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August 01, 2007




I appreciate your reporting and analysis. You write "Switching the focus back to tactical military developments may allow administration defenders to put forward signs of 'progress' - however ephemeral, dubious, or beside the point - but serious people shouldn't join in this shell game. The administration and its supporters sold the surge on the premise that it would pay its dividends at the level of national Iraqi politics. It hasn't."

One very painful, and in my experience (I'm 48), unique aspect of watching this Administration at work is that one simply has to suspend the assumption that they act in good faith. Whether or not one agrees with one's political opponents, most politicians take care to preserve the idea that they act in good faith. There is the occasional dirty deed, but by and large governments act in ways that reflect honorable attempts to deal with the true circumstances.

This Administration has demonstrated conclusively that there is nothing it will not say, or do, for political expediency. It's actually fascinating watching other institutions - Congress, the media, the military - come to terms, or not, with this aspect of our politics. It's almost like a suspension of the law of gravity - people have no experience of working in a weightless environment. Having to deal with people at the top of the government of the world's most powerful nation who refuse to act in good faith is a profoundly unnerving experience.



The fact that al-Tawafuq withdrew during the summer recess shows that this is not a serious gambit on their part. This is the equivalent of Ferris skipping school in mid-August: Mr. Rooney isn't around to care. There is too much at stake for al-Tawafuq, personally as much as politically (from my understanding, the lives of MPs in Iraq is pretty posh), for this to be a permanent withdrawal. I wouldn't be surprised if they convince al-Maliki to make some sort of face-saving gesture during the August recess so that they can come back to work at the end of the month. I especially imagine this to be the case, given the amount of American pressure on both sides to play ball.

I agree with your comments on the tactical gains of the surge, which might be why the president name checks General Petraeus FAR MORE often than Ryan Crocker. General Petraeus' side of the equation is showing progress (albeit in baby steps), today's bombings notwithstanding. Petraeus could give a mostly honest assessment, saying that Iraq is safer today than it was in January. However, if Crocker were forced to give an honest strategic assessment, there is no way he could, in good faith, give such a rosy opinion. I imagine we'll hear less and less from our Arabist friend and more and more from our soldier.

Ben P

Patrick I disagree - I think its more serious than that. They've left the cabinet for good - as Sadr did. They're not quitting Parliament, so they can keep the foot in the door they need to keep.

Besides, their basic demands are things Maliki cannot and will not grant them, for both ideological and practical reasons.

Summer recess or no, the "Parliament" is basically non-functioning anyway, so your Ferris Bueller analogy is not apt. It implies that their actually IS a time when school is in session for real, which isn't the case here.

As to security, I agree Petraeus has stopped the bleeding. But even here, I think his progress has been overrated in some quarters. The death squads are still pretty much rampant in Baghdad, leaving there 20-25 daily victims. Ethnic cleansing continues. Even in Anbar, where tthe much touted turn-around began last year, there were still over 400 attacks on US troops in June. Admittedly, thats down from about 800 twelve months ago. But 400 is still a hell of a lot of attacks. Clearly, important insurgent groups - and not the ISI - maintain a significant base of support even in an area that is purpotedly the US's biggest recent success.

The situation is basically hopeless. I don't advocate an immediate or even timetabled withdrawal. But I think realism dictates that the reason we maintain the presence and resources we have in Iraq is to satisfy our president's delusions of grandeur and to prevent him facing the reality that he made a strategic blunder compounded by his and his close advisors ignorance and incompetence. There is NO WAY Iraq is worth 10% of the annual federal budget. To me, that is simply unacceptable and is grounds enough for Bush's impeachment (although I don't think this will happen, nor do I suggest the Democrats necessarily pursue such a course).


Ben P~

You're right in saying that school is never in session, and hasn't been for a long time. But to use an aphorism from someone I distrust, you use the government you have, not the government you want.

The situation looks dire, and might be basically hopeless, as you say. That being said, as long as there are American Marines and soldiers on the ground, we owe it to them and ourselves to push this ineffectual government towards functional. I would love nothing more than for a withdrawal to begin soon, but, as you point out, it's not going to happen. In the meantime, the Americans need to lay all of due pressure on al-Maliki et al. to get some work done.

This means that we need to recognize the political stunt for what it is, pay lip-service to their demands, and get them back in the cabinet where they belong. Like you said, it's more than a long-shot, but it's the only one we got.


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