Monday, July 28, 2008

Declare Victory and Don't Go Home

The Bush administration and its stepchild John McCain have opted for a bold new strategy to counter the overwhelming success of Barack Obama's whirlwind foreign policy world tour: they've declared victory in Iraq.

This could preserve the neocons' aim of establishing a permanent military footprint in the geographic heart of the Middle East. Their only problem will come when the American public starts believing we've won and begins to expect the administration to draw down the troop presence in Iraq for real.

But Dick Cheney and his leg breakers aren't sweating the next step. They'll turn that corner when they come to it.

Spin One for the Gipper

The march to victory in Iraq began in early July when Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki proposed a memorandum of understanding for continued U.S. presence in Iraq that contained a formula for withdrawal of American forces. "The goal is to end the presence (of foreign troops)," al-Maliki said.

Bush's Ministry of Truth shifted into over spin, insisting that Maliki wasn't really talking about a "hard date for withdrawal," but then Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, speaking through intermediary Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, put out the final word on the subject: "We will not accept any memorandum of understanding that doesn't have specific dates to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq."

Then, as Obama was visiting Afghanistan, Maliki told the German magazine Der Spiegel "U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes."

At that point, John McCain had to drop his "Obama's foreign policy inexperience" chant and confess that, yeah, well, 16 months was "a pretty good timetable." I mean, if you like that timetable sort of thing.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, though, reports in the left blogosphere of the demise of the McCain presidential bid were, to put it mildly, greatly exaggerated.

Mission Accomplished Again

It didn't take long to fabricate the next chapter of the never-ending neocon fable. Most of the elements were already in place. The surge, which John McCain had bravely supported from the outset, had been an overwhelming success to hear the bull feather merchants tell it, and was the reason that Maliki could speak of a U.S. troop withdrawal at all. To create a convincing illusion of victory in Iraq, though, the administration needed to tap its resources in the "independent" media, and on Sunday July 27, two of its mainstay propaganda partners stepped up to the plate.

The Associated Press ran a piece by Robert Burns and Robert H. Reid that led with "The United States is now winning the war that two years ago seemed lost." This doesn't mean the war is ending, Burns and Reid assert, but it does mean that, "the combat phase finally is ending." Ambassador Ryan Crocker told them "that the insurgency as a whole has withered to the point where it is no longer a threat to Iraq's future." Burns and Reid further claim that, "Systematic sectarian killings have all but ended in the capital." All this is due largely to the fact that "Shiite militias, notably the Mahdi Army of radical cleric Muqtada al Sadr, have lost their power bases in Baghdad, Basra and other major cities. An important step was the routing of Shiite extremists in the Sadr City slums of eastern Baghdad this spring."

Echoing the theme of victory over the Mahdis was Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times. Tavernise revisited the matter of the spring offensive against al Sadr's organization, noting that "Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki struck another blow this spring, when he led a military operation against it in Baghdad and in several southern cities."

If ever there were a prime example of rewriting history before the ink on the headline dried, this pile of balderdash by Tavernise is it. The only "blow" Maliki struck last spring was the one he almost chopped off his baby maker with when he launched an "offensive" against the Sadrists. The thing that saved Maliki's bacon was that Sadr offered a cease-fire contingent on several conditions that included amnesty for his fighters. To redraft this calamity into a victory by Maliki (or, as Burns and Reid put it, a "routing" of the Mahdi Army) is the sort of audacious, bald faced lying that only Dick Cheney would attempt, and that only the "liberal" New York Times would aid and abet.

Back in the day, the Times would require its Cheney mob connected reporters like Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller to at least keep up a modicum of pretense at honest journalism by citing anonymous government officials. Even that prerequisite seems to have been dropped. Tavernise makes sweeping unsupportable statements about things like how the Mahdi Army's "use of extortion and violence began alienating much of the Shiite population" and that Maliki "is increasingly seen as a true national leader" without bothering to quote or reference anybody. One expects this kind of shameless manipulation in an "analysis" column like the AP article by Burns and Reid. The Tavernise piece pretends to be straight news.

Next Throes

The key to Petraeus's "success" is pretty simple. He armed all sides of the Iraq civil war to the teeth, bribed the Sunni militants into leaving Maliki's security forces--made up largely of Shiite Badr militiamen--alone, and he caught a break when Sadr agreed to keep his Mahdi Army people quiet as long as they got amnesty and Maliki's Badr bubbas quit harassing them. Petraeus has largely managed to keep the open sore in the northern Kurdish region out of the public eye, and whenever anything bad happens that accidentally gets in the news, he simply blames it on Iran.

I haven't heard yet how he's trying to explain Monday's violence; Suicide bombers killed at least 47 people and wounded about 137 in the Iraqi cities of Kirkuk and Baghdad. In addition, gunmen shot and killed seven people on the outskirts of Baghdad. Maybe he'll say some folks got a liquored up at wedding celebrations and turned a little too rowdy (and maybe next time he'll squelch the outbursts with an air strike).

Whatever the case, Petraeus and the rest of the neocon puzzle artists also have to cope with the general assessment that Obama is correct in saying we need to draw troops out of Iraq and start focusing on Pakistan and Afghanistan like we should have been doing all along. That gets dicey because they can't deny what he's saying, but agreeing with him is a tacit confession that the surge was yet another in a long procession of Bush administration strategic fumbles.

They're trotting out the standard Afghan excuse, of course: everything going wrong there is NATO's fault.

That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but hey, it will probably work on the toe-is-to-foot as nose-is-to-smell crowd that voted for Bush twice.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Also catch Russ Wellen's interview with Jeff at The Huffington Post and Scholars and Rogues.


  1. bernard fall's pissed-off ghost5:04 AM

    This doesn't mean the war is ending, Burns and Reid assert, but it does mean that, "the combat phase finally is ending." Ambassador Ryan Crocker told them "that the insurgency as a whole has withered to the point where it is no longer a threat to Iraq's future."

    It's the end of major combat operations! And the insurgency is in its last throes -- nothing left now but a few bitter dead-enders! And and and...

    Fuck, they couldn't afford some new bullshit?

    There's a great section in the later editions of Street Without Joy that lists all of the happy pronouncements from U.S. military leaders in 1963: This is the year we're going to turn it around, we'll definitely be able to hand the war off to the ARVN this year, blah blah blah. Losing armies are always just about to turn the corner.

    BTW, Nixon ran against the Democrats in 1968 by saying that they failed to wrap up their war in Vietnam and produce peace, so they hadn't earned the right to govern any longer. Then, in 1972, when he hadn't wrapped up his war in Vietnam or produced peace, he did what Cheney Addington and Co., LLC, are doing now: He hinted broadly that the NVA was on the verge of quitting, war's over, nothing to see here. They hadn't won, so they said that they'd won. And it worked.

    Nixon redux. Scum floats to the top.

  2. Bernard,

    Happy pronouncements and a layer of pond scum: what a fitting epitaph for this administration. ;-)


  3. Always on the mark, you are... I was writing something similar today and just updated to add a link and quote from this.

  4. I'm more and more convinced that Petreaus has done for Iraq just what he did in Mosul: made himself look good (to some) but created the next throe.

  5. How anyone can trust Petraus for anything is beyond me? If that kind of leadership was an isolated incident I would say he was simply incompetent. But I don't think so.

  6. Russ Wellen3:42 PM

    Speaking of the media, turns out that it was them (according to Wikipedia, anyway) who made up that stupid term, "the surge." I had thought it was the administration. (Everybody forgets, but they called it the "new way forward.")

    Whatever happened to "We're sending in reinforcements"?

  7. CM,

    Well, some don't trust him, but they're not in power.


    I liked "escalation" myself.

  8. Commander,

    Nice little article on Editor and Publisher website this morning about Ron Fournier, the AP guy who is directing "campaign" coverage for the news service.

    Seems he was once offered a job with the McCain campaign.

    Darn that "librul" media.

    Don't know how to get through to the "sheeple" in the country, that all the stats we read and hear, about "what's up" (non-violence) and "what's down" (violence) in Iraq, are not coming from independent journalists -- they are coming striaght from Petraeus, and through the DOD.

    Thank goodness for your website.

  9. Yes, EL, there is no "independent" reporting. Petraeus controls the message.


  10. Glad to see you nail this one. Iraq and Afghanistan were never about nation building, democracy, or for that matter terrorism. It's always been about the oil and its secure transport. Even the colonial British had their day with the same problem. Obama's talk about Afghanistan is another Soviet style catastrophe waiting to happen. Nobody conquers Afghanistan for long. It's the elephants graveyard of empires. Just ask Alexander the Great. lol

  11. "victory" but the wars not over...

    Great post by the way,

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