Sunday, May 13, 2007

Playing out the clock

In case you haven't heard, the surge in Iraq is a success. For confirmation, all you need to do is tune in to the recent evaluations by George W. Bush, Tony Snow and Fox News. Or listen to John McCain, who (on NBC's Meet the Press) once again regurgitated the Bush line that the U.S. still has "a chance of success" in Iraq.

Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of U.S. operations in Iraq, declared:
"What I am trying to do is to get until April [!] so we can decide whether to keep it going or not. Are we making progress? If we're not making any progress, we need to change our strategy. If we're making progress, then we need to make a decision on whether we continue to surge."
In fact, it's impossible for the surge to fail, as Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns and Money (among others, including us) noted a month ago. If U.S. and Iraqi casualties go down, it shows that the pacification plan is working. If casualties go up, then the insurgents are getting desperate, like cornered rats.

In the alternate universe where most of us prefer to analyze our news, the tangible evidence suggests abject failure so far and little patience among the U.S. public for an indefinite continuation of the war. As noted in today's online London Guardian:
The US military surge in Iraq, designed to turn around the course of the war, appears to be failing as senior US officers admit they need yet more troops and new figures show a sharp increase in the victims of death squads in Baghdad.

In the first 11 days of this month, there have already been 234 bodies - men murdered by death squads - dumped around the capital, a dramatic rise from the 137 found in the same period of April. Improving security in Baghdad and reducing death-squad activity was described as one of the key aims of the US surge of 25,000 additional troops, the final units of whom are due to arrive next month.

U.S. combat deaths in Diyala province north of Baghdad have increased by 300% compared to last year, as insurgents have shifted their focus to that region. The commander of U.S. forces in that region complained that he didn't have enough troops to meet the new challenges—still a recurring theme in Iraq, four years into the war.

Meanwhile, 100,000 to 300,000 barrels a day of Iraq's limited oil production has been "siphoned off" through corruption over the last four years. Apparently the proceeds have been used, in part, to fund the insurgency. With an average price of $50 a barrel, and an average diversion of 200,000 barrels a day, that would equal $10 million every day for 1,460 days. Pretty soon we're talking real money (on the order of about $15 billion by my math). That could buy a lot of RPG's and anti-armor munitions, and pay a lot of people to plant IED's along Iraqi roads.

So far in 2007, U.S. military fatalities in Iraq are 50% higher than during the same period (January to mid-May) last year. Looking at April 2007, there have only been three months with more U.S. fatalities since the war began. On average, there were 3.9 U.S. fatalities per day in April, the highest rate since the first few months of the war.

The number of U.S wounded increased by 44% compared to the same period in 2006. Most of the increase in U.S. casualties occurred after the surge began.

Reports of Iraqi casualties are notoriously unreliable, as the recent dispute between the al-Maliki government and the U.N. revealed once again:
In its previous report, in January, the United Nations said 34,452 civilians had died in violence last year, based on information from government ministries, hospitals and medical officials. The Iraqi government put the toll at 12,357. The numbers obtained by the Los Angeles Times indicated civilian deaths numbered 1,991 in January, dropped to 1,646 in February, when the security plan began, and rose to 1,872 in March. [These numbers are very close to those on the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count's website (1)]
Dubya, Cheney and General Odierno may be convinced the U.S. public is prepared to wait until next April for even a preliminary assessment of the surge. But every recent poll reveals that such thinking is delusional, at best.

But the political challenge is clear enough: how to force a change in policy, including a prompt withdrawal from Iraq, before the 2008 election—or, more realistically, before the swearing in of the new president. The Democrats lack the votes to override a veto, much less impeach Bush and Cheney. Congressional Republicans, though they're clearly very nervous about their prospects for 2008, are unlikely to join them in sufficient numbers to force Bush to confront realities in Iraq.

Most likely Bush will grudgingly accept short-term funding of the war and continue to play out the clock until his successor has to contend with his disastrous legacy. Conventional politics inside the beltway don't seem to offer an earlier resolution. Perhaps events, including the effects of intensified political turmoil within the U.S., will intervene in ways that can't now be foreseen.


(1) According to the ICCC, Iraqi civilian and military deaths increased by 130% during the "surge months" of March and April 2007 compared to the same two months in 2006. The ICCC site notes: "Iraqi deaths based on news reports. This is not a definitive count. Actual totals for Iraqi deaths are higher than the numbers recorded on this site."

PHOTO: U.S. Marines in Fallujah, Iraq.

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