In the Arena

What to do About Iraq

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As predicted, David Petraeus is refusing to play along with the administration’s scenario regarding the surge. The only thing we are likely to know about the new tactics by August is if they’re not working. My guess is, the reports will be inconclusive: some quieter neighborhoods in Baghdad, but continued violence–especially in the ring of provinces, like Diyala, just outside the city and in mixed areas like Mosul and Kirkuk up north. There will little, if any, progress in the areas that Petraeus and the military people are really concerned about: the utter corruption, incompetence and ethnic incoherence of the Iraqi government. It is unlikely that the Bush Administration will have the patience, or skill, to do the diplomatic close-work necessary to build international, especially neighborly, pressure on the Maliki government to get its act together. (The regional conference that is to be held in Baghdad over the next few days will be little more than a photo-op.)

So what to do? The political reality remains the same: nothing can be done. The consensus Democratic proposal is not radical: it mirrors the Baker-Hamilton suggestions. Murtha’s insistence on troop readiness reflects a real concern in the military–we simply don’t have the troops to sustain a surge-level deployment for very long (In addition, we lack the troops to meet a crisis elsewhere in the world–a very frightening deficit.) But Bush will veto the bill, and the Democrats won’t be able to override it…and even though the tar has lost much of its power, the broad brush will still be employed: Democrats will be accused of trying to block funding for the troops. Politically, this is a far more dangerous game than a non-binding resolution.

I have a substantive problem with the Democrats’ resolution as well, a nagging one about micro-managing the war, and announcing exact timelines. I keep coming back to Jim Webb: we need to be far more responsible getting out of this war than we were getting into it. The criminal irresponsibility of the Administration in going to war and prosecuting it carelessly is the original sin here, but Democrats should be very careful not to compound it.