Monday, April 02, 2007

Time Limit

Politicization of the military is old hat (see Iraq War) so nobody should be surprised that Gen. Patraeus is delivering briefings to Congressional Republicans and not Democrats, but the news for Republicans isn't so great nonetheless:
[Andrea] Mitchell's analysis suggests a real timeline for operations in Iraq. Minority leader John Boehner had previously been clear that no "blank check" was being delivered for the new deployment. If there was no sign of results in 60-90 days, Boehner stated, the deployment would have to be revisited. These remarks explain both the need for the briefing and the plea for a longer time frame.

Obviously, Bush's opposition to the Democrats' phased withdrawal plans seems increasingly awkward against this background.
Indeed. Here's an excerpt of the analysis Prof. Horton is referring to:
MITCHELL: I think the Republicans are going to crack. What I've been told from inside the moderate center of the Republican caucus is that the vote in favor of the president this week — it was against the president but the Republicans holding for the president — was misleading. That they really are not in favor of the surge. They don't believe it's going to work. But they basically said the president has until August, until Labor Day. After that, if it doesn't work, they're running.
Here are two notes of my own. First of all, it's difficult to argue that things haven't calmed down in Baghdad somewhat since the surge began. Overall casualties in Baghdad are down. Unfortunately, overall casualties in Iraq are up for the month of March. That's largely the result of Sunni insurgents and Al Qaeda escalating their brutal attacks outside of Baghdad, like this massive truck bombing in Tal Afar, where American and Iraqi forces do not operate in force. The bombing and other killings of Shiites have been conducted deliberately to provoke a response by Shiite militias and security forces, who after the Tal Afar bombing were happy to comply. The Mahdi Army has largely lain low since the surge began, but that may be coming to an end as well, and the intimidation and killing of Baghad's Sunnis has not been abated by the surge.

In other words, there is some evidence that the surge has improved things in Baghdad, but that appears to be largely because the Sunni and the Shiite fighters have biding their time to gauge the effectiveness of the added soldiers and security. I don't generally like to go out on a limb, but it seems to me that the insurgents and militias are now done with the period of waiting, and will begin testing the security to a greater and greater degree as the weeks pass. And since an extra 30,000 American troops simply isn't enough without being able to rely on an infusion of the notoriously unreliable Iraq troops, those tests will slowly but surely undermine the security situation in Baghdad. The Sunnis will probably successfully provoke the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias to some degree or another, and those militias will largely respond with reprisals against Sunni residents. And for one step forward, we'll take two steps back...and keep slipping backwards, just as events in Iraq have done since the fall of Baghdad.

I'll also go out and predict that this will become clear in only a matter of months. In other words, there's no need for some long time-line on "redeploying" our forces in Iraq. Democrats thus far have been remarkably successful in getting legislation that is aimed at doing just that and in fact are ahead of where most of us thought they'd be at this point. Also, public opinion is well behind the Democratic position, despite some reports (and massive right-wing punditry) that the surge is succeeding in the short term. If Andrea Mitchell is right, then Republicans are unwilling to buck public opinion much longer unless there is considerable evidence of success, and soon at that. The appropriate Democratic strategy, and the one they seem to be pursuing, is to continue to push aggressively to isolate Bush politically, ignoring Republican talking points about "success" in Iraq or not "supporting" the troops. This will put them in prime position to force binding, veto-proof legislation on the President once it becomes clear even to the majority of Republicans that there's nothing else we can do to save Iraq.

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