John McCain and the GOP are all in for the longer war in Iraq. This and the stalling economy present very real challenges to their holding on to the White House this November.
Forget about the House and Senate. The Democrats will surely increase their numbers there.
All of this came into sharp focus yesterday when General David Petraeus informed the Senate of his plans to keep force levels at pre-surge levels for at least 45 days after withdrawal of the last surge brigade at which time he will begin to review the situation again.
There is “significant but uneven progress,” said the General. This progress is “fragile but reversible.” He testified that “The situation in certain areas is still unsatisfactory and innumerable challenges remain.”
The General steadfastly refused to indicate when further troops might be withdrawn from the theatre after the surge brigades are withdrawn. Troop levels will remain at pre-surge levels for an indefinite period of time. With the full support of President Bush and Senator McCain, and the assent of the Secretary of Defense, there will be no further draw down of our forces of any number within any time frame this side of a new administration in Washington.
The surge has been replaced by a “pause” of unlimited duration which is beginning to look more like a permanent state of affairs. We have not lost this war, but it is hard to divine when we might win it.
The U.S. Army and the Marines have gotten the counterinsurgency thing right. And, mercifully, death and carnage is down, although Americans are still dying and suffering serious injuries. But substantial political progress in a nation torn by sectarian and ethnic strife is pretty hard to discern. This, of course, was the original justification for the surge.
The recent Basra operation was really troubling notwithstanding the statistics cited by General Petraeus on the build-up of Iraqi security and police forces. It looks like a botched job from the get-go with a thousand Iraqi deserters and Iran in the role of arbiter of a ceasefire.
Swoop, a well-sourced website lauded by the Financial Times and the Washington Post, reports that, privately, Pentagon officials claim “many of our assumptions about the capabilities of the Iraqi Army and the progress of political reconciliation will have to be rethought” post-Basra.
This source went on to report that the Saudis are very concerned that Iraq might break up into three parts which some experts have promoted for some time as a super-federalist approach to insoluble political differences. Caesar’s Gaul was divided into three parts, too; but that was before he invaded it.
This effectively means that “the U.S. cannot reinforce its operations in Afghanistan,” notes Swoop. This is especially troubling if the new government in Pakistan becomes less friendly.
You wouldn’t know it observing the latest NATO meeting or listening to General Petraeus’s testimony, but Afghanistan and Pakistan is where the real terrorist threat to the U.S. and Europe resides.
So far those Sunnis of the so-called Awakening, the ones who used to kill our soldiers, are still willing to take our money. But what happens when the money is gone and the Shia-dominated government still won’t let them into the game? General Odierno says this tactic is working. Time will tell.
Andrew Bacevich, who is a Vietnam veteran and lost a son in Iraq, reminds us that it was General Petraeus himself, in 2003, on his first tour of duty in Iraq, who said to a reporter, “Tell me how this ends.” Five years later, does he know the answer? He should not be faulted if he doesn’t. He didn’t start this war. Civilians did.
Iraq is now Senator McCain’s white whale and the GOP is the harpoon crew being pulled along in the boat. It should be quite a ride.
William F. Buckley, Jr., and Ronald Reagan made the GOP a coalition of economic, social, and national security conservatives. In this election the national security folks are in the driver’s seat with the other two holding on for dear life. Will it be farewell to tax cuts, the ban on partial-birth abortion, and law-abiding judicial appointees? The old Reagan coalition was fun while it lasted. We can only pray that this war doesn’t do to it what World War I did to the Hapsburg Empire.