Sunday, September 09, 2007

'Surge' Will Go On, Not Enough Votes To Stop It

A new note, and a grudging admission, has crept this week into the commentaries of the antiwar people. They are admitting for the first time that the Democrats in Congress don't have enough votes to force the Bush Administration to reverse course in the Iraq war.

"The fix is in," for continued effort in the war, confesses even so devoted a foe of it as columnist Frank Rich in today's New York Times. If Rich is ready, for now, to cry uncle, you know that the President has enough support in Congress to go forward with the 'surge' of U.S. troops that has, arguably, turned the war at least to some extent in our direction.

Similarly, in Time magazine, Michael Duffy, who wrongly predicted late last year that the President would give in to the Baker Commission report, and begin a draw down of U.S. forces in Iraq, now writes this week that no draw down is likely to begin until at least next spring, and even then it will be "agonizingly slow."

At the same time, the Institute for Peace, which provided much of the staffing for the Baker study group, now suggests that a withdrawal will not cut in half the number of U.S. troops (to 130,000) for three years and not be completed for five.

Of course, the 2008 election in the U.S. could change perspectives. It's conceivable, but it's unlikely, that a flatout anti-war candidate could be elected. Unless this happens, the U.S. presence in Iraq is going to be protracted.

What has changed? Mainly, I think, four things. First, since the 'surge' began, we've had a proficient military commander in Baghdad, Gen. David Petraeus, and he inspires more confidence, both in Congress and amongst the American people. Second, there has been a reduction of violence in Baghdad, and a dramatic one in Anbar province, if not in the rest of Iraq. Third, there are signs that the Al Qaeda campaign of sectarian violence has begun to turn the people of Iraq off, and there is more willingness in some quarters to work in tandem with U.S. forces. Finally, fourth, the Bush Adminstration argument that an American withdrawal from Iraq now would generate a sectarian bloodbath in that country and developments adverse to our interests throughout the Middle East, has begun to catch on.

The New York Times tries this morning, in the lead article in the paper, to pretend, under a headline, "At Street Level, Unmet Goals in Iraq," that things haven't changed that much. The subhead says, "Statistical Gains From Troop Buildup Mask Explosive Tensions in Baghdad."

But the actual article, by Damien Cave and Stephen Farrell, quickly confesses, beginning in the second paragraph, that, in fact, gains have been made.

"Improvements have been made," the reporters acknowledge. "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 last year.

The reporters go on to maintain that "the overall impact of these developments, so far, has been limited," but they cannot and do not sustain the arguments of the New York Times editorial page for a precipitate withdrawal of U.S. troops, because, in fact, a corner has been turned, and prospects seem brighter.

The Rich column this morning tries tio blame the changing perspectives on propaganda by Gen. Petraeus and the Bush Administration. Today, he states, the pro war "propaganda" that emanated from the Bush Administration before the Iraq war began, is being repeated.

"In the stay-the-surge propaganda offensive that crests with this week's Congressional testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker," he fulminates,
"history is repeating itself in almost every particular...White House 'facts' about the surge's triumph are turning up unsubstantiated in newspapers, and on TV. Instead of being bombarded with dire cherry-picked intelligence about W.M.D. (weapons of mass destruction), this time we're being serenaded with feel-good cherry-picked statistics offering hope. Once again, the fix is in."

This is hard for Rich, as devoted an advocate of surrender to Al Qaeda as there is, to accept. Toward the end of his column today, he even assails, of all people, Katie Couric, for swallowing the purported "propaganda," line on her reporting expedition last week.

"Anchoring the 'CBS Evening News' from Iraq last week, Katie Couric seemed to be drinking the same Kool-Aid (or eating the same lobster tortellini) as Mr. (Michael) O'Hanlon (the Brookings expert who recently wrote that the war was beginning to turn around)," Rich whined. "As a snapshot of what's going right,' she cited Falluja...and she repeatedly spoke of American victories against 'Al -Qaeda.' Channeling the president's bait-and-switch, she never differentiated between that local group called "Al Qaeda in Iraq." and the Qaeda that attacked Americans on 9-11..."

Poor Rich. No one is sorrier than he at the rays of light now seen in Iraq.

In Time magazine, Duffy is somewhat better at disguising his disappointment that the surrender advocates in Washington are not going to get their way. Duffy is more soundly analytical.

"Democrats have been trying a variety of approaches since January, setting timetables (for withdrawal), limiting deployment or easing troop deployment schedules," he writes. "Despite or maybe because of the consistent and vocal demands of the party's antiwar flank, none of the Democratic efforts have yet attracted lasting bipartisan support. The few that have come close fall well short of vote-proof margins. The best proposals, like the plan developed by Democratic Senators Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island that would begin withdrawals by 120 days after passage, mustered only 52 votes, not enough to overcome a filibuster or overrride a veto."

The Democrats, Rich and Duffy, have traditionally been so good at trying to throw in the towel, that now they are throwing in the towel on the Democratic antiwar campaign. These guys aren't nearly so stubborn as President Bush in any particular.

But one thing that has made their campaign to lose the war more difficult is that Al Qaeda and other insurgents in Iraq have been unable to mount the kind of devastating "Tet" offensive against American forces that was mustered by North Vietnamese forces in the Vietnam war. It was widely predicted to occur, but it hasn't, and it may be that this too is a mark of increasing Al Qaeda weakness in Iraq.

Perspectives have indeed changed, and, for now, with the next phase of the Iraq debate beginning in Congress, it appears that, once again, the President is going to have his way. He will be able to fight on at least until next year.

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