The British are leaving, the Iraqis are failing and the Americans are staying—and we’re going to be there a lot longer than anyone in Washington is acknowledging right now. As Democrats and Republicans back home try to outdo each other with quick-fix plans for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and funds, what few people seem to have noticed is that Gen. David Petraeus’s new “surge” plan is committing U.S. troops, day by day, to a much deeper and longer-term role in policing Iraq than since the earliest days of the U.S. occupation. How long must we stay under the Petraeus plan? Perhaps 10 years. At least five. In any case, long after George W. Bush has returned to Crawford, Texas, for good.Hirsh writes about how Petraeus is employing a classic counterinsurgency strategy as he puts troops in hundreds of mini-forts all over Baghdad and other cities. Counterinsurgency as in "winning hearts and minds" with overwhelming military force, deployed locally. Petraeus has given up on the Iraqis. The Americans are going to do it themselves. In other words, the mission is too important to let the Iraqis screw it up.
The U.S. Army has also stopped pretending that Iraqis—who have failed to build a credible government, military or police force on their own—are in the lead when it comes to kicking down doors and keeping the peace. And that means the future of Iraq depends on the long-term presence of U.S. forces in a way it did not just a few months ago. “We’re putting down roots,” says Philip Carter, a former U.S. Army captain who returned last summer from a year of policing and training in the hot zone around Baquba. “The Americans are no longer willing to accept failure in order to put Iraqis in the lead. You can’t let the mission fail just for the sake of diplomacy.”(Emphasis added.) WTF? Josh Marshall comments:
Set aside whether the Petraeus plan is unlikely to succeed or virtually certain to fail. And set aside -- for the sake of clarifying a separate set of issues -- how many more US troops would die with this new approach. (With this sort of intensive involvement in securing Iraq, the answer has to be, a lot.) The question that we need to ask is whether it's worth trying to prevent the Iraqi civil war from running its course given our now depleted resources and how many other vital national interests are now imperiled by our continued presence in the country.The Petraeus plan seems unlikely to work for many reasons: a) Not enough troops are available to implement it the way it should be implemented; b) U.S. casualties are sure to rise, and the American people are running out of patience; c) It will be very expensive to carry out for any length of time, and the money is bound to become harder to get. But the biggest reason I think it will fail is that the entire strategy is essentially a rural strategy -- Burma, Vietnam, etc. It's never worked in a primarily urban environment, where it might better be called the "sitting duck" strategy.
Central to the Republican line on Iraq and much more to the Democratic one than I think is sometimes realized, our whole vision is now governed by Iraq-myopia, the delusion that our national destiny is at stake in Iraq. But it's not. We've done horrible harm to ourselves and the Iraqis. It's a disaster, a catastrophe. But it's not everything. It's actually not even close to everything. And until we really get our collective heads around that fact I doubt we'll ever get ourselves free of this mess.
Be that as it may, the way we're headed is likely to prolong the war well into 2008, with the war only getting more bloody as the months go by. The main casualties will be the Iraqi people, as well as U.S. forces.
But the collateral damage is likely to extend to Democrats who have been trying to do business as usual in a time when business as usual has ceased to exist, still afraid to take meaningful action against a crazy, out-of-control policy. The American people have, in Marshall's phrase, gotten their "collective heads around the fact" that the war is a disaster and that we need to get out -- immediately. The major Democratic candidates have not. While Rome burns and the Senate does nothing, senators Clinton and Obama battle about David Geffen and the Lincoln bedroom. Not good. My guess is that the effect on their candidacies as this thing unfolds will be brutal.
There's only one Democrat who has shown he can think outside the box, who has consistently opposed the war, who has been a leader on other major issues, and who has the stature and experience for the presidency. You'll probably see him at the Academy Awards.