Thursday January 11, 2007
Defiance and delusion
Read Bush's address to the nation HERE
George Bush's announcement last night that he is going to pour more troops into Iraq was the last throw of the dice in a misconceived enterprise that has dragged his country, this country and the Middle East into a nightmare. The package includes 17,500 more combat troops for Baghdad and 4,000 more marines for Anbar province, the cockpit of the Sunni insurgency. Over $1bn will be spent in economic aid. In return the Iraqis are to promise to crackdown on insurgents, regardless of sect or religion.
In opting for a troop surge, Mr Bush has ignored the message of the mid-term elections, the Iraq Study Group, Congress, his own top generals and most world opinion. US generals have difficulty enough maintaining current levels of combat-ready troops and are not convinced that more troops will make any difference. Rather than listen to them, Mr Bush has turned to the right, to those who argue that honour and the America's national interests require fighting on. One senses that "honour" is the more important of the two.
Back on Earth - where on Tuesday 1,000 American and Iraqi troops were battling Sunni insurgents with helicopters and warplanes for the control of a three-mile stretch of road running through the centre of Baghdad - any plan for Iraq is predicated on the ability of Nouri al-Maliki's government to disarm the Shia militias. Only then can the police force and army be rebuilt, Sunnis included in a settlement and control re-established over wide areas of the country. The task of regaining Iraq is no longer just about containing an insurgency; it is about staunching the flames of a civil war.
Thus far, al-Maliki's record has not been good. He has been unable or unwilling to confront the main Shia warlord, Moqtada al-Sadr, on whom he depends for parliamentary support. His government cannot fight sectarianism, if entire ministries are working for the Shia militias. This was demonstrated by the execution of Saddam Hussein. On Tuesday alone, 40 bodies were found in Baghdad, the presumed work of the death squads.
Back at home, the president is almost alone. Only senator John McCain, the leading Republican candidate to replace Mr Bush, and Joe Lieberman, on the right of the Democrats, support his plan. Queuing up to oppose him, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, and senator Edward Kennedy have all said that they intend to hold symbolic votes on the plan. They cannot overrule a decision by the commander-in-chief, but they can isolate him. There could be as many as 10 Republican defections in the Senate. The Democrats have turned up the volume of their moral outrage, presumably because they think Mr Bush will not be able to hold the line with the latest announcement. In most people's minds, the argument for withdrawal, however gradual, has already been won. The only issue that remains is how quickly it happens.
Tony Blair was also having difficulty in the commons yesterday, with Sir Menzies Campbell pressing him on whether Britain will mirror Mr Bush's deepening of engagement. Mr Blair maintained that Basra was in a bubble of its own, unaffected by the troubles that beset Baghdad. He said that once the current operation against militia infiltration of the Basra police was complete, Iraqis would take over control over their own affairs.
The claim peace is returning to Basra is as unreal as Mr Bush's hope that order can be brought to Baghdad. Surrounded by the wreckage of the disaster they created, both men still hope, against all reality, that somehow the pieces can be put back together again. But their project is dead. A few more troops, or a few more months, will not restore it. Both men are on their way out. By stringing the war along without admitting defeat, it will become the business of another British prime minister and another American president to end it.