Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Cranky McCain clueless on Iraq

By Libby Spencer

The media has continously treated McCain as a foreign policy 'expert' in the face of his utter cluelessness about the situation on the ground in Iraq. Perhaps that will change as it becomes impossible to ignore that all those fact-finding trips he's taken don't appear to have given him a grasp of the reality on the ground.

He clearly doesn't have a clue on Sadr's role and can't even keep his rhetoric consistent. He was surprised by the Basra offensive and wrongly painted it as a defeat for Sadr when in fact even the most casual observers can see that Maliki was the one looking like a whipped dog coming out of that power play designed to influence the dynamics of the upcoming regional elections. You would think a man who intends to take charge of the occupation and wants to continue it for 100 years would be better informed. Maybe McCain thinks it will take a hundred years to figure out what's really going on there.

But that's all about internal Iraqi politics. The more important debate for America is what can we hope to accomplish by staying there. Via dday who has thoughts worth reading, the best explanation I've seen is from an email sent to Spencer Ackerman from a junior officer on the ground in the sandbox.

In my opinion, what everyone fails to realize is that this is not a counterinsurgency. If we wanted to stay in Iraq, then it would be a counterinsurgency. But it is clear that our goal is to turn over power and pull out. So, in building our strategic endstate, it's pointless to set goals that relate to our presence in Iraq. If the "insurgency" is a function of our being there, then it is not an insurgency in terms of our endstate. For example, if one of our goals is to stop IED attacks on US forces, that is pointless. When we leave, there will be no more IED attacks on us forces. So our endstate needs to be different. We need to ask "if we left tomorrow, what would happen in Iraq?" and from there, we need to determine which of those anticipated results are unacceptable to us. Then we must aim our efforts on making sure those unacceptable results do not occur.

When I look at the problem that way, it becomes almost impossible to find a purpose in what we do. Regardless of what we do, the Shia are going to take control. They have completely infiltrated all the security forces. The only kind of leader who could keep them in check was a tyrant like Saddam. And when the Shia take control, as soon as we leave, they are going to be as brutal as they like against the Sunni and there will be little we can do about it. That is what will happen whether we leave tomorrow or in ten years. As far as the foreign fighters, they will leave Iraq when we do. So what are we trying to accomplish here? Train the Iraqi forces? History shows that training forces in the Middle East can backfire. Any training we offer these people will find its way to our terrorist enemies.

A lot of ink has been spilled in the last five years about this debacle but when you strip down the fevered rhetoric there is always one glaring conclusion that is inescapable. Staying in occupation does not make us safer and in fact makes everything worse. To fix what we broke, we need to get out of Iraq so they can pick up the shattered pieces of their world and glue it back together in way that makes sense to them, even if we don't like the finished product.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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