Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hello again!

I think a brief word of explanation is due as to my absence from writing for the last few months. Without going into much detail - not that you'd be interested in knowing them in the first place - I've been forced to endure two major surgeries (one at the end of August, one in December) and have spent over four weeks in the hospital. So . . . since I currently have some free time before I go back to work full time, I'll be doing some web browsing and hope to post some "new" material in the weeks ahead.

Why did I put new in quotations marks in the last sentence? Because with what little strength and attention span I've had over the past five months, I have done some reading and started to put together a whole bunch of what I think are interesting posts. Unfortunately, all I managed to do in many cases is save a draft of the web address of the article I read on line and a line or two of commentary. Thus, new posts will appear without further explanation on Troubled Times without regard to such niceties as chronological order. I'll probably go back through some old drafts from the past few months and complete some of the more interesting ones. This has always been my policy here anyway.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The under-reported failure of the military "Surge" in Iraq

If you have been relying exclusively on US cable news channels for the past year in order to stay updated on the latest security developments in Iraq, you would most likely be laboring under the false assumption that the military “Surge”* launched by Bush - and executed by Gen. Petraeus - was working brilliantly and achieving its objectives by making the occupied country safer for both the occupying forces and Iraqi civilians alike. Fortunately, there are many military/security analysts, journalists and other regional experts who have been quite carefully detailing and documenting just how ineffective the surge policy has actually been.

What follows are some critiques of Bush’s catastrophic Iraq policy failures, stories that you might assume would be leading the evening news on TV because of the important discoveries and damning evidence they consistently present to millions of viewers. However, the “surge as success” meme seems to have become the prevailing wisdom today, despite all the evidence to the contrary floating just below the surface of the American public’s consciousness.

The first of these critiques that ought to be read by the millions of Americans who are rightly frustrated by the fact that the mass media is not by-and-large presenting the public with an unadulterated picture of our open-ended military occupation in the Middle East is this analysis by International Relations Professor Andrew Bacevich in the Washington Post entitled “Surge to Nowhere.” Written at the end of January, Bacevich notes with frustration that political figure in the GOP, such as John McCain, have been insisting quite loudly to anyone who listens that the surge is working and that US forces are “winning” the ongoing war in (with?) Iraq.

For example, the self-proclaimed foreign policy “experts” hailing from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), including the sub-genius who was in fact behind the surge policy Fredrick Kagan, are going so far as saying that critics of the Iraq war had by this late date been proven wrong by the fact that political violence is on the decline and democracy is blossoming. Kagan exclaimed that the "credibility of the prophets of doom" had reached "a low ebb." This demonstrably dishonest claim would probably be funny if the violent mayhem created as a predictable by-product of the surge wasn’t so mind-numbingly depressing.

Bacevich wastes no time in pointing out that:
As the violence in Baghdad and Anbar province abates, the political and economic dysfunction enveloping Iraq has become all the more apparent. The recent agreement to rehabilitate some former Baathists notwithstand ing, signs of lasting Sunni-Shiite reconciliation are scant. The United States has acquired a ramshackle, ungovernable and unresponsive dependency that is incapable of securing its own borders or managing its own affairs. More than three years after then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice handed President Bush a note announcing that "Iraq is sovereign," that sovereignty remains a fiction.

A nation-building project launched in the confident expectation that the United States would repeat in Iraq the successes it had achieved in Germany and Japan after 1945 instead compares unfavorably with the U.S. response to Hurricane Katrina. Even today, Iraqi electrical generation meets barely half the daily national requirements. Baghdad households now receive power an average of 12 hours each day -- six hours fewer than when Saddam Hussein ruled. Oil production still has not returned to pre-invasion levels. Reports of widespread fraud, waste and sheer ineptitude in the administration of U.S. aid have become so commonplace that they barely last a news cycle. (Recall, for example, the 110,000 AK-47s, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armor and 115,000 helmets intended for Iraqi security forces that, according to the Government Accountability Office, the Pentagon cannot account for.) U.S. officials repeatedly complain, to little avail, about the paralyzing squabbling inside the Iraqi parliament and the rampant corruption within Iraqi ministries. If a primary function of government is to provide services, then the government of Iraq can hardly be said to exist.

He continues:
Moreover, recent evidence suggests that the United States is tacitly abandoning its efforts to create a truly functional government in Baghdad. By offering arms and bribes to Sunni insurgents -- an initiative that has been far more important to the temporary reduction in the level of violence than the influx of additional American troops -- U.S. forces have affirmed the fundamental irrelevance of the political apparatus bunkered inside the Green Zone.

Rather than fostering political reconciliation, accommodating Sunni tribal leaders ratifies the ethnic cleansing that resulted from the civil war touched off by the February 2006 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, a Shiite shrine. That conflict has shredded the fragile connective tissue linking the various elements of Iraqi society; the deals being cut with insurgent factions serve only to ratify that dismal outcome. First Sgt. Richard Meiers of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division got it exactly right: "We're paying them not to blow us up. It looks good right now, but what happens when the money stops?"

In short, the surge has done nothing to overturn former secretary of state Colin Powell's now-famous "Pottery Barn" rule: Iraq is irretrievably broken, and we own it. To say that any amount of "kicking ass" will make Iraq whole once again is pure fantasy. The U.S. dilemma remains unchanged: continue to pour lives and money into Iraq with no end in sight, or cut our losses and deal with the consequences of failure.

He notes with an entirely warranted amount of derisiveness that:
In only one respect has the surge achieved undeniable success: It has ensured that U.S. troops won't be coming home anytime soon. This was one of the main points of the exercise in the first place. As AEI military analyst Thomas Donnelly has acknowledged with admirable candor, "part of the purpose of the surge was to redefine the Washington narrative," thereby deflecting calls for a complete withdrawal of U.S. combat forces. Hawks who had pooh-poohed the risks of invasion now portrayed the risks of withdrawal as too awful to contemplate. But a prerequisite to perpetuating the war -- and leaving it to the next president -- was to get Iraq off the front pages and out of the nightly news. At least in this context, the surge qualifies as a masterstroke. From his new perch as a New York Times columnist, William Kristol has worried that feckless politicians just might "snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory." Not to worry: The "victory" gained in recent months all but guarantees that the United States will remain caught in the jaws of Iraq for the foreseeable future.

The rest of Bacevich’ editorial should certainly be read; I just don’t think it’s appropriate to excerpt the whole damn thing here. He goes into some detail on a facet of the “surge” that most commentators never seem to get around to discussing: Namely the tragic costs - in terms of wasted US lives and fortune as well as the many Iraqi civilians who have died and represent part of what the Pentagon and war apologists blithely refers to as acceptable collateral damage.

The next piece of Surge-related background reading you really need to peruse is this report filed by the Associated Press at the beginning of January (and helpfully reprinted by the Huffington Post) on last year’s civilian death toll in Iraq, based upon Iraqi government data!

According to the figures released by the Iraqi government, 16,232 civilians, 432 soldiers and about 1,300 Iraqi policeman died in 2007. The previous year, according to the figures compiled by the health, defense and interior ministries, 12,371 civilians, 603 soldiers and 1,224 policeman were killed.

The government's figures were roughly in line with a count kept by The Associated Press, which found that 18,610 Iraqis were killed in 2007. In 2006, the only other full year an AP count has been tallied, 13,813 died.

So what’s so significant about this brief story, anyway? Well, despite the “successful” surge that was launched by a speech made by President Bush on January 10, 2007 and still underway for the duration of 2007, a little over 16,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed by Coalition forces (as part of the strategy to bring peace and freedom to Iraq, of course!) Before the initiation of the “surge”? Only a little over 12,000 civilians paid the ultimate price.

And I suppose it’s a nice gesture for the new Iraqi government the US has ushered in to take responsibility for keeping tabs on Iraqi civilian deaths, considering that the Pentagon “doesn’t believe” such details are worth the effort.

Next up for your reading pleasure is the recently published report from the non-partisan National Security Network entitled “(US) Government Reports Indicate that the Surge Has Failed.” If you have enough time to read one report on the Surge, this one is probably your best bet. The report’s sobering findings:

In January [2007], the President outlined his surge, which was supposed to reduce violence and create the space for political reconciliation. This week, a number of government and expert reports all found that the surge has failed to achieve these goals. The Government Accountability Office found that 15 out of 18 of the benchmarks that were laid out by the Iraqi government and the President have not been met. The nation's 16 intelligence agencies agreed that the political situation in Iraq is likely to get worse over the next year and that the security situation in Iraq remains dire. A panel of twenty former senior military officers and defense officials found that the United States must reduce its military footprint in Iraq. General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is said to believe that steeper troop reductions are necessary. Moreover, there are now reports that the casualty data that supposedly indicates "progress" on the security situation in Iraq, is misleading.

The reality is that hundreds of defense and foreign policy experts, working in and outside the government, spent months working on these reports and analyzing the situation in Iraq. All of the reports concluded that the political situation in Iraq has only further deteriorated while security has remained the same. In other words, the surge has failed to accomplish its purpose.


• GAO REPORT: 15 OF 18 BENCHMARKS HAVE NOT BEEN MET
The Iraqi government is making little progress and has met only one of eight political benchmarks. The Iraqi government met one of eight legislative benchmarks: the rights of minority political parties in Iraq’s legislature are protected. The government has not enacted legislation on de-Ba’athification, oil revenue sharing, provincial elections, amnesty, and militia disarmament. [GAO, 9/4/07]

Two of nine security benchmarks have been met. “The government has not eliminated militia control of local security, eliminated political intervention in military operations, ensured even-handed enforcement of the law, increased army units capable of independent operations, and ensured that political authorities made no false accusations against security forces… Iraq’s government has established various committees in support of the Baghdad security plan and established almost all of the planned Joint Security Stations in Baghdad. The government has partially met the benchmarks of providing three trained and ready brigades for Baghdad operations and eliminating safe havens for outlawed groups.” [GAO, 9/4/07]

The GAO report found that there is no way to measure sectarian violence in Iraq and that the numbers are too subjective to be of any use. “It is unclear whether sectarian violence in Iraq has decreased—a key security benchmark—since it is difficult to measure whether the perpetrators’ intents were sectarian in nature, and other measures of population security show differing trends.” [GAO, 9/4/07]

• NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE: THE SITUATION IN IRAQ WILL BECOME MORE PRECARIOUS OVER THE NEXT 6-12
The current course is unlikely to lead to major changes in either the political or security situation. “Broadly accepted political compromises required for sustained security, long-term political progress, and economic development are unlikely to emerge unless there is a fundamental shift in the factors driving Iraqi political and security developments.” [National Intelligence Estimate, 8/23/07]

The Iraqi Government is going in the wrong direction, but there is no viable alternative to Prime Minister Maliki. “The IC assesses that the Iraqi Government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months because of criticism by other members of the major Shi’a coalition (the Unified Iraqi Alliance, UIA), Grand Ayatollah Sistani, and other Sunni and Kurdish parties. Divisions between Maliki and the Sadrists have increased, and Shi’a factions have explored alternative coalitions aimed at constraining Maliki. The strains of the security situation and absence of key leaders have stalled internal political debates, slowed national decision-making, and increased Maliki’s vulnerability to alternative coalitions. We judge that Maliki will continue to benefit from recognition among Shi’a leaders that searching for a replacement could paralyze the government.” [National Intelligence Estimate, 8/23/07]

The security situation in Iraq remains dire. "The level of overall violence, including attacks on and casualties among civilians, remains high; Iraq’s sectarian groups remain unreconciled; AQI retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks; and to date, Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively. There have been modest improvements in economic output, budget execution, and government finances but fundamental structural problems continue to prevent sustained progress in economic growth and living conditions." [National Intelligence Estimate, 8/23/07]

Significant progress on security in the next 6-12 months is unlikely. “We assess, to the extent that Coalition forces continue to conduct robust counterinsurgency operations and mentor and support the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), that Iraq’s security will continue to improve modestly during the next six to 12 months but that levels of insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high and the Iraqi Government will continue to struggle to achieve national-level political reconciliation and improved governance.” [National Intelligence Estimate, 8/23/07]

Sunnis are incapable of delivering on national reconciliation. The Sunni Arab community remains politically fragmented, and we see no prospective leaders that might engage in meaningful dialogue and deliver on national agreements. [National Intelligence Estimate, 8/23/07]

• JONES REPORT: IRAQI SECURITY FORCES WILL NOT BE READY FOR 12-18 MONTHS AND THE NATIONAL POLICE SHOULD BE DISBANDED
U.S. forces should reconfigure to a lighter footprint in 2008. "Perceptions and reality are frequently at odds with each other when trying to understand Iraq's problems and progress. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the impressions drawn from seeing our massive logistics footprint, our many installations and the number of personnel (military and civilian, especially in and around the Baghdad region. The unintended message conveyed is one of 'permanence', and occupying force as it were. What is needed is the opposite impression, one that is lighter, less massive, and more expeditionary." [CSIS, 9/6/07]

Iraqi Security Forces will not be able to operate independently for another 12-18 months. "While severely deficient in combat support and combat service capabilities, the new Iraqi armed forces, especially the army, show clear evidence of developing the baseline infrastructures that lead to the successful formation of national defense capability. The Commission concurs with the views expressed by U.S., Coalition, and Iraqi experts that the Iraqi Army is capable of taking over an increasing amount of day-to-day combat responsibilities from coalition forces. In any event, the ISF will be unable to fulfill their essential security responsibilities independently over the next 12-18 months." [CSIS, 9/6/07]

The National Police should be dissolved. "The National Police have proven operationally ineffective, and sectarianism in these units may fundamentally undermine their ability to provide security. The force is not viable in its current form. [CSIS, 9/6/07]

Political reconciliation is the only way to security. "The Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police Service have the potential to help reduce sectarian violence, but ultimately the ISF will reflect the society from which they were drawn. Political reconciliation is the key to ending sectarian violence in Iraq." [CSIS, 9/6/07]

• THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF A DROP IN VIOLENCE
The Pentagon and Administration’s definition of “Ethno sectarian violence” excludes many types of violence that would indicate that the security situation in Iraq is not improving. Shi’a on Shi’a violence in the South is not included. Sunni on Sunni violence in the central part of the country is not included. “According to one senior intelligence official in Washington. ‘If a bullet went through the back of the head, it's sectarian,’ the official said. ‘If it went through the front, it's criminal.’" [Washington Post, 9/6/07 ]

The military does not count car bombs as part of sectarian violence. “According to U.S. military figures, an average of 1,000 Iraqis have died each month since March in sectarian violence. That compares with about 1,200 a month at the start of the security plan, the military said in an e-mailed response to queries. This does not include deaths from car bombings, which the military said have numbered more than 2,600 this year.” [LA Times, 9/4/07 ]

There were significant revisions to the way the Pentagon’s reports measure sectarian violence between its March 2007 report and its June 2007 report. The original data for the five months before the surge began (September 2006 through January 2007) indicated approximately 5,500 sectarian killings. In the revised data in the June 2007 report, those numbers had been adjusted to roughly 7,400 killings – a 35% increase. These discrepancies have the impact of making the sectarian violence appear significantly worse during the fall and winter of 2006 before the President’s “surge” began. [DOD, 11/2006 . 3/2007. 6/2007 ]

According to numbers released by the Iraqi government, since July civilian casualties have risen 20% across Iraq. The numbers fell significantly in Baghdad. The figures, provided by Iraqi Interior Ministry officials on Saturday, mirrored the geographic pattern of the troop increase, which is focused on Baghdad. The national rise in mortality is partly a result of more than 500 deaths, in an August truck bomb attack on a Yazidi community in August north of the capital, outside the areas directly affected by the additional troops. [NY Times, 9/2/07 ]

Writing in CounterPunch, Patrick Cockburn presents his readers with a profile of the damage the military surge continues to inflict on the Iraqi people which the aforementioned statistics, figures and findings cannot adequately express. He accomplishes this by personalizing the horrors of daily life in Iraq and telling the story of Bassim Abdul Rahman, a middle-aged Sunni driver from Baghdad. True, his story and problems are not exceptionally interesting to read about, but that is in fact precisely the point.

Cockburn explains:
What happened to Bassim was also to happen to millions of Iraqis who saw their lives ruined by successive calamities. As their world collapsed around them they were forced to take desperate measures to survive, obtain a job and make enough money to feed and educate their families.

In the US and Europe, the main measure of whether the war in Iraq is "going well" or "going badly" is the casualty figures. The number of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians being killed went down to 39 US soldiers and 599 Iraqi civilians in January. The White House is promoting the idea that the United States is finally on the road to success, if not victory, in Iraq.

On the back of this renewed optimism about the war, Senator John McCain, the premier hawk among the Republican candidates for the presidency, has been able to revive his foundering campaign and is set to be his party's nominee. Despite the skepticism of many US journalists permanently stationed in Iraq, television and newspaper newsrooms in New York and Washington have largely bought into the idea that "the surge"--the wider deployment of 30,000 extra US troops since February 2006--has succeeded.

But any true assessment of the happiness or misery of Iraqis must use a less crude index than the number of dead and injured. It must ask if people have been driven from their houses, and if they can return. It must say whether they have a job and, if they do not, whether they stand a chance of getting one. It has to explain why so few of the 3.2 million people who are refugees in Syria and Jordan, or inside Iraq, are coming back.


To be able to even bring up the surge and analyze its successes and failures, one must indeed be informed about the tragic story of the millions of Iraqi refugees who fled their homeland after the US invaded; and the majority still cannot return to homes and lives they were forced to abandon.

Cockburn also discusses on the story of the “Awakening Council”, another recent development that is too frequently glossed over by the surge cheerleaders:
The new element in Iraq is the development of the Awakening Council, or al-Sahwa, movement. Suddenly there is a Sunni militia, paid by the US, that has 80,000 men under arms. This re-empowers the Sunni community far more than any legislation passed by the Iraqi parliament. But it also deepens the divisions in Iraq because the leaders of the Awakening do not bother to hide their hatred and contempt for the Iraqi government.

But Cockburn points out to his readers, the ambiguity between whether these Council members are brave freedom-fighters risking their lives to protect their homeland, or terrorists financed and armed by the Pentagon to help the US control the insurgency is all too often swept under the rhetorical rug, but a matter of moral significance that the American people ignore at our own peril.

American Journalist Tom Ricks, author of one of the definitive critiques of the Bush administration’s planning and execution of the Iraq war Fiasco, has tried his best to inform his fellow countrymen about the real story behind the surge, discussing the challenges on the MSNBC program Countdown With Keith Olbermann. Discussing his interview, Thinkprogress.org noted, among other important details, that:

• “The numbers of car bombs, suicide car bombs and roadside bombs all doubled from 2004 to 2005.”

• In 2005, there were more U.S. casualties in Iraq (846) than there were in 2006 (821).

• On Feb. 27, 2005, Knight Ridder quoted then-Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Kadhim warning about sectarian violence, “It’s the beginning, and we could go down the slippery slope very quickly. … Both sides are sharpening their knives.”

• On Sept. 26, 2005, CBS News reported thI’mat “there is an undeclared civil war already underway in Iraq, between the Sunni minority who ruled this country under Saddam and the Shiite majority.” (see the original article at ThinkProgress for links)

Finally, the Center for American Progress’ Progress Report reflected on the surge’s numerous and significant failures on the one year anniversary of its implementation. I’m tired, so you are going to have to click over to the original document and read “The Surge: One Year Later” in all of its glorious entirety.

So there you have it: You don’t have to feel like a schmuck because you’ve been complaining non-stop since March 2003 that everything Bush has tried in Iraq, or even thought about trying has turned to shit. And even at this late date, for all of the war pimps’ constant bragging and winking and high-fiving each other, an ever increasing amount of Iraqis and Americans are being killed for the perpetuation of an illegal, immoral and totally counterproductive US military occupation of an oil-rich third world nation we’ll conveniently forget about once we’ve tapped their “natural resources” dry.

*As linguist and political theorist George Lakoff has noted, even the term “Surge” is a an example of the Bush administration’s long-standing and often times successful of psychological manipulation through the employment of purposefully misleading language.

Update #1: A good deal of relevant background information pertaining to the surge can be found at Wikipedia here.

Update #2 Some more surge-related bad news is trickling in, despite not getting appropriate amount of coverage from the mass media:

• McClatchy's DC bureau reports that U.S. casualties are on the rise in Iraq after falling for 4 months in a row. Writing at the Huffington Post's WarWire this morning, Max Bergmann details the violence that continue to plague occupied Iraq on a daily basis.

Spencer Ackerman, writing in the new Washington Independent, reveal that any security gains that the administration may have chalked up to the surge plan last year are rapidly slipping away. Violence is ticking up, and political reconciliation - the whole point of the surge - is still as elusive as ever. He relays some of the facts that (sadly) make his case for him:
The Sunni insurgency, all but decimated in the imagination of the surge advocates, has demonstrated something of a surge of its own in recent weeks. Baghdad, Anbar and Diyala provinces, the hotbeds of the insurgency, have seen a return of high-profile suicide bombing. Prominent collaborators with the U.S., like the so-called "Concerned Local Citizens" militias, have been targeted for death by insurgents and terrorists. "Of late, though, as you’ve been seeing, is certainly an increase in the number of suicide events that occur with individuals, mostly with a suicide vest wrapped around their waist," Adm. Greg Smith, a spokesman for Multi-National Force-Iraq, said in a blogger conference call last week.

Iraq security statistics over the past 13 weeks, obtained exclusively by The Washington Independent, tell the tale. In Baghdad, improvised-explosive device (IED) detonations explosions in Baghdad have ticked up slightly to 131 in January from 129 in December—and the last week of January is not included in these latest figures. Countrywide, there was an increase in IED explosions to 2,291 in December from 1,394 in November, followed by a dip to 1,270 in the first three weeks of January. But the week ending on January 25 saw seven suicide explosions Iraq-wide, the most since the week ending Dec. 21, 2007.


Ackerman also wrote an important article last Fall for TPM Muckraker entitled "Iraqi Civilian Casualties: 2007 More Deadly Than 2006." The topic of this article is obvious, but perhaps the most interesting part of the reporting is how difficult it was for Ackerman to get access to the necessary data. He correctly notes:
"It's a sign of how skewed the debate over the Iraq War is that these numbers are not readily available. Different Iraqi government agencies present different casualty figures. The U.S. military's own casualty total is said to rely on the Iraqis, but it's unclear which Iraqi agency it uses or what adjustments are made to the Iraqi figures. Even as today's testimony from General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker is considered a possible make-or-break moment for U.S. policy on Iraq, with the Bush Administration and the Pentagon touting the success of the surge in reducing civilian casualties, there is no general agreement on what civilian casualties have been or on what the most accurate methodology for tallying casualties is."

One example of trying to develop an accurate methodology using admittedly confusing data, the Council on Foreign Relation (CFR's) latest attempt to estimate the number of civilian casualties can be viewed here. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that previous estimates significantly underestimate the true civilian body count; they argue the real number lies around 151,000.

The Center for American Progress offers some good questions that Congress should have had the guts to ask Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker last Fall when the pair provided testimony on what they claimed to be "progress" in Iraq on behalf of the surge.

Further background reading: Iraq's Surge Signals by Paul Rogers
The Surge: Illusion & Reality by Conn Hallinan

Update #3: Michael Kinsley has a brief article in Slate on what else? The failure of the surge. An excerpt:
[C]onsider how modest the administration's standard of success has become. Can there be any doubt that they would go for a reduction to 100,000 troops—and claim victory—if they had any confidence at all that the gains they brag about would hold at that level of support? The proper comparison isn't to the situation a year ago. It's to the situation before we got there. Imagine that you had been told in 2003 that when George W. Bush finished his second term, dozens of American soldiers and hundreds of Iraqis would be dying violently every month; that a major American goal would be getting the Iraqi government to temper its "de-Baathification" campaign so that Saddam Hussein's former henchmen could start running things again (because they know how); and "only" 100,000 American troops would be needed to sustain this equilibrium. You might have several words to describe this situation, but success would not be one of them.

Why the US antiwar movement, and Democratic lawmakers, failed on Iraq

It should now be obvious to anyone paying the slightest attention that the Democratic Party's 2006 takeover of the House and Senate didn't make a whit of difference as far as our "military strategy" or "redeployment policy" has played out for the US's new "51st State" of Iraq.

I was prescient: Back in November and December of 2006 I argued that despite the replacement of Rumsfeld for Gates (for whom the GOP Establishment had more confidence in), and in particular, despite the Dems gaining majority status in Congress - but unfortunately not the 60 votes in the Senate they needed veto Bush and the GOP footsoldiers, and regardless of popular opinion or the mass media's coverage of the occupation, our Iraq policy wouldn't meaningfully change at least until Bush had retired from the Oval Office and was succeeded by a Democrat. (see this post, for example)

The "surge" has expanded our military presence in the heart of the Middle East and provided in its wake what the war apologists and stenographers in the media argue is a drop in violence. Meanwhile, this is like injecting a terminally ill cancer patient with morphine: His pain has been blunted but he is just as ill as before.

Foreign policy had always been intended by the framers of the Constitution to be executed and overseen by the Executive and the Legislative Branches, respectively. But in the 20th and now 21st Century, matters of war, military occupation and geopolicy at large have become the sole province of the Commander-In-Chief.

So, an observer might reasonably argue that even if the Democrats who were elected by their constituents in large part to help end the war actually had strong ideological convictions, and were indeed animated by concerns beyond just the next election cycle, they didn't stand a chance of reigning in Bush's renegade actions in Iraq. But as blogger Lenin's Tomb notes, their failure (and the failure of the US antiwar movement) was even more spectacular than I had already braced myself for.

Lenin quotes extensively from a recent news report from Politico.com which details how quickly the "antiwar" movement rushed to accommodate the President and the Republican and Democratic lawmakers who support an open-ended occupation of Iraq. The reason is that apparently, according to either the author or the antiwar activists he interviewed for the piece, is that the came to recognize the "hard, political reality" f the situation and thus willingly gave up on their mission of ending the war by de-funding it or any other legislative means necessary. From the article:
After a series of legislative defeats in 2007 that saw the year end with more U.S. troops in Iraq than when it began, a coalition of anti-war groups is backing away from its multimillion-dollar drive to cut funding for the war and force Congress to pass timelines for bringing U.S. troops home.

In recognition of hard political reality, the groups instead will lower their sights and push for legislation to prevent President Bush from entering into a long-term agreement with the Iraqi government that could keep significant numbers of troops in Iraq for years to come.

Of course, this recognition of political reality has nothing whatsoever to do with these activist groups' decision to back away from their original demands - the very same demands made by Democrats who successfully ran for re-election to Congress back in 2006.

The Politico article gives us the rest of the story in the next paragraphs:
The groups believe this switch in strategy can draw contrasts with Republicans that will help Democrats gain ground in November and bring the votes to pass more dramatic measures. But it is a long way from the early months of 2007, when Democrats were freshly in power and momentum for a dramatic shift in Iraq policy seemed overpowering.

“There was a consensus that last year was not productive,” John Isaacs, executive director of Council for a Livable World, said of a meeting attended by a coalition of anti-war groups last week. “Our expectations were dashed.”

The meeting, held at an office on K Street, was attended by around 20 representatives of influential anti-war groups, including MoveOn.org and Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, which spent $12 million last year opposing the war.

Lenin nails just how pathetic this display of weakness from the antiwar movement is, and how it exposes them as a wholly-controlled subsidiary of the Democratic Party's Washington Establishment.
This sadly reflects one of the weaknesses of the US antiwar movement - its deep fragmentation with much of the leadership composed of supporters of the Democratic Party. Since when were there "clear distinctions" available between "anti-war Democrats and pro-war Republicans"? The only way this fiction can be maintained is if they maintain the pretense, as they do, that funding for the war couldn't be shot down because they "didn't have the votes". The claim from the Democrats was that an executive veto, which can be issued whenever there is less than two-thirds Congressional support for a given bill, prevented them from withholding funding. It's a lie.

In order for funding to be issued, Congress has to vote in the affirmative for it, which couldn't have happened without the Democrats who are now in the majority. This is an extremely costly war, and even if there is considerable troop "drawdown", the Congressional Budget Office expects it to cost a total of $2.73 trillion. To fork over this much on behalf of the taxpayer while blithering on about balanced budgets and so on is a serious commitment.

The lie can only survive if people ignore the fact that Democrats already had plenty of opportunity to set withdrawal timetables and chose not to pursue it. The first time they bothered to even ask nicely was in November last year - arguably a necessary pitch before the elections - but they quickly caved in and gave Bush an extra $70bn to pursue the ongoing occupation, sans strings. But who am I to question success? The subordination of the priorities of the antiwar movement to the electoral strategy of the Democrats worked well in 2004, did it not? And the conduct of Democrats elected in 2006 has been a real blast, hasn't it? Let's have more of that, why not?


And on the same subject, be sure to check out this article from Mother Jones as well as this blog post from "left i on the news."

Update #1 (2/10): Also, check out this article by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone. Taibbi notes:
Rather than use the vast power they had to end the war, Democrats devoted their energy to making sure that "anti-war activism" became synonymous with "electing Democrats." Capitalizing on America's desire to end the war, they hijacked the anti-war movement itself, filling the ranks of peace groups with loyal party hacks. Anti-war organizations essentially became a political tool for the Democrats — one operated from inside the Beltway and devoted primarily to targeting Republicans.

[. . .]

The really tragic thing about the Democratic surrender on Iraq is that it's now all but guaranteed that the war will be off the table during the presidential campaign. Once again — it happened in 2002, 2004 and 2006 — the Democrats have essentially decided to rely on the voters to give them credit for being anti-war, despite the fact that, for all the noise they've made to the contrary, in the end they've done nothing but vote for war and cough up every dime they've been asked to give, every step of the way.

Eli from the blog "left i" has some disagreements with Taibbi's conclusions, however. He notes in a blog post that:
Matt Taibbi paints the portrait of the Democratic surrender on the Iraq war, and about how "Working behind the scenes, the Democrats have systematically taken over the anti-war movement, packing the nation's leading group with party consultants more interested in attacking the GOP than ending the war."

As I said, it is interesting reading, but it has two major problems. The first is the idea that the Democrats "surrendered" on the Iraq war. In reality, they did no such thing; with the exception of a distinct minority of the Democrats, their talk of being opposed to the war was just that - talk, designed to suck in the votes of the real antiwar movement in the country by pretending to be opposed to the war.

The second relates to the "antiwar" "movement." The article mentions exactly one "antiwar" group, Americans Against the Escalation in Iraq, preposterously described as "the leader of the anti-war lobby." The "anti-war" part is completely preposterous; how can you be "anti-war" when you are just opposed to "escalation"? The "lobby" part isn't really preposterous, because that's exactly what this group is, as opposed to a "movement" which is how it is also described.

He also faults Taibbi for neglecting to mention the work of what he considers to be "real" antiwar groups like ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice as opposed to front groups for electing Democrats like Americans Against Escalation in Iraq.

Update #2: Of course, I was far from the only cynic who correctly predicted after the 2006 Midterm Elections that the Democrats' victories in Congress would not significantly strengthen the anti-war movement(s) in the US. For one particularly good example of this phenomenon, see this January 2007 editorial by Mike Davis here.