Whose Course In Mideast?

Whose Course In Mideast?
March 2nd, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Whose Course In Mideast?

Whose Course In Mideast?
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
March 2, 2008 Iraq offers only tough choices, but McCain's approach will keep us mired
By Jay Bookman
Should they become president, neither John McCain nor Barack Obama will implement the approach to the Iraq War that they espouse on the campaign trail. The strategic realities of our situation won't allow it.
Obama, for example, pledges that upon becoming president he will immediately begin a phased withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq, with the goal of eliminating our combat presence within 16 months.
His overall goal of withdrawal is appropriate and necessary, but the time frame he suggests is not achievable for a couple of reasons.
One is purely a matter of logistics. Just drafting plans for an orderly, responsible pullout would take a long time--withdrawal is more complicated and in some ways more dangerous to execute than an invasion. Once the planning is done and withdrawal is under way, military experts suggest that it would take a year or more to complete.
Furthermore, that one-year time frame applies to a withdrawal in which getting out becomes the primary mission. A withdrawal in which U.S. troops continue to try to protect Iraqi security, train Iraqi troops and respond to changing facts on the ground would take considerably longer.
Even those Americans who opposed the invasion of Iraq from the beginning should acknowledge that by invading, we incurred a moral obligation to the Iraqi people. A withdrawal that tries to honor that obligation, and that protects U.S. strategic interests in the region, cannot be accomplished hastily.
However, McCain's approach is even less realistic. Five years into the war, it is striking how fervently he still clings to the goals that motivated the invasion in the first place, even if those goals were hidden from the American people at the time.
McCain, for example, still talks of maintaining U.S. bases in Iraq for 100 years or more, using those bases to project military power throughout the oil-rich Middle East. He's pretty blunt about it: He wants U.S. troops to stay in Iraq just long enough so they can stay forever.
McCain also betrays a grossly exaggerated belief in our success in Iraq. He recently told a campaign audience that "the war will be over soon," that although the insurgency will continue, "it'll be handled by the Iraqis, not by us."
Contrast that optimism with the testimony of someone with more firsthand knowledge of the situation.
"There is an enormous amount of work to be done in Iraq," Gen. David Petraeus said in a recent interview with military.com. "There's nobody here doing victory dances in the end zone or talking about turning corners or seeing light at the end of the tunnel."
The surge has succeeded, at least temporarily, in reducing the amount of violence in Iraq. As Petraeus noted, attacks on civilians haven't been this low since the spring of 2005. That is no mean feat, and it's testimony to hard lessons learned by U.S. officials and a lot of sacrifice by U.S. soldiers, more than 800 of whom have died in the past year.
But the surge was supposed to do more than that--it was supposed to change things. If the surge had worked as planned, U.S. officials would now be announcing significant troop withdrawals. In fact, in his speech to the nation announcing the surge back in January 2007, President Bush made that point explicit.
"If we increase our support at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence," the president promised the American people, "we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home."
Today, that day seems no closer than ever. Instead, military officials say that when the surge ends in July, we will have more troops in Iraq than we did when the surge began.
And that's not sustainable. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps are strained to the breaking point fighting long-term wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The cumulative effects of the last six-plus years at war have left our Army out of balance, consumed by the current fight and unable to do the things we know we need to do to properly sustain our all-volunteer force and restore our flexibility for an uncertain future," Gen. George Casey, chief of staff of the Army, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week.
Gen. James Conway, the Marine Corps commandant, sent a similar message when he agreed to send another 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan. Without relief soon, he told reporters, the Corps cannot continue to sustain such commitments.
That's a critical point. The necessary invasion of Afghanistan, followed by a war of choice in Iraq, have demonstrated the limits of U.S. military power to most of the world. But not to McCain. He believes fervently that the U.S. military should be used not just to defend the United States and its allies, but as a tool to shape the world to our liking. It's important to remember that in the GOP primaries eight years ago, the neoconservatives who later drove this nation toward invading Iraq were backing McCain, not George W. Bush, as the champion of their cause. He was the man they trusted to pursue their dreams of a "benevolent global hegemony."
To most people, the last few years have made clear the folly of such a strategy. We have asked our brave men and women in uniform to realize ambitions too lofty for the resources they have been given, and they and their families have suffered immensely for failure not their own.
We have two choices: We can significantly increase the size of our military--a goal achievable only through a draft--or we can reduce the missions it is asked to carry out.
*Jay Bookman, for the editorial board

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