ThinkProgress Image of Cheney being irrelevant with the Saudis
Remember when Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle dismissed concerns over the costs of toppling Saddam by stating that Iraq could pay for the occupation and nation-building with its oil reserves? I guess they were right about one thing, except that it is the insurgency that is financing itself with Iraqi oil revenue, aided and abetted by corrupt government officials.
Yesterday’s Times had a good piece on how the expectations for the Baker/Hamilton Iraq Study Group have far outpaced what Baker and Hamilton may be able to achieve. There are several factors at play working against Baker here, the first being Bush’s unwillingness to be viewed as someone who needs to be rescued by “Jimmy”. The second problem is that unlike Baker’s earlier work on the international stage, the warring parties inside Iraq’s sectarian war may not be swayed by what James Baker says, unless he can personally deliver what they want. Since he can’t personally move al-Maliki or the “Office Boy” to take the steps necessary to move along towards a political solution, Baker’s report may not be the panacea many are expecting. It will be a waste of time if it doesn’t seriously consider a withdrawal option, which the Times says will not be in the report’s first draft, and the Pentagon is already undermining the report with its own plan to stay the course and add more troops. The Brits aren’t waiting around for us: they are going to significantly draw down their presence before the end of next year.
Our military and the White House refuse to call it a civil war, when in fact it is one. While the talking heads on the Sunday chat fests complain that we cannot leave, at least until we train and equip the Iraqis to tackle the job themselves, Anthony Cordesman reports now that everything the Administration has said recently about the number of trained and equipped Iraqis has been garbage, which means that John McCain is clueless as well. CNN's Michael Ware says this is a civil war, and the media is finally now adopting that storyline as well.
Bush is heading overseas with an empty bag of tricks to solve problems he created in Afghanistan and Iraq. Everyone he meets on his trip this week knows he has little if any clout aside from a veto pen back at home, and he comes to them as a discouraged man with no new ideas or energy to solve these problems. His party doesn’t want to help him either, and the Democrats are waiting to see how his administration will react to the Baker report and the recommendations for more regional discussions with Iran and Syria, something that I suspect he will reject, given General John Abizaid’s comments on “60 Minutes” last night, when he blamed both countries for destabilizing Iraq. What Abizaid ignores is that by indiscriminately killing Iraqi civilians, we are destabilizing Iraq just as much as any outside force is. The Bush Administration has to confront a fact they heretofore refuse to admit: we will not only have to talk directly with Iran and Syria, but we will also have to talk directly with Muqtada al-Sadr, who is two-faced but who also does not want Iran taking over his country, and whose Mahdi Army needs to be part of any solution to ratchet down the sectarian violence in the country.
But when all is said and done, can any real progress be made in extricating ourselves from Iraq as long as the Bush Administration is in power? As Chuck Hagel said over the weekend, we need to find an honorable way to exit Iraq, but to do so will require a range of steps that may be beyond Bush and Cheney's abilities. The White House puts more effort into meeting with the Saudis and refusing to call Iraq a civil war than they do in taking steps to contain and reduce the violence inside the country. All of the recommendations that are about to be made by the Baker/Hamilton folks are things that should have been done years ago, and still aren't being done now. Yet the biggest reason to do something immediate about drawing down our forces inside Iraq is because Iraq is breaking our armed forces. We have other battles to fight, inside Afghanistan and in other countries through the Special Forces against Al Qaeda, and yet we have a $61 billion current year need just to replenish the infrastructure of our current force levels. The argument Democrats need to focus on is the damage Bush's foreign policy and stubborn refusal to adapt is doing to the armed forces.