Roll the dice one more time

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The Washington Post reports today that the administration is so confident that the upcoming Patreaus news will silence critics of the U.S. mission in Iraq that it plans to ask for an additional $50 billion in funding for the venture:

The request — which would come on top of about $460 billion in the fiscal 2008 defense budget and $147 billion in a pending supplemental bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — is expected to be announced after congressional hearings scheduled for mid-September featuring the two top U.S. officials in Iraq. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker will assess the state of the war and the effect of the new strategy the U.S. military has pursued this year.

The request is being prepared now in the belief that Congress will be unlikely to balk so soon after hearing the two officials argue that there are promising developments in Iraq but that they need more time to solidify the progress they have made, a congressional aide said.

Most of the additional funding in a revised supplemental bill would pay for the current counteroffensive in Iraq, which has expanded the U.S. force there by about 28,000 troops, to about 160,000. The cost of the buildup was not included in the proposed 2008 budget because Pentagon officials said they did not know how long the troop increase would last. The decision to seek about $50 billion more appears to reflect the view in the administration that the counteroffensive will last into the spring of 2008 and will not be shortened by Congress.

Ah, just one more six-month period, and we’ll have the whole thing turned around. Too bad there’s no sign of political reconciliation. In addition, most of the evidence available has been pretty thin:

Anbar is good news despite the long-term risk of arming Sunni tribal leaders. Petraeus seems to be doing a good job on the counterinsurgency front (though it’s frankly hard to say how much of this is good PR based on a limited number of success stories and how much is genuine widespread progress). And it’s possible that violence is down in Baghdad, though I’d rate the odds of that at no more than 50-50.

On the downside, most of the evidence suggests that violence is following seasonal patterns and is going up, not down. The insurgency seems to be getting worse in the north. Civil war is breaking out in the south. Anecdotal reports of progress are undercut by suggestions that we’ll need to stay in Iraq for another decade. The Iraqi police force is a disaster and the army doesn’t appears to be much better, despite the usual Pentagon claims of improvement. Kirkuk is a timebomb. Iraqi infrastructure is in a ruinous decline. And the insurgency is apparently bigger than it was a year ago.

The conventional wisdom this summer, after a steady round of dog-and-pony shows from the military, says that although political progress in Iraq is nil (or even in reverse), at least we’re finally making some tactical progress on the security front. And maybe we are. But I’m trying to be as honest as I can be here, and it looks to me like the balance of the evidence suggests that this is more hype than reality. As near as I can tell, we’re not making much progress on either front.

Check the link: Kevin has a detailed list with the latest on the security situation.

As always, I would love to be proven wrong. The reality remains, we’re no closer to achieving political reconciliation now than we were prior to the surge. In fact, we’re now distancing ourselves from Maliki’s government, and people are talking about putting Allawi back in charge:

Then there’s the fact that Allawi already had a shot at the position — and he was terrible. He was appointed interim prime minister in May 2004, keeping the position until he was replaced in April 2005 by Ibrahim Jaafari (following the January ’05 elections). If that sounds like the time when the insurgency really started to heat up, well . . . it was. Allawi’s tenure was marked by corruption, a feckless approach to basic services, and a widespread perception of thuggishness. In one particularly intense episode, he’s said to have personally (and summarily) executed six suspected insurgents at a Baghdad police station. Perhaps most importantly, his support for the devastating military incursions into Fallujah and Najaf in 2004 earned him the hatred of both Shia and Sunni Iraqis. As a postscript to this illustrious record, after the latest elections, he basically disappeared to London and Jordan — when Ambassador Crocker was asked about Allawi recently, according to NYTimes, he “said he only spoke to people who actually came to Iraq.”

Despite all this, we’re subjected to relentless speculation about an Allawi reemergence.

Thanks to Matt for the link. Yglesias also touches on doubts about the upcoming Patreaus report:

I’m not sure what else one would expect — when people self-evaluate, they usually come up with positive accounts of themselves. Besides which, as long as Petraeus thinks what he’s doing is working on any level, he’s going to decide that he ought to exaggerate how well it’s working in hopes of bolstering support. And, of course, if the war ever does end Petraeus is going to want it to be because politicians decided to end it despite his brilliant successes rather than because he failed.

At any rate, it seems safe to assume that the most recent round of congressional junkets has adequately previewed what we’re going to hear in DC, namely some misleading spinning of the Anbar Awakening plus some unconvincing data about declining civilian casualties plus the usual screwed up political situation.

Kevin and Ilan Goldberg (via the link above) have more on the Patreaus report.

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