Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Spinning the Iraq War

President Bush gave another press conference today, trying to spin the Iraq war into a necessary if tough struggle that inevitably will be “won.” Acknowledging the recent violence as a “concern,” Bush nevertheless insisted that U.S. troops will stay in Iraq until the “job is done.”

While acknowledging that the people’s patience is not unlimited, Bush called on the public to exercise patience and to trust the generals and the government – meaning the White House. He again asserted that there is a plan to win the war, with “winning” defined as leaving in place in Iraq a democratically elected, sovereign government able to defend itself. Bush asserted that the first two conditions already exist: the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a sovereign government that was elected by the Iraqi people in a free election.

The forms of election – one person, one vote; pluralism; secret balloting – generally were met. But the ballots were presented on the basis of ethnic\sectarian affiliation which negates the principle of the plurality of shifting alliances that serves as a check on the tyranny of the majority. Moreover, five months after al-Maliki’s government was approved by the Council of Representatives (the “lower” house of parliament), the major power blocs in the Council have moved toward devolving power to regions (Kurds in the north, a possible nine-province Shi’ite region in the south) at the expense of the Baghdad government. The result is a further, frustrating, and often fatal delay in meeting the expectations of more than one-quarter of the Iraqi people that a “permanent government” would be able to provide improved security and important government services.

As for President Bush’s declaration that the al-Maliki regime is sovereign, the Iraqi prime minister was so surprised by a joint U.S. Special Forces and Iraqi army raid in Sadr City aimed at a Mahdi army official suspected of running death squads that the Iraqi Prime Minister held his own press conference to denounce the operation. Initial reports said 20 Iraqis were killed and an equal number wounded.

President Bush outlined his strategy in Iraq: train an adequate number of Iraqi army units and police – the goal is 325,000; gradually have the Iraqi security forces, bolstered by embedded small numbers of U.S. trainers – take the lead in operations; and then have Iraqis operate completely independent of U.S. support – including logistics. A few minutes later, Bush said the job of the U.S. in Iraq in conjunction with the al-Maliki regime is to prevent the outbreak of civil war. With only 325,000 Iraqis and 140,000 U.S. and allied troops, this is verging on “Mission Impossible.”

“Which is it?” is a fair question to put to the president, particularly as he provided at least five rolling rationales for starting the war in the first place. The answer seems to be that the mission is whatever the president says it is – reminiscent of the infamous “mission creep” in Vietnam. Nor does Bush seem to be concerned about the effects of such imprecision despite the military’s cardinal rule that it be given a clear, unambiguous mission that contributes to the nation’s overall political goal.

One question that came up in Bush’s press conference concerned the existence of permanent U.S. bases in Iraq. The commander in chief said he wasn’t concerned about permanent bases because that was long-term whereas the emphasis for the moment had to be on short-term security. He did acknowledge that at some point the bases discussion would have to occur with whatever government was in power in Baghdad. But that might be five to ten years in the future.

Ironically, October 26 also marked the first reports in mainstream media of the growing number of active duty soldiers who are challenging the continued presence of U.S. troops and bases in Iraq. (Although small, the group’s objections are reminiscent of the so-called “refuseniks” in Israel.) And just a few days earlier, The Washington Times carried a short item about a “massive military base” being built by the U.S. at Arbil in Kurdish Iraq.

Speaking of permanent bases, having shipped about 1,000 “terrorists” to Guantanamo Bay – often with no evidence of highly suspect accusations that a prisoner had fought against U.S. troops or in anyway supported al-Qaeda – Washington now finds itself with 355-375 captives it would like to release. Few countries are budging, particularly since Washington is demanding as a condition of repatriation, that the governing authority in a detainee’s country of citizenship put the returnee in jail, on trial, or otherwise under surveillance. Many governments simply refuse to accept Washington’s terms, meaning that there are prisoners who have not been charged with any crimes, will never be charged, but cannot leave Guantanamo or the prisons therein.

One option the administration is unlikely to consider even though it is responsible for the perversion of justice is to offer permanent residency to those at Guantanamo deemed “no threat” by military commissions. It seems the very least Bush could do – but then….

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