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Iraq in US politics

By Helen Cobban

I'm just back from a lunch here in Charlottesville with George Packer, the thoughtful and well-informed author of a new book on the US engagement in Iraq called The Assassins' Gate. (He's spent quite a bit of time in Iraq since the invasion, publishing several good pieces of reportage in the New Yorker along the way.)

There were around two dozen people at the lunch. At one point, one of those present recounted that he had been in DC recently, meeting "the (Republican) chairman of a powerful congressional committee" (un-named)...

And the chairman said something along these lines: "We told George Bush: 'You're not running for election any more. We are. In 2006 and again in 2008. What's happening in Iraq is hurting us, badly. What will our party's situation look like nationwide in summer 2006? You have to get serious numbers of our troops out before then. Hold the elections there on December 15! Declare them a victory! Then leave.'"

George, whose book is a careful accounting of many of the shenanigans, uses of double-think, and political acrobatics that had preceded the launching of the war, looked shocked.

You mean they would be that cynical?

I mean, this is the party that used blatant political maneuvers to get the US into Iraq, back in 2002. In the fall of that year, I remember, Tom Dashiell [the former leader of the Democrats in the senate-- remember him?] went to President Bush and begged him to postpone holding the vote on the war until after that round of mid-term elections... Just as George H.W. Bush had done, back in 1990-91, you remember. But in 2002, Bush and Rove said 'No.' They insisted that they had to hold the Congressional vote on the war before the elections, and they put the Democrats into a terrible bind over that...

But to think that they would now blatantly use such partisan political reasoning to jerk the US out of Iraq, whether that would benefit the Iraqi people or not? That would truly be a new moral low... On the other hands, the lows do carry on getting lower and lower under this president.

He said that if we suddenly start to see utterances being reported from within the administration about the "Iraqi forces being actually being more capable than we had earlier described them as", and so on-- reports in which he, Packer, evidently did not place a lot of credence-- "then we can start to conclude that that kind of advice being given by Republican party stalwarts is starting to be followed."

Well, guess what? Check out what journos very "well-connected" with the US military and political officials in Baghdad, like John Burns and Dexter Filkins, have started to write in the past few days...

In a talk that Packer had given just before the lunch, he had spelled out his view that the future US policy in Iraq "will be driven mainly by the constraints of the manpower shortage in the US armed forces. (Because there won't be a draft here.) So these constraints may lead to a withdrawal from the country even if there should not be one."

That latter thought was Packer's, of course; not my own. He said he could see some fairly strong reasons why the US should not undertake an inappropriately speedy withdrawal, and estimated it might be "some 7, 8, or even 10 years" till Iraq was sufficiently stable to allow a real US withdrawal.

One questioner asked "What exactly would happen that would allow this withdrawal at the end of those ten years? Would it be that all the insurgents have gotten killed by then? Or would it be the emergence of a new strongman there? Or what?"

This was a really good question-- one to which Packer was unable to provide any good answer. And of course, no-one dwelt much at all on what would happen to the Iraqi citizenry-- or to the US citizenry, come to that-- over the course of those ten further years of war...


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