A surge, but no surge protector

Monday, January 15, 2007 at 05:51 PM

Apart from the very real possibility that Iraqis are now so anti-American that no policy supported by the U.S. could possibly get Iraqi public support, and that no Iraqi politician seen as really supporting the U.S. could possibly manage to survive in Iraqi politics, I think all of us need to ask the President and all our elected federal officials a single question:  What if the new "surge" goes as badly as all our other policies have gone?

You would think that the White House and/or Pentagon and/or Dept. of State has given this some real consideration and developed a plan B, even a C and maybe a D.  But I doubt it.

Check out, for example, Condi Rice at a news conference on January 11, 2007 (emphasis added):

Iraq is central to the future of the Middle East. The security of this  region is an enduring vital interest for the United States. And our continued leadership in this part of the world will contribute greatly to its stability and success.

Our regional diplomacy is based on the substantially changed realities in  the Middle East. Historic change is unfolding in the region, unleashing old  grievances, new anxieties, and some violence, but is also revealing a promising new strategic realignment in the Middle East. This is the same alignment that we see in Iraq. On one side are the many reformers and  responsible leaders who seek to advance their interests peacefully, politically, and diplomatically. On the other side are extremists of every sect and ethnicity who use violence to spread chaos to undermine democratic governments and to impose agendas of hate and intolerance.

Our most urgent diplomatic goal is to empower reformers and responsible leaders across the region, and to confront extremists. The proper partners in our regional diplomacy are those who share these goals -- our allies, Israel and Turkey, of course, but democratic reformers and leaders in places like Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories and Iraq, and the responsible governments of the Gulf States, plus Egypt and Jordan, or the GCC plus two.

At the same press conference, new Defense Secretary Gates pretty clearly outlined the serious consequences of failure in Iraq:

The violence in Iraq, if  unchecked, could spread outside its borders and draw other states into a regional conflagration. In addition, one would see an emboldened and strengthened Iran, a safe haven and base of operations for Jihadist networks in the heart of the Middle East, a humiliating defeat in the overall campaign against violent extremism worldwide, and an undermining of the credibility of the United States. Given what is at stake, failure in Iraq is not an option.

He, of course, intended this list of horrors to be an incentive to support the "surge" in Iraq.  I consider it instead to be an incentive to finally look clearly at the tangled mess in which we have managed to imprison ourselves there.  Because, frankly, there's a hell of a lot of reasons to think this isn't going to work.  And if it doesn't, and our policies prove ineffective or, worse yet, incendiary in Iraq, we are producing the very litany of horrors that Gates cited.

And there is no sign that our fearless leaders have figured any of this out.  Witness the following Q & A from that same press conference:

Q Secretary Gates, how long do you expect to maintain the surge in Iraq? And what happens if the Iraqis do not live up to their commitments?

SECRETARY GATES: Well, as I indicated, we're going to know pretty early on whether the Iraqis are meeting their military commitments, in terms of being able to go into all neighborhoods, in terms of the Iraqis being in the lead and carrying out the leadership and the fighting, and for there not to be political interference in the military operations that are going forward. As I say, this is going to unfold over a period of time, and so I think that as I indicated in my remarks, before very many American soldiers have been sent to Iraq, we'll have pretty good early indications of their performance. We'll have to see, in terms of the length of time. It's really hard to say at this point. It's viewed as a temporary surge. But I think no one has a really clear idea of how long that might be.

Q Can you define what success will be then, sir? If you don't know how long it will be -- I know one of the things over the last few months, the President was saying, we're winning in Iraq, we're winning in Iraq, suddenly he didn't think we were, so how do you define success? How do you know if it's not working? Certainly, there will be a period where it's bloodier, more violent. But at what point do you really know it's working?

SECRETARY GATES: Well, let me take a crack at it and then invite Condi to comment. I think that what we will see over time is a lessening of violence in Baghdad. If this strategy is successful, over time we will see a lessening of violence in Baghdad. We're going to be, to a certain extent, the prisoners of anyone who wants to strap on a bomb and blow themselves up. But if the environment in Baghdad improves to the point where the political process can go forward, where the reconciliation process can go forward, where an oil law can be passed for the distribution of the revenues from the oil sales, where provincial elections can go forward, and where the government is actually beginning to make its writ felt outside Baghdad and we see the government of Iraq beginning to operate more effectively -- I think all of these things -- as the President said last night and as I suggested this morning, it isn't going to be like anything we've experienced before in terms of when we'll know whether or not we're being successful. It's going to take a little time, and we will probably have a better view a couple of months from now in terms of whether we are making headway in terms of getting better control of Baghdad, with the Iraqis in the lead and with the Iraqis beginning to make better progress on the reconciliation process.

Did you see anything in there that actually answered the reporter's question of "what happens if the Iraqis do not live up to their commitments?"