Feature

Iraq: Should we stay for years to come?

“No, it’s not your imagination,” said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. The war in Iraq really has become this “surreal,” to the point that not even the men in charge of waging it seem to know what’s going on. Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker returned to Capitol Hill last week to brief Congress on the progress of the war, and were unable to provide such basic information as: what our goal is, whether we’re winning or losing, and, oh yes, who we’re fighting. There has been a reduction in the daily violence, but Petraeus said that achievement was so “fragile and reversible” that it required an indefinite halt in the withdrawal of U.S. troops. President Bush eagerly signed this blank check, said The New York Times in an editorial, saying he would give Petraeus “all the time he needs.” Sadly, that’s a luxury that won’t be enjoyed by our next president, whose first order of business must be “to figure a way out of a disastrous war.”

What a cynical distortion of Petraeus’ testimony, said Cal Thomas in the Orlando Sentinel. He and Crocker were each careful not to raise false hopes of an imminent victory, but the facts they reported speak for themselves. When the “surge” of 30,000 additional U.S. troops began last spring, Iraq was hurtling toward a sectarian civil war, while the thugs of al Qaida, operating unchecked throughout Iraq, unleashed unspeakable carnage on Iraqi civilians. Now, thanks to the valor of American soldiers and Petraeus’ brilliant counterinsurgency strategy, al Qaida has been all but crushed, the Sunnis and Shiites are beginning to reconcile politically—albeit grudgingly and incrementally—and, perhaps most important, Iraqi civilians are resuming their lives. “Only those politically invested in the defeat of their own country” could characterize the troop surge as a failure and the war in Iraq as a lost cause.

But how much longer will it take? said Ronald Brownstein in the National Journal. And at what cost? The war in Iraq has already cost $600 billion, a figure that is rising by $10.3 billion a month, most of which has been borrowed and thus shunted off on future generations. This may explain the “somber caution” of Crocker’s and Petraeus’ testimony last week. If the U.S. wants the kind of “success” or “victory” that Bush and Republican presidential candidate John McCain dream about, they seemed to be saying that we’d better prepare for a long-term American commitment. McCain says that keeping more than 100,000 troops in Iraq for years to come is crucial to our national security. Fine, then: Be honest about the cost, and “ask the country to pay for it.”

You’re entirely missing the point, said Jed Babbin in Human Events. The reason we’re making such slow progress in Iraq, Petraeus and Crocker kept reiterating, is the growing influence, and interference, of Iran. The Islamic regime in Tehran sees itself as the Mideast’s new regional power, so it is sponsoring well-trained, well-armed Shiite militias to fight both U.S. troops and the Iraqi government. Iran hopes to keep the blood flowing until the U.S. gets so weary of fighting that it gives up and goes home. The real mission in Iraq, Petraeus suggested, was not to build the stable, democratic nation of neocon fantasies but to prevent “radical Islam and all its adherents” from running amok in the region. “Fire the neocons, Mr. President. Redefine the war to fit reality.”

Unfortunately, said Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune, ours is not a president known for changing policy to reflect real-world developments. Whatever happens on the ground, “the Bush policy is always the same: Stay the course.” When things go badly in Iraq, he insists we have to stay there longer to ward off further chaos. When things go well in Iraq, he insists we have to stay in order to solidify our gains. And all the while our military is being stretched further and further toward the breaking point, said David Broder in The Washington Post. Long, repeated deployments are starting to take a real toll on the preparedness and general mental health of our armed forces. Is preserving Iraq’s flawed status quo really worth ruining the Army, thousands of additional killed and wounded, and more than $1 trillion? Petraeus wouldn’t say. So the answer to that question “will have to come from the presidential candidates, not the general. It certainly won’t come from this president.”

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