Thursday, July 20, 2006

War backers finally begin confronting reality

As civilian deaths continue to mount in Iraq, even GOP lawmakers are moderating their rhetoric about the war.

Rank-and file Republicans who once adamantly backed the administration on the war are moving to a two-stage new message, according to some lawmakers. First, Republicans are making it clear to constituents they do not agree with every decision the president has made on Iraq. Then they boil the argument down to two choices: staying and fighting or conceding defeat to a vicious enemy.

The shift is subtle, but Republican lawmakers acknowledge that it is no longer tenable to say the news media are ignoring the good news in Iraq and painting an unfair picture of the war. In the first half of this year, 4,338 Iraqi civilians died violent deaths, according to a new report by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq. Last month alone, 3,149 civilians were killed -- an average of more than 100 a day.

Even Rep. Gil Gutknecht, once a strong supporter of the war, is having doubts.

Congressman Gil Gutknecht found the situation in Iraq more bleak than he anticipated during a weekend visit to the war zone, and said a partial withdrawal of some American troops might be wise.

Gutknecht, a strong supporter of the war since it began in March of 2003, told reporters in a telephone conference call Tuesday that American forces appear to have no operational control of much of Baghdad.

“The condition there is worse than I expected,” he said. “... I have to be perfectly candid: Baghdad is a serious problem.”

Gutknecht went on to say that “Baghdad is worse today than it was three years ago."

Gutknecht spent most of his time inside the Green Zone. On the one hand, you might attempt to dismiss his observations because he didn't actually get out into the field to see things for himself. On the other hand, if things are noticeably bad even in the most heavily fortified part of Iraq, imagine how bad it is outside the wall.

The man who last month said "Now is not the time to get wobbly" now says "I guess I didn't understand the situation." He now supports a partial troop withdrawal to make it clear to Iraqis that they need to step up and take responsibility for their own security.

That security continues to deteriorate despite the fact that we have trained nearly 300,000 Iraqi troops. That grim fact suggests our entire strategy -- to "stand down as they stand up" -- may be flawed, especially because elements of the Shiite-dominated armed forces are thought to be associated with the militias and death squads that are helping foment sectarian violence.

Eyewitnesses at some scenes of sectarian cleansing in Sunni areas report that gunmen travel in government vehicles. Others note that attackers travel from one neighborhood to another through police checkpoints, apparently unchallenged.

Some U.S. officials acknowledge privately that their hopes that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will be able to rein in Shiite militias and persuade Sunni insurgents to negotiate may be misplaced. Many of the government's leaders, they note, are themselves linked to Shiite or Kurdish militias.

"I keep hope up -- it's misguided perhaps -- that cooler heads will prevail," said a U.S. defense official in Iraq, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I have to believe that; otherwise all of this has been a tremendous, tremendous fiasco."

Iraq has turned into the tar baby that war opponents long worried it would. War supporters are now reduced to saying that even if we can't go forward, we can't go back -- all we can do is sit there and bleed and hope for the best.

That's not a strategy. A strategy would involve sending in enough troops to establish a certain minimal level of security. That would provide the breathing space to rebuild infrastructure and governmental authority. We've never had enough troops to do the job right, and in that sense our current predicament was entirely predictable.

Achieving our stated objective means deploying enough troops and enough rebuilding aid to secure a strategically significant portion of the country -- including Baghdad. If we are unwilling or unable to do that-- and there has long been a disconnect between our rhetoric in Iraq and the resources we have committed to the job -- then we should admit that our objective is unachievable at acceptable cost and withdraw. Half measures lead to quagmires, and those serve nobody.

Finding sufficient troops may involve going hat in hand to various countries we have been bad-mouthing up until now. It may involve unwelcome exercises in humility and admission of errors. It may involve major drawdowns of U.S. troop levels elsewhere in the world. It may involve even more deployments of reserve units, and more frequent deployments of active-duty ones. But those are the choices facing us. Either get serious about winning, or leave. Anything else is a disservice to both Americans and Iraqis.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rep. Gutknecht did not get to go outside of the green zone, (probably )because he did not have a choice. you dont have to go out and see the situation,you can imagine it if (probably)the security forces did not let him go.
I wish some millionaire sponsors a junket for all the reps. to Baghdad, to gauge the situation.
The fabric of Iraqi society seems to have fundamentally changed.
deaths of civilians in the tens of thousands......are Americans fundamentally not sensitive to so many deanths of non-Americans?
I dont see a fundamental and real urge among the politicians to look at iraq honestly . All they can talk is 'stay the course'

7/21/2006 6:23 PM  

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