Time won't solve anything
US policy in Iraq is an utter failure; giving the current strategy more time only exacerbates the disaster, writes Ramzy Baroud
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Eyewitnesses gather in front of a a Kurdish Party office in the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk where a suicide car bomber triggered a blast that killed at least 71 people and wounded 180 others
The news of recent weeks emanating from Washington and Baghdad points to one clear if not final conclusion: the Bush administration's adventures in Iraq have been a complete failure.
What the media has eagerly dubbed as the "Republican revolt" is now reinforced by two of the most distinguished Republican senators, John Warner of Virginia and Richard Lugar of Indiana. Before the Democrats' takeover of Congress, the former was chairman of the Armed Services Committee; the latter presided over the Foreign Relations Committee. Their significance in the party in national security and foreign policy issues is unmatched and uncontested.
Both senators proposed a measure requiring troop redeployment from front-line combat as early as 1 January 2008. The measure, unveiled 13 July, would require the White House to come up with a plan for realignment by 16 October.
One only needs to consider the timing of that proposed realignment to appreciate the seriousness of the proposal. The head of US forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, along with US Ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker, are expected to furnish a report to Congress assessing "progress", and whether the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki has lived up to the conditions imposed by Congress and signed by Bush. If Al-Maliki and his sectarian-based circle fail to impress there will be an aid cut.
Democrats, whether genuinely concerned or knowing that the Iraq fiasco is their winning card, are fuming. In their view, even the momentous initiative of Warner and Lugar is insufficient. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid chastised the plan for not insisting on implementation. Reid proposes alternative legislation that would require troop withdrawal by spring of next year. Many Democrats are also following Reid's line; however, they don't represent the required majority to override a presidential veto.
Bush, on the other hand, maintains that his strategy simply needs time. He is no longer demanding but "imploring", this being the precise term used in a Washington Post report 14 July on the White House's response to the "Republican rebellion": "Bush implored Congress to wait for Petraeus's assessment before trying to change strategy," Shailagh Murray wrote.
By expecting a redeployment strategy to be available by mid-October, the proposal of senators Lugar and Warner requires the White House to start preparing almost immediately; by doing so they render the Petraeus-Crocker recommendations of no consequence. And why wait for Petraeus's views if they are already known?
General Petraeus spoke to the BBC's John Simpson in Baquba only a few days before these developments on Capital Hill, emphasising the slow process of bringing stability to Iraq. "Northern Ireland, I think, taught you that very well. My counterparts in your [British] forces really understand this kind of operation... It took a long time, decades," he said.
Petraeus is not pessimistic to the point of eliminating the possibility of a military victory altogether, but he is talking of a long and arduous war. "I don't know whether this will be decades, but the average counter-insurgency is somewhere around a nine- or a 10-year endeavour."
Considering these views, one can only predict that the general's report in September, which is likely to celebrate a few achievements here and there, will accentuate this duration. An additional 10 years to suppress an "insurgency" is too long for a nation that is already growing weary of war and its costs, let alone the Iraqi people who pay the ultimate price.
The Bush administration's failure to rally Congress -- and increasingly even its own Republican members there -- is being paralleled by another political storm, this time emanating from the Iraq government itself. While Al-Maliki is alleging that his army is capable of keeping security, so that US forces can leave "anytime they want", a top aide, Hassan Al-Suneid, lashed out at the US for turning Iraq into an "experiment in an American laboratory." Suneid made his remarks in protest against the Bush administration's "benchmarks" for progress, but also US military tactics, including coordination with Sunni militant groups ("gangs of killers" according to Suneid) to ostracise and destroy Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Maliki, meanwhile, is dealing with the irresolvable and widening crisis within the ranks of the Shia political parties, and between the latter and the Sunnis and Kurds. His coalition crisis is a much grimmer version of Bush's congressional ordeal, although it's fuelled mostly by Washington's policies and expectations.
While Pentagon reports continue to talk of success here and there in justification of the 30,000 troops surge, the situation on the ground paints a different picture. Suicide bombers, car bombs, endless US military raids and shells whizzing everywhere, carry on unhindered. The fact that Iraqis are dying by the thousands makes all reports of measurable progress simply ink on paper.
Back in the US, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll -- conducted 9-11 July -- showed that the American public's approval of Congress's performance is as low as it was in June 2006, before Democrats took over both the House and Senate. At 24 per cent, the Americans are losing faith in both parties, after a temporary surge of hope that the Democratic ascension would help move the country in a new direction. At 33 per cent, President Bush's approval rating remains equally dismal.
US policy in Iraq has failed beyond repair. That failure wouldn't be of consequence were it not for the fact that hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis have paid the ultimate price, and many more will likely die if Congress doesn't act forcefully to carry out the wishes of the American people and respect the sanctity of the lives of Iraqis, and indeed of Americans.