Both political parties in Washington seem determined not to end the US occupation of Iraq until they are convinced the other party will get blamed for the consequences. It is charmless political theater and grotesque public policy. The occupation cannot end too soon.
President George W. Bush’s “surge” has not made Iraq safer for anyone, not by anyone’s numbers. In the first seven weeks of the escalation, according to Pentagon statistics available through the Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index, 116 US and other occupying soldiers were killed, as opposed to 113 in the seven weeks beforehand. There were more guerrilla attacks in April 2007 than in any previous April of the war, and the dip in such incidents since January follows a seasonal pattern observable since 2004. Iraqi civilian casualties have fallen slightly, from 3,380 in the two months before the “surge” to 3,090 in the two months afterward. Most of the drop occurs in the Pentagon’s category of “sectarian violence,” probably reflecting the decision of Shi‘i militias linked to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government to suspend their activities while US troops intensify theirs. In every month since January, by the Index’s estimate, an additional 90,000 Iraqis have been made refugees by the fighting.
Bush has reacted to the bad news by trying on the blame-the-Iraqis sandwich board for size. The White House styles itself upset by the Maliki government’s languor in meeting such “benchmarks” as the adoption of a corporate-friendly oil law and the partial reversal of the aggressive debaathification overseen by former US proconsul L. Paul Bremer. In May, the White House began to hint that it might allow Congress to treat unmet benchmarks as reasons to remove “combat brigades” from Baghdad.
The most powerful Congressional Democrats have long since decided that blaming the Iraqis is the best fit for them, since, their Bush-bashing revelry aside, they still cannot bring themselves to denounce the premise of the Iraq caper itself. But, annoyingly, war-weary citizens keep demanding that the lawmakers act on their loudly proclaimed anti-Iraq war convictions.
The Democrats’ first gambit was to cajole and coerce their Out of Iraq Caucus into voting for a supplemental military appropriations bill that included a discretionary timeline for US withdrawal. Their argument to the skeptical was, in effect, that providing more money for the war is a more direct strategy for ending the war than defunding it. During the heated debate over this circumlocutory legislation, Democratic enforcer Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin harangued a Marine mother as an “idiot liberal” who thought he had a “magic wand in his pocket,” because she ventured to suggest the gambit would fail.
Bush, indeed, vetoed the bill as promised because of the sort-of timetable. He had called the Democrats’ bluff on their bet about who would be seen as not “supporting the troops” if extra funds were not sent their way. The Democrats’ purported position is that supporting the troops is bringing them home, and Republicans retorted, as they had before, that the logical course for those so convinced would be refusing to pass the supplemental at all. So the stage was set for the war appropriations bill to pass without strings the president cannot pull.
If the US occupation is to end, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, it will be necessary to have the debate — once and for all — about whether keeping US soldiers in Iraq can possibly bring that country closer to peace. The answer is no, both because occupation breeds resistance and because the US is backing one side in a civil war. Very regrettably, however, it appears that Iraqi ingratitude and incompetence will eventually be the official explanations for why the US has no choice but to leave. That deception will be as perilous for the future of US foreign policy as the lies told to justify this cataclysm of a war.