeda. That is neither an indicator of overall success, or even a positive development. The fact that we’ve resorted to arming some of the people we were once fighting in order to fight Al Qaeda is a good indication that we’re not accomplishing anything of value militarily over there. The history of our involvement in the Middle East is filled with instances where temporary alliances came back to bite us in the ass (see: Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, etc, etc).
Though we would all wish this conflict would end tomorrow, it will not. We are going to have to begin to withdraw troops next spring because our equipment and our soldiers are wearing out.
Then why on earth are you excoriating those who don’t want to go along with a mission that would take at least a decade to accomplish anything at the current troop levels? If you recognize that we’re going to have to draw down troops, then advocate the only sensible path – establish a timetable and start working towards the political reconciliation that needs to follow our inevitable drawdown of forces.
However, even with the progress that has been made of late, we will have a significant military and civilian role in Iraq and the region for some time to come.
At this point, I’m reduced to simply hoping that we’ll have enough credibility to still pull that off. Having troops in Kurdistan would be beneficial and probably welcome, but I don’t know of any way for us to retain Baghdad or the heavily Sunni and Shia areas without the massive apparatus we have right now. We’re likely going to be leaving the Green Zone the way we evacuated Saigon in 1975. Leaving large numbers of troops in Iraq for years to come just to allow for us to keep forward bases when we leave doesn’t seem likely to work or even to have any clear benefits to us. The chances of that region being governed by anyone other than anti-American and anti-democratic strongmen is slim to none for the near future.
That is the price we must all pay for the decision to invade. We cannot shirk that responsibility.
Wait a second, who’s “all?” The people who are paying a price are our troops, their families, and the Iraqis. The Bush Administration and its most enthusiastic supporters have no intention of sacrificing for this occupation in any way at all.
Progress is being made and there is real reason for hope. It would be a tragic waste and lasting strategic blunder to let the hard-fought and important gains slip away, leaving chaos behind to haunt us and our allies for many years to come.
Unbelieveable. Of all the ways Democrats have been played like a fiddle by the Bush Administration, this stands out as one of the worst. Baird was somehow smart enough to know not to authorize war in 2002, yet does not appear to be curious at all to verify if any of the things that he was told on his latest Iraq excursion are actually true. There are plenty of people out there scrutinizing what’s happening in Iraq; people who have been consistently correct about how the situation would play out there. Nearly all of these experts are in agreement that the surge is not working and that we’re no closer to a solution to Iraq than we were a year ago. Even the government’s own National Intelligence Estimate discounts the notion that the surge has been working. Yet Baird is still choosing to listen to people who have been consistently wrong about everything they’ve said since 2002. Pathetic.