Monday, October 30, 2006

Tomgram: Schwartz, 9 Paradoxes of a Lost War

Here's how the President described the enemy in Iraq at his press conference last week. "The violence is being caused by a combination of terrorists, elements of former regime criminals, and sectarian militias." "Elements of former regime criminals," aka "bitter-enders," aka "Saddamists." The "sectarian militias" may have been a relatively recent add-on, but this is essentially the same list, the same sort of terminology the President has been using for years.

In the last two weeks, however, rumblings of discontent, the urge for a change of course (or at least a mid-course correction) in Iraq have been persistently bubbling to the surface of already roiling Washington. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner recently returned from Iraq to rattle the Bush administration by saying that policy there was "drifting sideways" and if it didn't improve, "all options" should be on the table not long after the mid-term elections.

Suggestions are rife for dumping the President's goal of "democracy" in Iraq and swallowing a little of the hard stuff. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, for instance, reported last week (as did Middle Eastern expert Robert Dreyfuss at a week earlier) that in two desperate capitals, Washington and Baghdad, rumors about possible future Iraqi coups are spinning wildly. People of import are evidently talking about the possibility of a new five-man "ruling commission," a "government of national salvation" there that would "suspend parliament, declare martial law and call back some officers of the old Iraqi army." Even the na! me of that CIA warhorse (and anti-neocon candidate) Ayad Allawi, who couldn't get his party elected dogcatcher in the new Iraq, is coming up again in the context of the need for a "strongman."

This was, of course, the desire of the elder George Bush and his advisors back at the end of Gulf War I, when they hoped just such a Sunni strongman -- one who could work with them -- would topple a weakened Saddam Hussein. Dreams, it seems, die hard. And, as if on cue, who should appear but former Secretary of State and Bush family handler James A. Baker III, a Bush Elder kind of guy. While on the talk-show circuit for his new book, he also spent last week plugging (but not revealing) the future findings of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission he co-heads whose aim is to suggest to a reluctant President new policy possibilities in Iraq. They too are putting "all" options on the table (as long as those options involve "continuing the mission in Iraq"). The group, according to a leak to the New York Sun, has, however, ruled out t! he President's favorite option, "victory." One option it is considering, according the Sun, involves skipping "democracy," minimizing American casualties, and focusing "on stabilizing Baghdad, while the American Embassy should work toward political accommodation with insurgents."

A political accommodation with the insurgents? Curious how word gets around. Sometimes a small change in terminology speaks volumes for future mid-course corrections. The other day, Gen. George Casey, commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, gave a press briefing with Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. As part of his prepared introductory remarks (not in answer to some random question), he offered this list of "groups that are working to affect [the situation in Iraq] negatively":

"The first, the Sunni extremists, al Qaeda, and the Iraqis that are supporting them. Second, the Shi'a extremists, the death squads and the more militant militias. In my view, those represent the greatest current threats in Iraq. The third group is the resistance, the Sunni insurgency that sees themselves as an honorable resistance against foreign occupation in Iraq."

"The resistance"? "An honorable resistance against foreign occupation in Iraq"? Where did those bitter-enders, those Anti-Iraq Forces go? Take it as a small signal -- noticed, as far as I could tell, by not a single reporter or pundit -- of things to come.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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