Sunday, January 25, 2009

Iraq: A war lost and a presidency failed

The famed and amazingly well-connected Washington journalist Bob Woodward has an interesting article here. In it, he lists ten lessons for President Obama to learn from what he calls the "troubled presidency of George W. Bush." Here's the first thing:

1. Presidents set the tone. Don't be passive or tolerate virulent divisions.

In the fall of 2002, Bush witnessed a startling face-off between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in the White House Situation Room after Rumsfeld had briefed the National Security Council on the Iraq war plan. Rice wanted to hold on to a copy of the Pentagon briefing slides, code-named Polo Step. "You won't be needing that," Rumsfeld said, reaching across the table and snatching the Top Secret packet away from Rice -- in front of the president. "I'll let you two work it out," Bush said, then turned and walked out. Rice had to send an aide to the Pentagon to get a bootlegged copy from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Bush should never have put up with Rumsfeld's power play. Instead of a team of rivals, Bush wound up with a team of back-stabbers with long-running, poisonous disagreements about foreign policy fundamentals.

Speaking of Iraq, if you listen to official-Washington speak you hear things like 'the Surge worked,' or 'we are winning.' I've even heard 'we've won.'

I thought of such official-speak upon reading this article in the London Review of Books, written by Patrick Cockburn. It is titled 'America Concedes.' From reading it I learned that,

On 27 November the Iraqi parliament voted by a large majority in favour of a security agreement with the US under which its 150,000 troops will withdraw from Iraqi cities, towns and villages by 30 June next year and from all of Iraq by 31 December 2011. The Iraqi government will take over military responsibility for the Green Zone in Baghdad, the heart of American power in Iraq, in a few weeks’ time. Private security companies will lose legal immunity. US military operations will only be carried out with Iraqi consent. No US military bases will remain after the last American troops leave in 2011 and in the interim the US military is banned from carrying out attacks on other countries from within Iraq.

The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), signed after eight months of rancorous negotiations, is categorical and unconditional. America’s bid to act as the world’s only super-power and to establish quasi-colonial control of Iraq, an attempt that began with the invasion of 2003, has ended in failure. There will be a national referendum on the new agreement next July, but the accord is to be implemented immediately, so the poll will be largely irrelevant. Even Iran, which had denounced the first drafts of the SOFA, fearing that any agreement would enshrine a permanent US presence in Iraq, now says that it will officially back the new security pact after the referendum: a sure sign that America’s main rival in the Middle East sees the accord as marking the end of the occupation and the end of any notion of Iraq being used as a launching-pad for military assaults on its neighbours.

Astonishingly, this momentous agreement was greeted with little surprise or interest outside Iraq. On the day that it was finally passed by the Iraqi parliament international attention was focused on the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. For some months polls in the US have shown that the economic crisis has replaced the Iraqi war in the minds of American voters. In any case, Bush has declared so many spurious milestones to have been passed in Iraq over the years that when a real turning point is reached people are naturally sceptical about its significance. The White House is anyway so keen to keep quiet about what it has agreed in Iraq that it hasn’t even published a copy of the SOFA in English. Some senior officials in the Pentagon privately criticise Bush for conceding so much, but the American media are fixated on the incoming Obama administration and no longer pay much attention to the doings of Bush and Co.

. . . .

The Iraqi government will become stronger as the Americans begin to depart. It will also be forced to take full responsibility for the failings of the Iraqi state. This comes at a bad moment for the government because the price of oil, the state’s only source of revenue, has fallen to $50 a barrel, when the budget assumed it would be $80. Many state salaries – those of teachers, for example – were doubled on the strength of this estimate. Communal differences are still largely unresolved. Although friction between Sunni and Shia, bad though it is, is less than it was two years ago, hostility between Arabs and Kurds is deepening. The departure of the US military frightens many Sunni, who will be at the mercy of the majority Shia. But it is also an incentive for the three main communities to come to an agreement about their relations with one another: there will soon be no Americans left to stand between them. America’s troops will depart, leaving behind a ruined country.

The thesis of the article seems to be this: Any bogus official-speak notwithstanding, America has in reality lost the Iraq War.

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