We can all stop hoping and pretending now: The facts are in. No matter what anyone, right, left or center says, no matter what the truth is on the ground, no matter how clear and powerful public opinion has become, President Bush isn’t going to change anything about the war in Iraq.
That’s what we saw from the president’s press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair Dec. 7th, and from his statements since. He’s not going to start withdrawing troops, and he’s not going to negotiate with other regional powers.
The Iraq Study Group report has its flaws. It talks about diplomatic discussions with Iran and Syria, but it stops short of describing the real reason the U.S. is bogged down in the Middle East (the lack of a coherent energy policy that doesn’t rely on foreign oil). It suggests that the U.S. should leave the job of rebuilding Iraq to Iraqis, but fails to state that the country that created all the problems should play a role in paying for their solutions. And it would leave thousands of U.S. soldiers in Iraq as advisors for the long term, putting them in serious jeopardy.
Still, it’s at least a dose of badly needed reality here. The report acknowledges that the Bush Administration’s current policies have made an awful mess of Iraq, that the situation is deteriorating, and that continuing the current path isn’t an acceptable option. And it recommends that all combat forces leave Iraq by 2008.
That such a broad-based, bipartisan panel, which includes hard-core conservatives like Edwin Meese III and Alan Simpson, would reach that conclusion unanimously isn’t really that much of a surprise. Everyone with any sense in Washington and around the world these days agrees that the U.S. needs to set a timetable for withdrawal. Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist who initially supported the war and who has long argued that some good could still come out of it, wrote Dec. 8 that the group’s recommendations “will only have a chance of being effective if we go one notch further and set a fixed date – now – for Americans to leave Iraq.” Even George Will noted the same day that “the deterioration is beyond much remediation.”
Let’s face it: Iraq as a modern nation is entirely an artificial construct, lashed together by the British out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. There are bitter, ancient divisions between religious, ethnic and tribal groups, and it’s no surprise that once the dictatorial central government of Saddam Hussein was overthrown, the factions would have trouble working together. Now, through U.S. bungling, they are engaged in what can only be called a civil war.
As long as the United States retains combat troops in Iraq, they will be the target of sectarian violence and will be the focus of that war. When they leave, the Iraqis will have no obvious villain, and there might be an actual hope for a long-term resolution.
The notion of an all-out Kurd vs. Shiite vs. Sunni civil war isn’t going to make anyone in Damascus or Tehran happy, since those two countries will be caught in the middle. And a clear statement from the U.S. that American troops will be leaving on a specific date, not too far in the future, is, the majority of experts agree, the only way to bring all the parties to the table for a serious and meaningful discussion. That could lead to a United Nations conference, among all the regional powers; the final outcome might be a division of Iraq into several states, as Senator Joe Biden and others have suggested.
And yet, Bush and Cheney remain alone, aloof, refusing to acknowledge that military “victory” in Iraq is utterly impossible and that the old mission of establishing a U.S. client state in the middle east will never be accomplished.
The death toll for U.S. troops is approaching 3,000. The cost is running at $250 million a day. This simply can’t be allowed to continue.