Saturday, February 02, 2008

got your surge right here

The news that the Worst President Ever just pulled another signing statement, this one concerning the permanence of U.S. bases in Iraq, coincides with widespread bursting of balloons in the "surge is working" mad tea party.

To continue the literary references: One needn’t wear a flag lapel to spot a naked emperor, nor does the Left’s resentment over years of dishonesty and narrow-mindedness on the part of the Bush administration render it somehow blind to obvious facts. For columnist Michael Shank, calling Iraq secure is not only inaccurate, but dishonest. He accuses the Pentagon and war apologists of manipulating numbers, for example the number of refugees returning to Iraq, without factoring in long-term trends, such as how those refugees will be absorbed. The entire “surge” rhetorical enterprise has emphasized largely meaningless numbers stripped of their context. Meanwhile, Bush's plan to negotiate a status of forces agreement before he leaves office, an agreement which will keep troops there permanently (or force his successor in the White House to break the agreement) has drawn protests and condemnations from across the Untied States.

There are several reasons to doubt the administration’s claims of increased stability in Iraq, and instead see a naked emperor, regardless of one’s political affiliation. First, the “stability” in question doesn’t even exist. The twin bombs that struck Baghdad at the end of the week (the worst attack in months) were not only symbols of order unrestored, but also of the chaotic hold on partisanship and division in Iraq: Their targets, the Ghazil pet market and the New Baghdad pet market, both on the east side of the Tigris River, were each popular with both Shiites and Sunnis.

So civilians continue to be targeted, and U.S. troops continue to die as well. The regularity of these deaths outpaces the small, localized improvements that war apologists continually and stubbornly cite as signs of improvement. Although the four-month drop in U.S. casualties may have seemed like an improvement, US casualties are up again, with 38 service members killed in January.

Moreover, whatever artificial “stability” the US can advertise is a desperately assembled house of cards and cash. That stability is partly --in a huge part, actually-- the result of the U.S. literally buying the loyalty of Sunni militias; the U.S. has paid out $120 million so far. However, "responsibility for paying these forces is supposed to pass to the Shia-dominated Iraqi regime this summer, and it is by no means certain that it will follow suit." As a result, Improvements in security are fragile at best. Recent rocket attacks in Basra--an area considered recently and relatively stable--prove that so-called improvements there are largely a matter of interpretation.

In order to pad claims of stability, Bush has authorized the drawdown (which he promptly delayed) of troops now that the “surge” is allegedly “working.” However, the Army and Marines say that there are no soldiers available to replace the ones who are withdrawing. Weapons flow is another fly in the ointment. Corruption and bribery, as well as outright theft, continues to put weapons meant for Iraq security in the hands of terrorists.

Third and finally, the long-term political situation has obviously not improved, not even a little. As Senator Bob Casey pointed out in a speech on the Senate floor the day after the President's State of the Union address, Bush promised the same things a year ago that he is promising now: "Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas." That hasn't happened.

The recent news of the alarming increase in military suicide rates associated with serving in Iraq suggests a slightly different interpretation of “stability,” and also that there might be a relationship between the futile effort to increase stability in Iraq at a cost of the personal stability of the Americans who are being asked to go there. Such human pain is always a sobering remedy for the illusions of naked emperors.

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