Originally posted at Leon Wofsy’s Op-Ed on August 3, 2007
What does the Bush-Chaney-Petraeus “surge” strategy aim to accomplish?
The op-ed piece by O’Hanlon and Pollack in the NY Times, July 30, 2007, spins an inflated story of “military progress” in Iraq, but acknowledges that the “surge” hasn’t and can’t produce a “political solution”. Moreover their “good news” account, seized on by the White House, bogs down as the authors question, “how much longer can we wear down our forces in this mission?” They bemoan “the reality that the surge cannot go on forever”. Further, every day’s bad news from Iraq belies the myth of military victory: US casualties remain high and the horrendous toll in Iraqi lives grows.
Since there is no military solution to the debacle in Iraq, what is the White House looking to gain from General Petraeus’ surge?
The Bush administration is buying time, not, as claimed, for its hopeless client government in Iraq, but for itself. It hopes to influence the political landscape in the United States to circumvent the popular fervor for ending the war and bringing the troops home. What it hopes to salvage from the disaster of the Iraq war is to force a “bipartisan” commitment in “our national interest” to continue an aggressive, militaristic pursuit of dominance over the Middle East and to further US global supremacy.
The surge was undertaken when the realization had sunk in for a majority of Americans that there was no alternative to withdrawal from the Iraq fiasco. The Bush administration hopes desperately to escape coming out empty handed and aims to secure conditions after all for long-term US military entrenchment in Iraq. By inflating the occupation force, the calculation is that the public demand for ending the war can be finessed with an eventual “draw-down” that would leave almost as large a military presence as before the “surge”.
Above all, with the 2008 presidential campaign under way, the Petraeus build-up aims at a fait accompli to commit the next administration to continued military occupation of Iraq and further aggression in the Middle East. (The idolatrous focus on Petraeus as the “savior”, as a latter day General McArthur, has its own negative implications for American democracy, as Frank Rich warned in his sharp dissent, New York Times, July 29, 2007. The ploy is that to challenge Bush, the most discredited of all US presidents, is actually to challenge Patraeus and “our troops” — and that approaches “treason”.)
Can the “surge” strategy work? Even as it fails to control political reality in Iraq, can it change the political equation here at home?
What hasn’t changed is that Americans are sick of the war in Iraq. There is also no doubt that most establishment figures, who largely went along with the Bush-Cheney-neocon plunge into war, now are horrified by the Administration’s extremist course and the toll it is exacting internationally and on the state of the nation. But the political landscape is more complicated. The timing and circumstances for ending the war remain unresolved.
While the 2006 election results and the unfolding presidential primary campaign have pushed congressional Democrats and all potential Democratic candidates to call for ending the war, there is equivocation. Hilary Clinton is on record (quietly) for keeping 50-75,000 US troops in Iraq indefinitely. Obama, who has had a stronger anti-war position, is outdoing his rivals in pledging aggressive military intervention against Iran and Pakistan.
Republican defections from Bush on Iraq have a double-edged aspect. While serious and significant, they blunt direct efforts to force an end to the war. They mount pressure on the Democrats for a “bipartisan compromise” that will sustain as much of an occupation force as possible in Iraq and expand US military power throughout the Middle East.
If the will of the people to bring the soldiers home is to prevail, it will have to override both propaganda for extending the “surge” and bipartisan obfuscation aimed at salvaging an occupation mission.
Clearly confrontation over the Iraq war and its consequences will dominate the politics of the 2008 presidential campaign. As of now, hopes are high for getting rid of the Bush-Cheney cabal and keeping its choice replacement out of the White House. Nothing is more important than rescuing constitutional democracy and hopes for peace from a dictatorial and war hungry regime. But it’s far from a slam-dunk. We need only recall the election of 2000, which began with the Gingrich Republican Congress as the most unpopular in history, and ended with the presidency stolen by the GOP’s “compassionate conservative”.
Beyond ending the war in Iraq, how soon and how far America recovers from the Bush years depends on a change in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans. Will the harsh lessons of Vietnam and Iraq lead us to a different view of America and its place in the world? Will we refuse to accept excuses for war and recognize that America cannot succeed (and cannot save its soul) as an occupying power in foreign lands? Will we embrace leadership by example and cooperation rather than allowing politicians to exploit “American leadership” as a rhetorical code for superiority and global dominance?
The “surge” we need is not in Baghdad. It is in the long struggle for our consciousness and conscience as a people.