General David Petraeus’ long-awaited report back to Congress has confirmed the worst fears of the Bush administration. Six years after 9/11 and nearly five years into the occupation of Iraq, we have been unable to prevent the creation of a failed state. I’m not talking about the one with its capital in Kabul, or even Baghdad; I mean the one with its capital in Washington, D.C.
Seems like it was yesterday, but in a few weeks it’s going to be a full year since a majority of the American people voted to start ending this war. Since then, such sentiment has grown to include about two-thirds of the population — 63 percent to precisely cite the latest polls.
And what do we have to show for that? An increase, not a wind-down, in troop levels; a new White House/Pentagon PR campaign that eerily evokes memories of the Saigon Five O’clock Follies; and a Democratic Congress unwilling to act on its anti-war mandate and make the only morally and politically possible move, which is to begin severing funds for the war. This is what political scientists call a crisis of representation: when a majority of a nation’s electorate no longer recognizes itself in its elected political class. It is, to be precise, a failed state.
General Petraeus’ testimony before Congress made another point starkly clear. We still have years ahead of us, perhaps many years, of U.S. combat troops fighting in Iraq. Pull down his charts and graphs, strip away his rhetoric, and the general’s numbers are as simple as they are staggering: one year from now — in the summer of 2008 — we will be back down to the 130,000 troop level that we were at in January of this year. The New Strategy, then, is but one more way to stay the course.
That ghastly course has now led to about 5,000 American deaths (if we count the untallied fatalities among “private contractors”) as well as a half-trillion dollars down the rat hole — so far. Yet, thanks to the rank cynicism of the Bushies and the fecklessness of the Democrats, the Iraq debate has been reduced to pointless bickering over nothing but the surge itself.
Larry Korb, Ronald Reagan’s former assistant secretary of defense, quickly scratched out a short list of all the inconvenient facts missing from Petraeus’ presentation and just as gingerly sidestepped by most of his congressional questioners: overall civilian deaths in Iraq are increasing, not decreasing; May was the deadliest month this year; the Pentagon’s scorecard of sectarian murders no longer includes Shia-on-Shia killings, Sunni-on-Sunni violence, car bombings or — can you believe this? — people being shot in the head from the front. Call the Baghdad coroner and tell him to pass on the good news to all the cold corpses he has stacked up like firewood.
Nor did we hear anything this week about the skyrocketing number of Iraqi refugees, as many as 2 million abroad and an equal number internally displaced. Violence has, perhaps, decreased in the capital but only because Baghdad has been ethnically cleansed of Sunnis and now languishes in the grip of Muqtada al-Sadr’s death-squad militias. Anbar has been relatively pacified, but only because we have armed and empowered the Sunni warlords — the sworn enemies of those we support in the capital. In the very moments during which Petraeus speaks to Congress, the British forces withdraw from Southern Iraq, abandoning it to a chaotic battle between rival Shia militias. The “breathing space” our surge provided the Iraqi government was used not to build a viable governing coalition, but to take a month off to visit the beaches of Italy and the Casino du Liban.
Yesterday’s talk of hitting crucial political benchmarks while training and standing up the Iraqi forces has quietly been jettisoned in favor of banging the war drums against Iran. First it was WMD we were after in Iraq, then it was Saddam, then Al Qaeda. Now — we heard from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker — we might soon be fighting to stop Iran. What’s next?
Primary responsibility for this fiasco rests with the Republicans. But the nauseating waffling of the Democrats — from the early days of their voting to authorize the war, through the chicken-livered yammering about “re-deployment” instead of withdrawal and right up to the current failure of nerve to sever funding — has amply lubricated the drilling we’re getting from the White House. Don’t believe the hooey that the Senate Democrats are hamstrung because they don’t have the 60 votes to win a bill to begin withdrawal, because the opposite equation is also true. They only need 40 votes to block the appropriation that pays for the carnage. The numbers, they’ve got. What they lack is the political will to make the move.