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John Metzler Archive
Monday, September 17, 2007

Iraq report; Glass half full or half empty?

UNITED NATIONS — The long awaited reports by Gen. David Petraeus on the military situation and Ambassador Ryan Crocker on the political front in Iraq offered poignant assessments and a generally positive overview. Congressional testimony instinctively reflected the skeptical side of the debate, but more importantly seemed motivated by domestic U.S. political considerations. While the General stressed the troop surge has helped the security situation, Congressional Democrats acting as politicians postured and pandered, always with their didactic fingers on the political pulse.

Gen. Petraeus focused on improving security in the land of the stored Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq. Congressional Democrats are consumed with pitched political battles on the Potomac and inside the Washington Beltway. So is the glass half full or half empty?

The current situation in Iraq is enormously complicated and complex. Anyone who advises a seemingly simple solution is simply wrong. That goes for both sides in the debate. Nonetheless it’s increasingly clear that any Congressional pullout “timetables” have much more to do with the Presidential election in November 2008 than any realistic chance of a major draw down of U.S. military forces in the next year. Politicos on both sides of the aisle are haunted by the specter that the Iraq imbroglio will be around whoever is in the White House in two years.

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Indeed the U.S. military has performed admirably with remarkable sacrifice and courage, has begun to train larger numbers of effective Iraqi security forces, and has turned the terrorist tide in key areas of the country. One must concede however that many Iraqi politicians from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and many of the unfunny clowns around him, are clearly part of the problem causing the policy frustration. This is not for the lack of democracy, but a reflection of the religious and ethnic divides in that complex and fractious country.

In an address to the nation President George Bush stated there would be 5,700 troops withdrawn by year’s end and most of the extra 30,000 surge troops should be rotated out by next summer, leaving 130.000 forces. Still the insurgency will linger uncomfortably close to the U.S. elections as will the partisan political debate dividing America

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has prepared to marshal his Democrat Party for yet another vainglorious rhetorical assault on the Administration’s Iraq policy despite the Democrats lacking sufficient votes to force a serious policy change. Reid’s admonition “asking Republicans not to march in lockstep with the President” should be reversed; why not ask Senator Reid not to march in lockstep with the dictates of left-wing kooks such as whose credibility should not extend beyond the Berkeley beltway?

The Wall Street Journal stated editorially, “The Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee Tom Lantos said that Gen. Petraeus would not be the author of the report; it would be written ‘by Administration political operatives.’ He opened hearings, moments before the General was due to speak by saying, ‘We cannot take anything this Administration says on Iraq at face value.”

But as the Times of London opined, “Those Democrats who have insinuated that Gen. Petraeus is in the pocket of the White House disqualify themselves as serious participants in the national debate; even in a war of entrenched political positions, such smear tactics should have no place.”

Now the bigger picture. Let us not forget the Al Qaida threat extends well beyond Iraq and started before that war. In the past week, Islamic jihadists were thwarted by German police from carrying out major attacks against American bases in Germany, by Turkish police from a mega-bomb plot in the heart of the Turkish capital Ankara, and by the Danes from a plot in Copenhagen. Significantly Islamic Iran’s threat and active interference inside its neighbor Iraq looms. Such dangers continue not because coalition forces are in Iraq but despite it. Recall that the September 11th terrorist attacks on America happened two years before the Iraq operation. It’s all part of the same fight.

As this column has oft stated, the Iraq policy comes down to Clock, Calendar and Consequences. We all want the troops home sooner than later, but arbitrary calendar deadlines do not make sound strategic policy. And what of the consequences of a fast pullout? Any realistic person knows this could spell chaos not only for Iraq but for the region which could be delivered to the treacherous mercies of Al-Qaida. Such an outcome, as in South Vietnam a generation ago, will haunt the political party who casts the political die. Amb. Crocker told the Senate, “Our current course is hard, the alternatives are far worse.”

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for World

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