Hmm, flowers are blooming, cherry blossoms emerged; it can only mean one thing. Yes, that’s right, it’s time once again for the semi-annual Congressional circus show, also known as putting lipstick on the pig, starring Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. This morning these gentlemen will testify before Congress on the state of affairs in Iraq and what the chances of success are for the U.S. there. Of course, nobody knows what constitutes “success” but even so it is a daunting prospect.
As Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote yesterday, “the risks in Iraq remain high enough so that no one can yet say whether the odds of any kind of US success are better than even.” Of course Cordesman is hardly a proponent of withdrawing U.S. forces any time soon, which is why his next sentence was so revealing. “The fact remains, however, that there is still a marginally better case for staying than for leaving.” When respected analysts like Cordesman state that the case for staying is only “marginally better” than leaving you know that the United States has problems.
Of course, nobody expects this carefully scripted event to have serious questions or sincere answers if, for not other reason, than the hearing will be attended by Sens. Clinton, Obama, and McCain. Republicans will seek to defend the Bush Administration’s stay the course policy. As senators Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham wrote in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, “No one can deny the dramatic improvements in security in Iraq achieved by Gen. Petraeus, the brave troops under his command, and the Iraqi Security Forces.” Well, actually I could, but that would take another article. Democrats will just as fervently use it to make the case for withdrawing troops.
But let’s just imagine for a moment the same hearing in a parallel universe. What questions could those who hope for the best but fear the worst see asked? Well, as it happens such questions were recently asked of some true national security experts by David Corn, Mother Jones’ Washington, D.C., bureau chief.
For example, how many Iraqi army divisions are capable of conducting unilateral operations? Given that the recent fighting –what Pres. Bush called a “defining moment” in Basra involved both U.S. and British forces this is a key question.
And, the surge was supposed to provide space for political reconciliation. What does the recent fighting in Basra and Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq say about the supposed success of the surge?
Also, the recent fighting in Basra and Baghdad showed that the intra-Shi’ite power struggle has only just begun and will be violent. Will it intensify through the fall 2008 local/provincial elections, the 2009 national elections, and beyond?
Or, as Gordon Adams, professor at American University asked, why do you and the administration continue to plan policy as if we have any leverage in Iraq? A dysfunctional government we prop up has virtually no impact on the country’s security or economy outside Baghdad, and 70 percent of the people want us to leave. It seems the U.S. is completely unable to influence the fundamentals of the situation. So why should anyone assume that more or fewer U.S. troops are the key factor in Iraq’s future?