Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Fragile and reversible

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Testifying before Congress yesterday, General Petraeus said that progress in Iraq is "fragile and reversible" and, according to the NYT, recommended that "consideration of any new drawdowns of American troops be delayed until the fall, making it likely that little would change before Election Day... [He] refused under persistent questioning from Senate Democrats to say under what conditions he would favor new troop reductions, adding that he would not take the matter up until 45 days after a current drawdown is complete in July. His recommendation would leave just under 140,000 American troops in Iraq well into the fall."

Three comments:

1) This may be good for Democrats in November. Scenes of troops returning home prior to the election would send a message that the war is going well and that the end is near. This way, if Petraeus gets what he wants, voters would go the polls with a clear-cut difference between Obama/Clinton on one side and McCain on the other. Obama/Clinton would be able to make the case that the war would go on indefinitely under McCain, while McCain would be forced to defend a war that is still going so badly that no troops can come home. (I am concerned about what is good for Democrats, but, needless to say, what is good for the troops, as well as for the U.S. generally, is for the war to end as soon as possible. The troops need to be brought home. The political calendar should not dictate when.)

2) This highlights a key tension for supporters of the war. On the one hand, they want to believe, and may actually believe, that the war, given the supposed success of the Petraeus-led, McCain-promoted surge, is going well enough for some troops to be brought home. On the other hand, they don't want the war to be brought to what they deem to be a premature end. Which is to say, they talk up success and progress and victory even as they demand ever more war. There is no way out of this: According to this view, it is precisely the surge (more war) that has brought about progress. (It hasn't.) But if the surge is ended and troops are brought home, all that has been gained (a modest and temporary improvement in overall security) could be lost, the progress reversed. In other words, to end the war, there must be more war, even though it is not at all clear that more war is actually doing anything to bring about the end. Support for the war in these terms is simply absurd -- not to mention reckless, destructive, and untenable.

3) The situation in Iraq is no doubt "fragile and reversible" -- from bad to worse, not (as Petraeus suggests) from good to bad -- but when will it not be? Iraq is nowhere close to being politically stable. If the U.S. means to stay in Iraq until the situation is no longer "fragile and reversible," it will be there for a long, long time. Which is, of course, precisely what McCain the Warmonger thinks should happen.

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