Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Iraq Withdrawal: Clutching at Straws

Every so often politics and entertainment collide to provide us with a brief moment of brevity in a sea of morose inanity, and Nouri al Maliki's recent comments regarding the withdrawal of American troops have provided us with just such a moment. Given the mileage John McCain has tried to get out of his unwavering support for an unending occupation of Iraq, it was not surprising that he instantly played offense, predictably suggesting that al Maliki's comments were mistranslated.

But, as facts so often do, they made him look more ludicrous than before. Just as McCain forgets that there's a record of his statements regarding the countless issues he's taken a 180 on, he also fell victim to the suspicion that there would be no tape of the interview in question. Of course there was, and it said precisely what Der Spiegel reported it did. Making matters worse, the translator used was Maliki's own, further plunging McCain down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.

The tactic is familiar. Something comes out that presents a slap in the face to the entire Bush/McCain worldview and the wheels take motion, sowing the seeds of doubt in the form of ludicrous accusations of mistranslation or even leading poll questions. How else would greater than 80 percent of the Iraqi population want US forces out if not for the work of a mischievous (or worse, liberal!) pollster?

Other supporters of interminable war don't have to use even as little tact as McCain must employ for appearance's sake, John Derbyshire, for instance.

We should tell Maliki, loudly and in public, that he owes his job to us, and that further prosecution of our military operations in his country will be conducted with regard only to U.S. interests, as determined in consensus by our established domestic political processes. And if he doesn't like that, he can go to hell.

God bless democracy.

Derbyshire's argument, insofar as it exists at all, seems to be that al Maliki mistakenly believes himself to be the sovereign, elected leader of Iraq, when in fact he is Bush's appointed administrator for the American Protectorate of Iraqsburg. It's refreshing, though, that the intellectual stalwarts who've supported the disaster from the beginning have given up on all pretense, saving everyone the trouble of ignoring it.

Brevity aside, the last week spells certain disaster for McCain on nearly every front. His entire campaign is premised on the fact that he is 'right' on Iraq, although it has been exhaustively shown that even that concept is a farce, and precisely antithetical to reality. Maliki calling for withdrawal within a short time leaves McCain with absolutely nothing to stand on. After attempts to downplay Maliki's comments failed, they were shown to be accurate and several more Iraqi officials repeated much the same. McCain finds himself on an island concerning the central theme to his campaign, and given that, everything else falls away.

McCain can try as hard as he wants to paint Maliki's demands as "conditions based" like his own, but that only solidifies the reality that even that call means absolutely nothing, as he has yet to define what any of these conditions are or what the victory they may accompany. What is becoming increasingly clear is that although McCain is long on years and supposed to be the foreign policy expert, when it comes to actually offering anything of tangible value in the international arena he falls short. In addition to a myopic focus on Iraq, McCain has exhibited no signs of having even the slightest understanding of the variables that affect world politics, and the Maliki debacle is only the most recent in a long line of events showcasing those failures.

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Anonymous said...

Maliki has been singing that the US should leave Iraq (supposedly because the Iraqi Army is ready) since he took office in May 2006. Until this late spring the Iraqi Army has proven that they are not ready for the American military to leave. Several respected Iraqi generals (including Brigadier General Bilal al-Dayni, commander of Iraqi troops in Basra) this past month have stated that the American presence is needed until 2018 or 20. As so often is the case, the politicans and military generals sing different tunes. America will leave when both the politicans and general agree it's time. Pop.

Tim said...

Quoting al-Dayni as you are (via WaPo, via Max Boot, via Rush?) ignores other commanders who differ. But that's immaterial, as the Iraqis being ready wasn't part of my argument.

My contention is centered on two things: Iraqi sovereignty and the realities of the Iraqi political arena.

To the former, the US has to be careful not to treat Iraq as a protectorate or a colony, since the only remaining rationale for invasion and occupation is establishing a sovereign democracy in the Middle East. (Though the unstated goals of a strategic outpost and access to certain resources still exist to be sure.)

As to the politics, Iraq is a broken feudal system with different fiefdoms carved out by local leaders. The number of American troops could be tripled without addressing that reality. And although it is too often forgotten, a reduction in violence was only meant to be a vehicle to facilitate the true aim of the Surge, which was political reconciliation.

The battle surrounding provincial elections, which will likely be pushed into 2009 from the original goal of October, demonstrate that reality quite clearly.

If indeed you are asking me to commit to the Iraqi Army being strong or fully-trained, I will have to agree with you. But, like I said, that wasn't my argument.

(On a side note, I found it slightly humorous that Rush said al-Dayni was like General Shinseki to imply his "respect." Wasn't Shinseki the guy they pushed aside when he suggested they might want to think about post-war circumstances?)