Bush "Plays (!) for October" and Dems Will Be Snookered (Again) in the Iraq Debate

05/25/2011 12:15 pm ET

George Bush told Draper, his biographer who wrote Dead Certain, that he was "playing(!) until October-November" when the Iraq war would be picked up by Republican Presidential candidates and he could then be sure that the war and occupation would continue. For any other President, indeed for any other public official or columnist, using the term "play" in association with a war strategy, where real people are dying, would generate outrage. Nothing this guy says or does, however, surprises. After all, he cries on God's shoulder.

General Petraeus will soon testify before Congress. There will be tooth-gnashing and hand-wringing, and posturing and pontificating, but the real stakes in the debate---the wisdom and morality of sending more US men and women off to die, or to lose their limbs or their minds, will remain unspoken, and the key questions that should guide such determinations will not be addressed.

The Democrats will (again) be snookered into discussing Iraq on the Administration's terms, i.e., based on the number of casualties this month vs. some conveniently-selected benchmark, whether the surge of troops has "worked".

Nothing about the human costs, and nothing about the ultimate outcome of continued loss of life, will be addressed. Consider, for example, the following, reported yesterday by the AP:

"BAGHDAD - Iraqi soldiers hoisted the nation's flag over the Basra palace compound Monday after British troops withdrew from their last garrison in the city, leaving the country's second biggest city largely in the hands of Iranian-backed Shiite militias."

I supply the emphasis, for a reason. Before reading those emphasized words, it seemed like a positive communication, the British leaving and turning over control to Iraqis. But, is this, the result of 4 years of British military involvement in Southern Iraq, what we would call "success"? Care to wonder about how many "mums" will feel their child's sacrifice of life or limb was worth that result? True, George Bush did predict that Iraq would become "an ally" in the terrorism war, the only part he got wrong was the country with which Iraq would ally. We can already sketch the coming debate. Petraeus will point to some evidence of military progress compared to 6 months ago, and tout the cooperation with Sunni tribal leaders in al-Anbar province that routed al-Qaeda. He will bemoan the absence of political reconciliation, cite some local glimmers of hope, but claim more time is needed to provide more security so that political resolution is possible. Others will note that the Sunni tribal leaders had themselves tired of al-Qaeda, were opposed to its strict Muslim laws, and had started routing al-Qaeda before the surge. They will also point out that violence is actually increased when compared seasonally, as opposed to the arbitrary conveniently-selected benchmark, and that total civilian casualties in the country have actually risen. Congress will press Petraeus on the proper benchmarks to use, and whether security has indeed improved. That will be the debate. The big question, should the US pursue the military solution to Iraq or start drawing down troops, will then be addressed in the context of those benchmarks---do we REALLY have evidence of progress or not? With no clear answer, "doubt" will favor the position of no change of policy. Congressman Brian Baird (D-WA) is the first Democrat to buy that line. Once again, the Dems will have been snookered into a debate on THEIR terms. And, once again, more American sons and daughters, more US mothers and fathers, will lose their lives and limbs to serve the vanity of George Bush and Dick Cheney. [Or, as we have just learned, so that "ol' George can replenish the ol' coffers."] What should the Democrats do instead? Focus their time and commentary on the irrelevance of an unsustainable 8-fold increase in US troops in al-Anbar for the ultimate, long-term outcome Iraq. Limit questioning on Petraeus's report on "improved security" to pointing out: 1) the arbitrary selection of the benchmarks; 2) that reduced civilian deaths may just as likely be due to increased ethnic cleansing in Baghdad neighborhoods, and thus fewer people. Why? Petraeus's report will be irrelevant. The outcome of this disastrous war will be the same whether we had started leaving a year ago, or if we start today, or in April 2008, or April 2010, or April 2020, and it will involve the Iraqis themselves, not the Americans. The burden of proof should be placed on Petraeus to provide evidence that the outcome will be materially and positively different if we maintain our posture until April, 2008. Yep, evidence. Thusfar it has, if anything, been the opposite. Petraeus should be asked whether he considers the outcome in Basra to be a success or not. Then ask him if a similar result in the rest of Iraq is worth the life or limbs of ANY American. Ask him what progress of any lasting significance can be achieved between now and April, when everyone agrees the US can no longer sustain its current effort. What is going to happen then? What evidence is there that they are going to make any political accomodations then that they will not make now? We armed the Sunni militants against al-Qaeda in al-Anbar, the same Sunni militants that oppose the al-Maliki government we support. A hint of the long-term consequences of such a policy for victory may be inferred from the last time we adopted such a strategy, arming the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union. But, General Petraeus should be asked what he thinks the long-term consequences of that strategy will be. Is arming the Sunnis going to lead to political reconciliation? Bush now likes comparing Iraq to Vietnam, so here is a comparison for him: Nixon and Kissinger realized they could start withdrawing US troops in 1970-71 but did not do so to avoid hurting Nixon's re-election chances in 1972, and attacked the patriotism of war opponents during the very time they realized the troops could be withdrawn, while they allowed another 25,000 American soldiers to die solely for their vanity. Coupled with abuse of power that only Nixon could envy, that will be the disastrous Bush/Cheney legacy. Their ignominy, however, is no comfort to the American families who will lose their loved ones, or the soldiers that will lose their limbs or their minds, pursuing a policy so that Bush can "play until October". Nor does it assuage those who could have had the money spent on Iraq invested in their education, their roads and bridges, or their healthcare.