Friday, May 25, 2007

Perched on the Handlebars, of a Blind Man's Bike

The news cycles in Iraq seem to be moving in a pattern of concentric circles - some might say a spiral. Whatever your preferred imagery, one thing is clear: it is taking less time for the various strategic plans/developments to complete their familiar arc across the desert sky and as a result, the plans themselves are being loaded into the chamber with increasing frequency. The trajectory is no doubt recognizable to most observers: First, there is the latest and highly celebrated "magic bullet" launched skyward in triumph; then the unbridled enthusiasm recedes to form expectations of a partial - yet promising success; gradually, the plan becomes a source of cautious optimism; eventually, the futility and lack of impact is recognized; and, finally, the tattered remnants come crashing back to earth to take up their rightful place among the wrecks of prior Icarian fantasies.

The latest in the series of failed auditions for the role of deus ex machina in Iraq is "The Surge." Early on in The Surge's flight, two of the more highly touted indicators of success were the apparent decline in sectarian violence and the sudden vanishing act of Moqtada al-Sadr (the bete noire of the Bush administration, and convenient scapegoat for the aforementioned sectarian tensions). Andrew Sullivan does quick work with the first prong:

"The level of sectarian violence is an important indicator of whether or not the strategy that we have implemented is working," - president Bush, May 10.

"More than three months into a U.S.-Iraqi security offensive designed to curtail sectarian violence in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, Health Ministry statistics show that such killings are rising again. From the beginning of May until Tuesday, 321 unidentified corpses, many dumped and showing signs of torture and execution, have been found across the Iraqi capital, according to morgue data provided by a Health Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. The data showed that the same number of bodies were found in all of January, the month before the launch of the Baghdad security plan," - Washington Post [May 24].

Oh, and that al-Sadr guy whose fear of The Surge caused him to flee to parts unknown (aka Iran and Lebanon)? Well, he's back too.

Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr appeared in public for the first time in months on Friday, delivering a fiery anti-American sermon to thousands of followers and demanding U.S. troops leave Iraq.

So much for that.

There has also been an attempt to tie some of the recent intra-sectarian friction between Sunni insurgent groups as one of the boons provided by The Surge. Due to the conflicting goals, tactics and strategies (and competition for sources of income) between the more locally inclined Sunni insurgent groups (who want to end the US occupation and regain power) and those that have adopted the al-Qaeda brand (who want to end the US occupation, and then use Iraq as a launching pad for global jihad), a deep rift has formed, and fighting has broken out along that fault line. The US has been able to assist the local Sunni resistance groups in the targeting of the al-Qaeda types. While this effort is all to the good (the less al-Qaeda the better is my motto), the long term benefits to our mission in Iraq are limited, and chalking the formation of this tacit alliance up to The Surge is disingenuous at best. Kevin Drum puts the chronology in order:

This tribal U-turn against AQI predates the surge by many months, of course, and mainly shows that the U.S. presence isn't really necessary in order to fight them. The tribal sheikhs consider AQI a threat, and left to their own devices they'll get rid of them on their own.

Perhaps more important, though, is the fact that our Sunni "allies" in this anti-AQ endeavor also want us to leave, and want to bring down the current Iraqi government. It is a temporary, narrowly focused marriage of convenience. After we "succeed" in routing AQ (assuming that's possible), our alliance will dissolve and it'll be back to a full-on adversarial posture (see, ie, Abu Aardvark & Co. for the superb ongoing analysis).

So with The Surge struggling to maintain altitude like some genetically impaired quail that Dick Cheney would hunt for sport, the news cycle came full circle this week with two "new," and in many ways mutually exclusive, post-Surge plans as reported by David Ignatius and Ann Scott Tyson. The level of "newness" is highly dubious, as these trial balloons are really just warmed over "stay the course." (there have even been indications of support from President Bush for the Baker-Hamilton Commission report that was previously tossed aside by the administration with utter contempt). As the song goes, when you get to the bottom, you go back to the top of the slide.

Larry Johnson has a post that neatly dissects the massive shortcomings of the latest schemes for anyone interested (though Brad at Sadly, No! really gets at the Ignatius column as well). As interesting as the substance of the Life After The Surge proposals, though, is just how quickly they were launched. The denouement of a major strategic endeavor such as The Surge used to take many months to unravel. Now, that process has been compressed to a matter of weeks, and even days. In fact, the Bush administration is so anxious about the rapid descent of The Surge, that they've leaked the details of two separate, and often conflicting, plans simultaneously. And that before The Surge has even kept its high velocity appointment with terra firma. In the near future, it's going to take an air traffic controller from LAX to figure out how many birds the administration has in the air at any given time.

Tragically, our military personnel, and the Iraqi people, will be along for the ride. The in-flight safety tips that flight attendants are required to read prior to departure will be about as useful to them.

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