It really makes the Iraq debate easy for John McCain when he throws around words like "win" and "victory" and "prevail" and "success" without really defining what they mean. A short time ago he was calling for American troops to remain in Iraq forever and that Obama was "naive" for suggesting otherwise.
Now that the Iraqi government has indicated its desire for the American troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2010, McCain has gone dovish crediting his own insight for the "surge" that "won" the war. He even hinted today that American troops might be able to come home after all.
But McCain's stance totally contradicts the substance of the "status of force" agreement the Bush Administration has been trying to ram down the Iraqi government's throat, which would codify a permanent American military presence in Iraq. General David Petraeus told Barack Obama during his recent trip to Iraq that he opposes a "timetable" for the withdrawal of American troops because he wants to maintain "flexibility." I guess Petraeus didn't get the memo from the George W. Bush-John McCain camp.
The editors of the New York Times opinion page asked McCain to rework his most recent submission. They demanded that he at least define what he means by "winning" in Iraq and what such a "victory" would look like on the ground. It is a welcome, if belated, arrival into the "reality-based community" on the part of the Times. (Of course, they still have David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, and William Kristol).
McCain is going to have some major editing work to do. He must not only declare that the "surge" was a great success, but he has to argue that it was such a magnificent "victory" that an American troop reduction might be in order (this comes after McCain denounced Obama repeatedly for making this same argument).
When McCain isn't talking about non-existent countries like "Czechoslovakia," or non-existent frontiers, like the "Iraq-Pakistan border," he's smugly dressing down Obama on foreign relations. The Rightwing is whining about the positive press coverage Obama is getting on his trip, but if Obama referred to "Czechoslovakia" or to the "Iraq-Pakistan border" the media would have plunged his campaign into deep doo doo.
It is disingenuous and self-serving for McCain to begin all of his discussions about Iraq with the January 2007 "surge." In doing so, he is airbrushing out the inconvenient history of the war.
In January 2007, when George W. Bush decided to pour more American soldiers into Iraq and escalate the U.S. troop commitment there he was responding to domestic politics. The Democrats were about to take over both houses of Congress and the Baker-Hamilton Commission Report had issued an indictment of the administration's lack of a diplomatic track in ending the conflict. Defiant, petulant, and immature as ever, Bush launched what his handlers called a "surge" to lock in the policy as the Democrats took their places on Capitol Hill and to show his Uncle Jim and his Daddy that he didn't need or want their advice.
By January 2007, the occupation in Iraq had long been a strategic and humanitarian disaster. There was already widespread "low intensity" ethnic cleansing, and with the February 22, 2006 destruction of the Shia Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra there was unleashed a sectarian bloodbath that transformed the country. The Shia government, which controlled the Interior Ministry and much of the security apparatus, went on a rampage and shielded freelance death squads and militias that reaped their revenge on Sunni communities throughout the country. In a short period, the ancient city of Baghdad went from being mostly Sunni to being mostly Shia. There were 2 million people who fled the country and another 2 million internally displaced people. It wasn't very long ago Iraqis were torturing each other with Black & Decker power drills. I doubt if the underlying current of hate and the cycle of revenge have dissipated. But after the dust settled there was relative calm. It had nothing to do with the "surge."
Any "success" that McCain or Bush or Kenneth Pollack or Michael O'Hanlon or Michael Gordon or David Petraeus and all the rest of the war-hawks talk about is delusional because it is proclaimed by willfully ignoring the humanitarian costs; the price in blood and treasure the Iraqis have paid, and to a far lesser extent, the Americans too. McCain is celebrating a Pyrrhic victory. The United States destroyed Iraq in order to save it. Just take a look at Falluja, or Baghdad with its hideous blast walls and check points. That place will never be the same. In a just world the United States would pay reparations to Iraq for a hundred years. (Don't take my word for it, read Patrick Cockburn's Muqtada, and Jonathan Steele's Defeat.)
Let's review some more.
First, the Senate Intelligence Committee's "Phase II" investigation of the lead-up to the war confirms that the Bush Administration used deception, lies, and misleading statements to hoodwink the public and the Congress into buying the idea that attacking Iraq served American national security interests. The Bush Administration lied this nation into war. Its principal mouthpieces and behind-the-scenes operators should be held accountable for their crimes, which include perjury, obstruction of justice, and abuse of power. (In addition to the international war crimes of aggressive war and torture.) It was a disgrace that will forever besmirch the reputation of this nation. I don't see any "victory" there.
Second, this war has cost our nation at least $750 billion (and counting) and the entire financial burden has been thrown on to the national debt. We'll be paying this thing back, with interest, to the same Wall Street elites that we are currently bailing out as part of a "remedy" for the mortgage meltdown. The 30,000 maimed American soldiers must be taken care of, and their health costs will soar with the cost of everything else. The PTSD cases alone will cost this country dearly in ways that we cannot even anticipate at this time. No "victory" there.
Third, all this talk of "success" in Iraq masks what the original aim of the war was supposed to be: Disarming the regime of Saddam Hussein of its "weapons of mass destruction." There was nothing to "disarm" because the Iraqi government had no weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations weapons inspectors only cost about $50 million per annum and they should have been allowed to do their jobs. Even if they were still in Iraq hunting for WMD right now it would have cost only about $300 million and the U.S. would have partners sharing the financial burden. The things we could have done with all that money we've wasted in Iraq. Bush then changed the objective of the war to an elaborate nation building exercise, an endeavor we still have not accomplished and probably never will. Democracy does not come out of a barrel of a gun. I see nothing "victorious" here.
Fourth, about 1,200 private corporations have been shamelessly profiteering off the Iraq war from day one. Halliburton's graft crimes are legion, and we won't find out the extent of the shoddy services KBR provided our soldiers, or how many Iraqi civilians Blackwater killed, until a new Attorney General is sworn in, and maybe not even then. "Win?" I guess you could say the profiteers "won."
With tens of thousands of innocent civilians killed and maimed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere; and with commentators like John Bolton, Benny Morris, and Charles Krauthammer demanding the United States or Israel attack Iran, thereby expanding the killing fields; and with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) working hand-in-glove with resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda elements in the northwestern border region and in Kashmir; and with the Bush Administration's failed saber rattling, warmongering, and unilateralist bluster -- Can we now safely conclude, at this late date, that Bush's foreign policy has been a catastrophe for the world and the single biggest recruiting tool for international terrorists?
It doesn't smell like "victory" to me.
by Joseph Palermo
Mr. Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento. He's the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right (2001) and RFK (2008).
Reprinted with permission from the History News Network.