Should we wait until September before making major policy changes in Iraq?
A change in course is presumed irrespective of what he might actually say, in which case what’s the point of waiting? The progress report, ostensibly, is supposed to tell us if the current strategy is working well enough that it should be continued. If people have already dismissed that possibility — as Harry Reid did long ago and which, per the poll, 54% now seem to do also — and are willing to wait simply out of polite respect for a guy in a tough spot by letting him play out his strategy for another 10 weeks, then just pull the plug. Either that or give him a mandate to use the time he has left to liquidate any and every militiaman and insurgent he can get his hands on so that they’re not around to make things worse when we start to withdraw and the “big disaster” of the power vacuum begins.
Here’s a thought experiment: what could Petraeus possibly say in September that would change war opponents’ minds? There’s plenty he could say to change some (but not all) war supporters’ minds — “the surge hasn’t worked as well as we hoped,” “there’s been some progress but we don’t expect stability for another five years at least,” etc, but what could he say realistically to the anti-war wing that might get them to rethink? If the answer’s “nothing,” then why humiliate him by making him try? I suppose there’s a certain political advantage to having him formally warn Congress of the consequences of doing what they’re going to do anyway, but he deserves better than to be used for those purposes. Let McCain do it.
Meanwhile, two worthy pieces for you from the NYT and WaPo, each of which shows the extent to which Shiites are trying to disrupt U.S. efforts to cultivate the Sunnis and bring them around to reconciliation. The Times piece is a profile of “the Volunteers,” a band of insurgents who have allied with American troops outside Baghdad to target AQ and other Salafists. Minor problem: Shiite units of the Iraqi Army keep trying to kill them.
Recently, and without warning, Colonel Pinkerton said, 80 Iraqi soldiers in armored vehicles charged out of their sector toward Nasr Wa Salam but were blocked by an American platoon. The Iraqis refused to say where they were going and threatened to drive right through the American soldiers, whom they greatly outnumbered.
Eventually, with Apache helicopter gunships circling overhead and American gunners aiming their weapons at them, the Iraqi soldiers retreated. “It hasn’t come to firing bullets yet,” Colonel Pinkerton said.
The WaPo piece describes the U.S. mission in western Baghdad, which used to be 80/20 Sunni and is now 80/20 Shiite thanks to Sadr. So extensive is the Mahdi Army’s control that American troops are actually trying to build parallel social services for the Sunnis in the area since they can’t use hospitals or gas stations safely. The conclusion:
“One of their techniques is they’ll pretty much just conscript a family — you’ll have no idea if those children and that woman are the guy’s actual wife and children,” said Lyons, the company commander. “They use them as cover all the time. If you see guys walking holding kids, holding their hands, it’s almost like a perfect indicator that they’re up to no good. It’s really sad.”