WASHINGTON — More news from the beltway. Things in Iraq are going well. Well, pretty well, I mean. Not bad. Well, bad. But not really bad. Kinda bad?
At least, that’s the professional diagnosis, which is worth exactly what you pay to hear it. This can be gleaned by reading the slightly (again, kinda) more optimistic reporting stating that General Petraeus is the greatest thing since sliced bread. It would be fair to add that journalists would qualify that: if you’re into sliced bread.
There’s no point in discussing Iraq anymore because the most critical people are those who don’t really care what news there is — aside from the most recent body counts. Even if Iraq isn’t a quagmire, the conversation about it will be. And now, it seems, even those with a degree of knowledge on the subject are finding ways to skirt contributing anything meaningful without backing away from it.
Take this op-ed in the New York Times by Iraq war “critics” Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack. “Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq…”
Wait for it.
“…At least in military terms.”
O’Hanlon and Pollack visited Iraq to discuss the progress with soldiers, and see firsthand the results of the surge to be reported on later this year. Their article has been lauded by conservatives as the harbinger of doom for the Iraq naysayers. Sure, O’Hanlon and Pollack go on to explain the integration of Iraqi forces and cultures, the high morale among troops, and the economic viability of areas once thought entirely lost. But it spoils the sweetness when they close with a line like this:
How much longer should American troops keep fighting and dying to build a new Iraq while Iraqi leaders fail to do their part? And how much longer can we wear down our forces in this mission?
Such is the bizarre way that these two Brookings scholars make sure their invitations to liberal garden parties aren’t fully revoked.
The latter half first. If we’re seeing military success, are we really wearing down our forces? Should we pretend that our forces are being worn down anyway by a crushing, terrible, unproductive military success, whatever that may be?
Let’s not forget the authors’ embrace of unreasonable expectations. Today, “Iraqi leader” is synonymous with idling fat cat, or worse, terrorist abettor. They have earned the ire of any person with an interest in dodging accusations of giving up on a winnable war. But there’s only so much a politician can do when the country is teetering on the brink of chaos (at least, according to the American press) and might sink deeper once the Americans finally leave (at least, if Democratic calls for withdrawal are to be believed).
The ease with which criticism can be lodged against the Iraqi politicians should immediately draw skepticism. Why?
First, because Iraqi politicians aren’t being called out by name. They are a mass of people unknown to Americans, who have trouble enough understanding the finer points of their own government. Iraqi politicians could be French politicians — what they legislate is foreign, and if no single person is mentioned, we just assume they’re all alike anyway.
Second, Iraqi politicians are unlikely to issue their own press releases, explaining their votes to a constituency they do not serve. Americans have sacrificed men and treasure to a cause benefiting Iraqi politicians. How that entitles American politicians to impose failure on them is unclear. Even more unclear is how closely American politicians are watching anyway — are Democrats going to carefully scrutinize every Iraqi farm bill?
Finally, Iraqi politicians are not the reason cited for a need to withdraw in the first place. The idea of “Iraq as Quagmire” resonates because of the perceived hopelessness of the effort. One questioner in last week’s YouTube debate noted the three flags of his family’s military service, the most recent one belonging to his son, dead from the current war. “I do not want to see my youngest sons joining them,” he demanded, asking, “By what date after January 21st, 2009, will all U.S. troops be out of Iraq?”
Based on O’Hanlon and Pollack’s assessment? If we’re seeing success, militarily, then the questioner’s youngest sons will be safe and no date would need to be established. (Of course another solution would be to provide his youngest sons with alternatives to the lives of soldiers. Might I suggest conservative journalism? Then again, maybe not.)
THE GOAL of the surge was to provide a setting in which the political situation would improve. Thus, as military successes mount, so might the possibilities for improvement overall. But to suggest that Iraqi politicians are going to pull Iraq out of the mud is silly, much like the old myth about Franklin Delano Roosevelt pulling America out of the Great Depression.
Iraqis are going to be the ones for the job of cleaning up. With any luck, our guns will be the ones giving them cover while they do it.