Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The War That Just Won't End

Bush Reveals Iraq Exit Plan : "Based On Conditions Of Progress"

Americans Don't Trust BushCo. To Tell The Truth About The Iraq War

It's the Iraq Exit Plan that isn't.

On Thursday, President Bush is expected to announce that by mid-2008 the United States will have substantially cut the number of troops it has in Iraq, from 160,000 to 130,000. Or back to pre-"surge" numbers. But it's conditions-based, progress-based of course. So it's meaningless. BushCo. decides if the conditions are right, or if enough progress has been made to warrant troop withdrawals. There can be little doubt that General Petraeus is now firmly in the ranks of BushCo.

If BushCo. decides early next year that Iraq still needs American troops to stay, then the troops will stay. The only cut in troop numbers will come from the fact that the US is running out of fresh troops to send into the war zone, and that shortfall is expected to really start to bite by mid-2008 :

In a 15-minute address from the White House, Bush will endorse the recommendations of his top general and top diplomat in Iraq, following their appearance at two days of hearings in Congress, administration officials said. The White House plans to issue a written status report on the troop buildup on Friday, they said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Bush's speech is not yet final. Bush was rehearsing and polishing his remarks even as the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker were presenting their arguments for a second day on Capitol Hill.

In the speech, the president will say he understands Americans' deep concerns about U.S. involvement in Iraq and their desire to bring the troops home, they said. Bush will say that, after hearing from Petraeus and Crocker, he has decided on a way forward that will reduce the U.S. military presence but not abandon Iraq to chaos, according to the officials.

Both Democrat and Republican senators subjected General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to hours of withering questions during two days of House and Senate hearings, but the pair stuck firmly to the BushCo. script, almost without falter :
The two top American military and diplomatic officials in Iraq conceded today that the Bush administration’s overall strategy in Iraq would remain largely unchanged after the surge in American forces is over next summer, and they made clear their view that the United States would need a major troop presence in Iraq for years to come.

Facing a day of withering questions from two Senate committees, Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker were unable to argue that the heightened troop levels had made more than fragile and transitory progress. Nor could they reassure senators that American efforts could help forge political compromise among battling sectarian groups.

The clashes over war strategy were more intense and emotional than had unfolded the previous days in the House, reflecting the powerful passions and ambitions of a Senate that includes five presidential aspirants. Some exchanges in the Hart Senate Office Building today struck a tone not heard on Capitol Hill in 40 years, since Gen. William C. Westmoreland defended the American approach to defeating North Vietnam.

In responding to General Petraeus’ recommendations, the White House said President Bush would address the nation at 9 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday. Mr. Bush is expected to endorse the call for no more than a gradual troop drawdown in coming months, one that would leave some 130,000 American troops in Iraq by next summer.

But Democratic leaders issued a pre-emptive attack on that approach this afternoon, with Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, emerging from a White House meeting to denounce the president’s approach as “an insult to the intelligence of the American people.”

As General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker wound up two days of grueling testimony to the House and Senate, Mrs. Pelosi said everything she had heard S “sounds to me like a 10-year, at least, commitment to an open-ended presence and war.”

Democrats who were briefed on the White House meeting said Mrs. Pelosi had told Mr. Bush that much of the public would be shocked at the prospect of an undefined, long-term presence in Iraq. They said the president acknowledged that he foresaw an extended involvement in Iraq and was backed by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, who said the nation had made a commitment to the region.

The recommendation by General Petraeus calls for the step-by-step withdrawal between now and next July of the 30,000 additional forces that Mr. Bush has sent to Iraq as part of a increase in forces that he announced in January. But that leaves open the question that permeated the heated discussions in the Senate today about whether keeping the remaining 130,000 troops would serve a purpose.

“Buy time?” asked an angry Senator Chuck Hagel, the Republican from Nebraska who announced Monday he would retire from the Senate next year. “For what?”

General Petraeus, pressed first by Senator Susan M. Collins, a Maine Republican who is under tremendous pressure to abandon her lukewarm support for Mr. Bush’s war strategy, and then by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, conceded that he would be “hard-pressed” to justify America’s presence in Iraq if there is no political progress in Iraq over the next year.

Senator John W. Warner, the Republican of Virginia who is one of the party’s leading voices on foreign policy, asked whether the current strategy in Iraq is “making America safer.” General Petraeus first retreated to an explanation that he is doing his best “to achieve our objectives in Iraq.”

But when pressed again, he said: “Sir, I don’t know, actually.”

Both the general and the ambassador, who in the past have talked expansively about the regional and global effects of the Iraq war, stayed narrowly in their lanes of expertise today and stepped around repeated questions about whether a series of tactical victories in Anbar Province or some neighborhoods of Baghdad could be transferred into a broader agreement that would end a state of civil war.

Nor would they be drawn into any estimates of how many more years a major American troop presence would be required — or even when the oft-promised training of Iraqi troops would be complete enough to allow Americans to step into the background.

On just how many gains have really been made through the more than half year long troop "surge", the picture may be slightly less bleak in Baghdad, but across Iraq, not much has changed, according to the New York Times.

But many of the Petraeus claims that 'mixed' neighbourhoods in Baghdad are suffering less violence on the whole become even less impressive when you realise that many Sunni families have been driven out, literally, hundreds of thousands of people in the past three years, which leaves less targets for Shia militias :
Seven months after the American-led troop “surge” began, Baghdad has experienced modest security gains that have neither reversed the city’s underlying sectarian dynamic nor created a unified and trusted national government.

Improvements have been made. American military figures show that sectarian killings in Baghdad have decreased substantially. In many of Baghdad’s most battle-scarred areas, including Mansour in the west and Ur in the east, markets and parks that were practically abandoned last year have begun to revive.

The surge has also coincided with and benefited from a dramatic turnaround in many Sunni areas where former insurgents and tribes have defected from supporting violent extremism, delivering reliable tips and helping the Americans find and eliminate car bomb factories. An average of 23 car bombs a month struck Baghdad in June, July and August, down from an average of 42 over the same period a year earlier.

But the overall impact of those developments, so far, has been limited. And in some cases the good news is a consequence of bad news: people in neighborhoods have been “takhalasu” — an Iraqi word for purged, meaning killed or driven away. More than 35,000 Iraqis have left their homes in Baghdad since the American troop buildup began, aid groups reported.

The hulking blast walls that the Americans have set up around many neighborhoods have only intensified the city’s sense of balkanization. Merchants must now hire a different driver for individual areas, lest gunmen kill a stranger from another sect to steal a truckload of T-shirts.

To study the full effects of the troop increase at ground level, reporters for The New York Times repeatedly visited at least 20 neighborhoods in Baghdad and its surrounding belts, interviewing more than 150 residents, in addition to members of sectarian militias, Americans patrolling the city and Iraqi officials.

They found that the additional troops had slowed, but far from stopped, Iraq’s still-burning civil war. Baghdad remains a city where sectarian violence can flare at any moment, and where the central government is becoming less reliable and relevant as Shiite or Sunni vigilantes demand submission to their own brand of law.

The troop increase was meant to create conditions that could lead from improved security in Baghdad to national reconciliation to a strong central government to American military withdrawal. In recent weeks, President Bush and his commanders have shifted their emphasis to new alliances with tribal leaders that have improved security in Diyala Province, the Sunni Triangle and other Sunni areas, most notably Anbar Province.

That area, not Baghdad, was the one Mr. Bush conspicuously chose to visit this week.

But when he announced on Jan. 10 his plan to add 20,000 to 30,000 troops to Iraq, Mr. Bush emphasized that Baghdad was the linchpin for creating a stable Iraq. With less fear of death in the capital, “Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas,” he said.

That has not happened. More than 160,000 American troops are now in Iraq to help secure 25 million people. Across Baghdad — which undoubtedly remains a crucial barometer — American and Iraqi forces have moved closer to the population, out of giant bases and into 29 joint security stations. But even as some neighborhoods have improved, others have worsened as fighters moved to areas with fewer American troops.

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