Thursday, January 31, 2008

The foreign policy of George W. Bush, "the man who learned too little"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

That's the title of Fred Kaplan's excellent analysis of President Bush's comments on U.S. foreign policy, including the Iraq War and Occupation, in Monday's SOTU. It's a must-read, and I've been meaning to post on it all week as a sort of follow-up to my live-blogging of the SOTU, which included a few remarks on Iraq, but, alas, the SOTU was quickly forgotten, more or less, put aside, tossed into the dustbin, a lame address from a lame-duck president, more of the same delusional drivel that hast come to characterize so much of this presidency. And we all moved on to seemingly more important things, like the Florida primaries -- yes, Bush has been eclipsed by Clinton and Obama, McCain and Romney, two close races, fascinating politics, and we are all, or so it seems, looking ahead eagerly to the end of the Bush presidency and the start of whatever is to come.

But not so fast. Bush offered up more of the same happy-talk, but the Iraq War and Occupation is very real, and what is going on there still matters, lest we forget.

And so I turn to Kaplan. His dissection of Bush's comments asks the right questions and makes the right points -- for example, Bush's talk of democracy and freedom is just that, talk, with nothing to back it up, a reflection of ignorance and delusion, self-righteousness and complacency, gross negligence and utter cluelessness -- but, Bush aside, his examination of the situation in Iraq is brilliant. I rarely post such long excerpts from other sources, but here it is, the truth about Iraq:

On Iraq, Bush had some genuinely good news to tell, but he overstated it and distorted its implications. The past few months have witnessed a dramatic decline in casualties (civilian and military, Iraqi and American). The "surge" — which Bush ordered into effect nearly a year ago, in the face of much skepticism — is indisputably one cause of these trends. But it is just one cause, and the effects being celebrated, salutary as they are, are not the effects that were intended.

Certainly the additional 25,000 troops that the surge has brought to a few areas of Iraq — along with Gen. David Petraeus' more aggressive strategy of using them (putting troops out on the streets instead of retreating to the superbases) — has increased security in the areas they've been able to occupy.

However, much of the reduced violence is related to the "alliances of convenience" between U.S. forces and Sunni insurgents against the common enemy of al-Qaida in Iraq. These alliances were initiated by the Sunnis and antedate the surge. There is also the matter of Muqtada Sadr's moratorium on violence (which, in fairness, might be due in part to the surge). And there is the simple fact that U.S. forces are paying insurgency groups not to attack them (a wise use of money, until it runs out).

More to the point, Gen. Petraeus said at the beginning that there is no strictly military victory to be had in Iraq; that the point of the surge was to provide "breathing space" to Iraq's political leaders, so that, amid improved security in Baghdad, they might settle their sectarian disputes. This political settlement does not appear to be happening; the political objectives of the surge are not being met.

President Bush said the proof of our strategy's success is that "more than 20,000 of our troops are coming home." (The congressional crowd went wild with applause.) These are the 20,000 troops that were sent over as part of the surge. The simple fact is that, by the summer, the 15-month deployment tours of the last of these surge brigades will have run out. There are no brigades ready to replace them. So, they will come home — and this would have been the case, no matter what had happened in the past year. The surge has always been short-term; that's why they called it a surge.

As for the prospect of future withdrawals, Bush said, "Any further drawdown of U.S. troops will be based on conditions in Iraq and the recommendations of our commanders." He added, "Gen. Petraeus has warned that too fast a drawdown could result in the disintegration of the Iraqi security forces, al-Qaida in Iraq regaining lost ground, a marked increase in violence."

Don't bet on any more troops coming home for good before Christmas. And if a reduction from 160,000 to 140,000 puts the situation back on the precipice, below which further cuts trigger disaster, then the situation cannot be considered at all stable.

And it isn't stable, not really. Violence has been reduced in certain areas, that is true, but the surge has not worked -- certainly not as intended, and only temporarily, and Iraq remains not just deeply divided but in a state of relative calm before the coming storm. And, yes, the storm is coming.

Kaplan is right that it will take another president to demonstrate that Americans are "a compassionate people," as Bush put it in his address, but it will also fall to the the next president to deal with Bush's mess in Iraq.

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