I swore I'd stay away from the war news for a week during my "vacation." I couldn't do it. It's a dead skunk sort of thing: horrible to look at, but so hard to look away from.
First on my list of fond summer holiday recollections is Wolf Blitzer's July 8th interview of Lieutenant General Richard Lynch, who commands the security operation in the region south of Baghdad. As Bush administration generals go, Lynch sounds like your standard issue bull feather merchant.
Yeah, old Lynchie is in favor of sticking with the current strategy. In fact, according to him, any attempt to change the strategy could seriously undermine the whole effort. See, if the surge forces go away before the Iraqi forces are ready, then the enemy will regain ground, and reestablish sanctuary, and build more of those IEDs. And the Iraqi forces aren't ready to take over yet. Won't be for quite a while.
Of course in Lynch's battle space, his magnificent platoons and the really good Iraqi Army and Iraqi police battalion he has working with him are taking the fight to the enemy. But things take time. They don't happen overnight. And things would be going a lot better if it weren't for those pesky Iranians helping out the enemy, helping kill Lynch's magnificent soldiers. Lynch doesn't know for sure what Iranians are behind helping the enemy, but he has "no doubt" the Iranians are causing trouble in his battle space.
Wolf showed Lynch a video of retired Major General John Batiste saying, "Our Army and Marine Corps today are at a breaking point, little to show for it. It's serious." Wolf then asked Lynch if the U.S. military is at a breaking point.
"By no means," Lynch said.
When Wolf asked if political pressure from Washington might force a change in strategy, Lynch said that the surge strategy is "on target, but it's going to take time."
Iran Ate My Homework
I also caught Joe Lieberman on C-Span, reciting the litany of flimsy accusations of Iran's "interference" in Iraq. Lieberman's primary reference was to statements made by Brigadier General Kevin J. Bergner, who is the new head military public affairs officer in Baghdad. Bergner himself has no actual knowledge of the source intelligence surrounding the Iran allegations. His job is to craft whatever message the administration/Pentagon want transmitted; in this case that Iran is the cause of all problems in Iraq.
That Lieberman would read Bergner's propaganda into the Senate record and call it "evidence" is… Well, we're talking about Lieberman here, so it's no surprise at all.
The reports came out. One said al Qaeda is not stronger than it has been since before 9/11/01. The other said Iraq's government has done a lousy job of meeting its "benchmarks."
Mr. Bush denies that al Qaeda is stronger than ever before. But it's strong enough to pose the primary threat in Iraq, even though the al Qaeda the first report was really talking about is the one that's reemerged in the safe haven border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Bush's spin doctors tried to make "security" one of the issues in which Iraq's government has succeeded, pointing to al Anbar province as a "victory" over al-Qaeda. They don't bother to mention that the "victory" was achieved by local tribal chiefs, and that U.S. forces had little to do with it and Iraqi forces had no connection to it at all. They also fail to note that the "victory" consisted of chasing al-Qaeda out of Anbar province and up to Diyala province, where U.S. forces have launched Operation Arrowhead Ripper (yes, they really call it that.) Arrowhead Ripper consists of 10,000 U.S. troops deploying to kill or capture maybe 500 al-Qaeda militants in Diyala's capital city of Baqouba. Some "victory."
Senior Senate Republicans (John Warner and Richard Lugar) have proposed non-binding legislation that calls for Bush to change the Iraq strategy. That'll go over like a lead zeppelin. Heck, Bush won't even have to veto it to ignore it. Of the proposed bill, Mr. Bush said, "I don't think Congress ought to be running the war. I think they ought to be funding our troops." He thinks Congress ought to keep on signing those blank checks, and let him and his generals continue to squander them.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki put his foot in it over the weekend when he said that U.S. forces could leave Iraq "any time they want" because Iraqi forces were ready to take charge. He later said his remarks were misunderstood.
On Sunday, the last day of my vacation, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jim Webb (D-VA) appeared on Meet the Press. Graham thinks we can destroy al-Qaeda in Iraq. I think we can too. Best estimates are that there are fewer than 1,000 al-Qaeda fighters in that country. I'm not entirely clear why, with a hundred to one or better numeric advantage, we haven't been able to eliminate them by now. But unlike Graham, I know that destroying al-Qaeda in Iraq will not solve the security situation there.
I once had such hopes for Lindsey Graham. Was it just three years ago, at an Armed Services Committee hearing, that he looked mad enough to jump across the table and throttle Donald Rumsfeld? Since then, Huckleberry has become one of the administration's trustiest echo chamberlains, adept at polly-crackering any talking point the Rovewellians want injected into the info-sphere.
It appears that both the U.S. Congress and the Iraqi Parliament will take August off. That guarantees there will be no progress on political solutions in Iraq and no change to U.S. strategy for a month. That will cover Bush until the ides of September, when U.S. commander in Iraq David Petraeus will tell Congress that he needs more troops and more time to "win" in Iraq, and make boo noise about the consequences of "losing."