Iraq Assessment: General vs. General
With cherry-picked numbers this week, General Petraeus, the supreme U.S. military commander in Iraq testified before Congress (and gave numerous interviews designed to sway public opinion) that the military surge is working and that staying this course (with a mild troop reduction next summer) is the (long, slow) route to success–even though so few political goals have been met by the Iraqi government. Former NATO head, General Wesley Clark, who was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in ’04, disagrees. According to an interview that Clark gave to The Independent (a prominent British newspaper), the military is accomplishing nothing in Iraq.
Now, I am no military analyst. My initial and continued opposition to this war is on moral grounds. But long before I was a pacifist, I learned that military power has limits. No matter how much military might an occupying army has, if an insurgency is determined, it is likely to eventually send the occupiers home. That is, after all, how the U.S. became independent–making it too costly for the mighty British empire to hold onto these colonies. So, why do Americans find this so very hard to remember when WE are the occupiers? At any rate, because of this basic truth, I am more inclined to trust General Clark’s judgment of the situation than General Petraeus’.
Consider the sheer number of ways that Petraeus’ charts and graphs distorted the facts about the “declining level of sectarian violence.”:
- As Paul Krugman of the New York Times showed, deaths by car bombs were left out!
- Assassinations where the victim is shot in the back of the head counted as “sectarian violence,” but if shot to the front of the head, the Petraeus accounting method assumes this was just ordinary crime and omitted the data.
- Sunni vs. Shi’ia violence was counted, but Sunni vs. Sunni or Shi’ite vs. Shi’ite violence was not counted.
- Attacks by Sunni tribesmen against al-Qaeda were not counted as “violence.”
- Petraeus claims that Iraqi civilian deaths are down, but according to the independent General Accounting Office report, the level of civilian deaths remained steady from February to July, before climbing again in August.
Even in those areas where violence is decreasing (the showcase is Anbar province), the cause for this may not be the military “surge” (the trend in Anbar began before the surge) but other reasons, such as the success of ethnic cleansing in formerly mixed neighborhoods and/or the huge numbers of Iraqi refugees who have left the country. Often there simply aren’t many folk left to kill.
There is no military solution to this disaster. Congress should refuse any requests for more funds and force existing funding in the pipeline to be used to bring all U.S. troops (and the mercenaries in the private contracted “security forces”) home. Simultaneously, we should call for a regional peace summit, and support a U.N. and/or Arab League international security/peacekeeping force in Iraq until Iraq can provide for its own security–with the U.S. funding most of this effort, along with rebuilding. That prevents a chaotic vacuum while removing the U.S. forces–those which must be seen as the invaders and occupiers.
Real security comes not through unilateral militarism and preemptive wars, but through international cooperation and consistent defense of universal human rights.
UPDATE: I agree with Art Levine’s assessment in the Huffington Post: With public unhappiness with the war so strong, Democrats are in good position to win not only the presidency, but increased majorities in both houses of Congress if they give strong opposition to the war. However, if they fail to get a planned, careful withdrawal and content themselves with “incremental change” to Bush’s policies, then they are setting themselves, the nation, and the world up for long term failure. Why? Because if the public has to wait for a new Democratic president to bring the troops home in 2009, their exasperation and impatience will likely make the withdrawal abrupt–without an international replacement or stable conditions in Iraq. Then even greater chaos in Iraq than we have now is likely to ensue and the whole Middle East could go up in flames. That will be disastrous for the nation and the world–and the results will be blamed on the Democrats for decades to come. For the sake of their party, their nation, and the world, Congressional Democrats have got to grow spines and push hard to end this war on Bush’s watch (he started it, after all) and in an orderly fashion that includes a Middle East peace summit and gets an international peacekeeping force as a replacement to U.S. occupiers. The Dems cannot afford to fart around and moderate Republicans should desert Bush and Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and force a controlled ending to this war beginning now and finishing before the end of 2008.
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