Although official White House and DoD spokesmen have taken pains to state that no final decision has been made on the number of US troops to remain in Iraq after the 2011 deadline for their withdrawal has elapsed, the writing on the wall is nevertheless pretty clear:
An Obama administration proposal to keep a few thousand American troops here after the end of the year to train the Iraqi military is being scaled back, as the administration has concluded that the Iraqi Parliament would not give the troops legal protection, two American officials said on Saturday.
Both countries are still discussing whether to keep some trainers in Iraq, although the number of troops is most likely to be far less than the 3,000 to 5,000 that the administration had discussed with Iraqi leaders, one of the American officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the continuing negotiations.
The officials said the administration’s plans changed in recent weeks as it became clear that the Iraqi Parliament would not give legal immunity to the American troops, something the Pentagon had insisted would be needed if troops were to continue to operate here.
Two weeks ago, the leaders of the Iraqi political blocs said they wanted American troops to remain to train the Iraqi military after the year’s end, but would not provide them legal protections.
I want a turbonormalized G36 Bonanza with a glass cockpit to hither and yon from Sandy Eggo to Point Mugu, but am sadly unable to come up with the requisite scratch. I would even settle for a V35B, but alas: Unobtanium.
The parallel being, in this case, that the Iraqi parliament wants to retain the stabilizing presence of American trainers while also preserving Iraq’s sovereignty by refusing to negotiate a mutually acceptable status of forces agreement that would prevent those trainers from becoming pawns in Iraq’s nasty internal political intrigues.
The 2007 surge bought space and time for the Iraqi people to quench their sectarian bloodlust and build a representative democracy, along with the necessary beginnings of the social institutions which must undergird such a project. This was done at huge cost in American blood and treasure. We’re about to find out, four years on, whether the former are worthy of the latter’s sacrifices. I am not optimistic.
As of press time, spokesmen from the Quds Force of Iran’s Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution were unavailable for comment.
In other news, NATO is now speaking optimistically about halting the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan, setting the stage for substantial withdrawals of coalition combat power in the coming months and years:
Despite a sharp increase in assassinations and a continuing flood of civilian casualties, NATO officials said Saturday that they had reversed the momentum of the Taliban insurgency as enemy attacks were falling for the first time in years.
It was the most optimistic assessment yet from senior NATO officials, and runs counter to dimmer appraisals from some Afghan officials and other international agencies, including the United Nations. With the United States preparing to withdraw 10,000 troops by the end of this year and 23,000 more by next October, it raises questions about whether NATO’s claims of success can be sustained.
Coalition officials have previously used terms like “halted” and “arrested” to describe the shift of Taliban influence following the American troop buildup. In March, the senior NATO commander at the time, Gen. David H. Petraeus, said Taliban gains had been “halted in much of the country and reversed in some important areas.”
On Saturday, a senior coalition official said, “This is all about momentum.”
Yup. Momentum to the exit.
Ten years ago we buckled on our armor, drew our swords and went to war. Partly this was to avenge an egregious wrong. Partly it was to prevent such a thing from ever happening again. Partly it was designed to change the underlying chemistry of the various Petri dishes that grew such monstrous cultures. We believed, perhaps naively, that peoples once liberated from the either/or choices of tyranny or anarchy could be worthy of self-government. We believed that democratic societies do not willingly go to war against each other. We believed that political liberation could trump ancient civilizational enmities.
It was a grand if cripplingly expensive experiment, without which the Arab Spring probably could not have emerged as alternative to externally imposed solutions. There are no steps left to take in this experiment, or none at least that are worth the additional investment. We are about to analyze the results.
I hope we have the courage to assess them scientifically and unemotionally.