The Lost Year
Friday, August 24, 2007; 12:32 PM
A new national intelligence estimate concludes that President Bush's troop surge shows no signs of accomplishing its goal of encouraging political reconciliation in Iraq.
An influential Republican senator and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff now favor a troop withdrawal. (Sen. John Warner wants Bush to demonstrate that the commitment in Iraq is not open-ended; Marine Gen. Peter Pace argues that the military simply can't keep this up.)
These and other developments take us back in some ways to December 2006. It was then, in the wake of the November election and the report of the Iraq Study Group, that the debate in Washington finally appeared to be shifting away from how to achieve victory and toward how to cut our losses.
Instead, Bush ignored public sentiment, overruled his military commanders and opted for escalation.
And now it appears that the only thing the surge has bought him is time -- nine months or maybe a year, during which he was able to postpone the inevitable.
What has that year cost America -- and Iraq? For starters, a year in Iraq translates to over 1,000 more dead American soldiers; over $100 billion more in direct appropriations; over 15,000 more dead Iraqi civilians; and countless grievous wounds and shattered families both here and there.
In light of the costs, having bought a year of time may not seem like much of an accomplishment. But if Bush can drag things out another year or so, he can wash his hands of the whole mess and leave it for his successor to deal with.
I'm taking next week off. The column will resume after Labor Day, on Tuesday, Sept. 4.
The New NIE
Warren P. Strobel and Leila Fadel write for McClatchy Newspapers: "A new assessment of Iraq by U.S. intelligence agencies provides little evidence that the American troop 'surge' has accomplished its goals and predicts that the U.S.-backed government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will become 'more precarious' in the months ahead.
"A declassified summary of the report released Thursday said that violence remains high, warns that U.S. alliances with former Sunni Muslim insurgents could undercut the central government and says that political compromises are 'unlikely to emerge' in the next 12 months."
Mark Mazzetti writes in the New York Times: "The assessment, known as a National Intelligence Estimate, casts strong doubts on the viability of the Bush administration strategy in Iraq. It gives a dim prognosis on the likelihood that Iraqi politicians can heal deep sectarian rifts before next spring, when American military commanders have said that a crunch on available troops will require reducing the United States' presence in Iraq.
"But the report also implicitly criticizes proposals offered by Democrats, including several presidential candidates, who have called for a withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq by next year and for a major shift in the American approach, from manpower-intensive counterinsurgency operations to lower-profile efforts aimed at supporting Iraqi troops and carrying out quick-strike counterterrorism raids.