There is nothing easier than making predictions about the behavior of the Bush administration. Look for the eventuality in every scenario that completely lacks logic and it will be the course pursued by this president. Only the zealot can process what he says but the damage done by his blunt force instruments is impossible to ignore. So let us all now prepare for the report of Gen. David Petraeus.
Is there anyone in America who doesn't already know what Petraeus and the president are going to tell the public? Here's a guess from someone who lives a good chunk of continent away from the Beltway: Progress is finally being made; it's not as much as we want but it would be wrong for America to abandon the Iraqi people now just as things are starting to improve.
The president and Hillary and General Petraeus can all talk about the al Anbar Province but that doesn't change what is happening in the rest of Iraq. It does, however, gloss over a few important points about Anbar. Bush does not expect the American public to question why the Sunnis in Anbar are cooperating with US forces. But there are some obvious conclusions to be reached about the state of the war in Anbar.
The White House and the Pentagon have made much of the alliances between Sunni leaders and American forces. They have combined in an effort to push back al Qaeda insurgents in al Anbar. That may be only part of their motivation, however. It's just as likely that the Sunnis, who dominate Anbar Province, are seeking to keep the majority Shiites at a distance. Isn't it possible that American soldiers are being used to facilitate the initial steps of Iraq's Balkanization while they fight to keep the city of Ramadi and the wider province of al Anbar free from al Qaeda's control?
Saddam Hussein, of course, was a Sunni, and when he was deposed by the US invasion and occupation, his sect was essentially disenfranchised. The decades of oppression the dictator had visited upon the Shiites to the south and the Kurds to the north have made political reconciliation between the sects virtually impossible, regardless of how many purple fingers are waved in the air. Obviously, the Sunnis know that at least some of the majority Shiite population wants revenge and atonement for the torture and loss under Saddam. Many Shiites believe the Sunni are accountable, if only by religious association with the crazed dictator. The insurgents being fought by the US and Sunni alliance in Anbar undoubtedly include Shiite fighters among the insurgency. There seems to be ample evidence that the Sunnis are interested in securing Anbar Province, the city of Ramadi, and Central Iraq as their own territory. This can hardly be described as a military victory for the US.
Whether the US leaves Iraq tomorrow or ten years from tomorrow, the only variable in the outcome will be the number of dead Americans and Iraqis. It seems inevitable that the country will be governed in three distinct regions with political power emanating, as it almost always has, from the mosque and the politically connected clerics. The Sunni will control the central reaches of Iraq while the Shiites will rule the south with considerable involvement from Iran. To the north, the Kurds will try to maintain a semblance of order while avoiding Turkish influence. Yes, it's possible they will war against each other but isn't that already happening?
What's happening in Al Anbar does not present a very cogent argument that we are making progress. But it is a sign the Sunni have staked out a claim on their piece of the countryside and we are helping them to secure it. This hardly seems worth another American life. But the president who avoided Vietnam is now citing that war as an example of why we should not leave Iraq and his rhetoric is as much a proof of his evasiveness as are his missing Texas National Guard records. Mr. Bush talks about the Vietnamese "boat people" as evidence America ought not to have left South Vietnam. Has he not noticed the millions of Iraqis fleeing to Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, and Syria? Ultimately, the argument can be made that America's refusal to withdraw from Vietnam is what helped secure the population's determination to adopt a communist style government. Our lingering presence in Iraq is almost certain to turn the Iraqis away from democracy and insure an Islamist regime. Occupiers never win because the occupied will always outfight them and out-die them and outlast them.
Democracy only succeeds when it spreads itself. If the Iraqis truly wanted what we are trying to force feed them, they would have tried to get it themselves, the same way our founders did. Instead, they are fighting amongst religious sects, goaded on by al Qaeda insurgents who hope to take advantage of the chaos, and our president has sent our children into the middle of this madness. This is not our fight. And every Republican or Democrat who thinks the Iraqi conflict is important to America needs to offer up at least one son or daughter to carry a gun into the desert. If they can't make that commitment, then they are hypocrites and cowards.
Otherwise, bring them all home. And do it now.