So NOW He’s Listening

Bush has been fond of saying that he’ll listen to the generals on the ground.  This, of course, meaning that he refuses to listen to the opposition party, the members of his own party, and the general public that is utterly and totally opposed to his policies in Iraq.

It was just a matter of finding the right General to listen to.

After having listened to enough of Bush’s claims that he listens to the commanders on the ground, a couple of that actual commanders on the ground finally decided to stand up and say something about it.  Specifically, a series of ads sponsored by the organization Votevets, displayed a group of former US commanders in Iraq outlining exactly where the Commander in Chief failed to live up to his words.

They, however, apparently didn’t get the memo.  If you were a commander on the ground in Iraq, you would be listened to… only if you fit into the bedtime story that Bush was trying to tell folks here at home.  If, on the other hand, your name happened to rhym with… uh… Meric Thinseki… yeah… and you were trying to say that in order to secure the peace in post Saddam Iraq it would take something “on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers” to do so, you were summarily ignored.

But, while the situation on the ground in Iraq may not have changed for the better, the political climate here at home changed for the worse.  Not only did Bush have to contend with resistence from Democrats, something he had gotten used to by the fall of 2006, he had also to contend with resistence within his own party.

This wasn’t good.  You see, the only reason Bush had been able to maintain our presence for as long as he could ultimately boils down to the strength of the Republican caucus in Congress.  By staying for the most part unified in keeping Congress a rubber stamp, even following the majority shift in both houses of 2006, Republicans stifled any threats to the Iraqi conflict the new Democratic majority could have posed.

Without sixty votes to break a filibuster, most strong legislative attempts to put a halt to the presidents policies couldn’t make it through, and without sixty seven votes to override a veto, even mild attempts were essentially futile.

But that’s where things started getting twitchy.  Having to go home and face an increasingly upset constituency, Republicans were returning to DC with unhappy news for the President.  Unless something changed, he better get ready for the anti-war constituency to pose a much larger problem as Republicans eager to keep their job grew more unreliable in the rubber stamp business.

Thus was born the “surge”

The surge would mark perhaps one of the largest policy shifts in Iraq the President enacted since invading the place.  Sad to say, it wasn’t that big of a change.  Essentially, it involved adding thirty thousand more troops (still bringing us woefully short of the several hundred thousand that Shinseki had called for four years prior) and installing a different General at the helm of the war effort.

General David Patraeus brought with him credibility, something Bush had been sorely lacking, and the new PR blitz was on the way.  Yet, despite the shift in course and modest military progress on the ground, public support was not swinging in Bush’s favor.  True, there was some slight headway in the polls, enough to keep some of the shakier Republicans on the reservation for a while, but in order to hold this off indefinitely, there needed to be more.

There had to be an actual carrot.

At this time is there reason to question Patraeus’ credibility?  You bet there is.  The numbers and data that are being displayed to congress are skewed in ways that would be laughable had it not been so skewed at the expense of American and Iraqi life(h/t Ezra Klein).  Does this mean that Patraeus is little more than a puppet for the Bush administration?

Juan Cole doesn’t think so.  Instead, Patraeus merely happens to be one of the Commanders on the ground that Bush is willing to listen to… for his own benefit.  I go back and forth on the General.  At once, I want to believe all the good things people say about him, on the other hand though, I look at the factual massacre that has occured inside the data he presents to congress, and feel slightly dirty as a result.

Personally, I attribute his existence in the current hot seat as one that is bound by the essence of a Soldier.  He was given a task, one that is beyond the scope of the military, but you know the old saying, “Ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to do or die.”

He was told to take that hill, and even though the metaphorical hill is actually something the military has very little capacity to affect (substantial political progress), Patraeus is going to take it anyway… or at least try.

But that’s beside the point.  The point is this, his words fit into the new Bush narrative, and as a result, Bush will now “listen” to him.  The days of trying to paint Iraq as a paradise of America’s doing are long gone.  People have learned too much, and to even attempt to say that things in Iraq are going great among the general populace would most likely not end too terribly well for Bush.  So Patraeus injects some realism.

On the other hand, painting Iraq as a place that is absent of hope would lead far too many to ask the question, “If that’s the case, then why on Earth do we even bother?”  Luckily for Bush, Patraeus is already waiting in the wings to also inject a little cautious optimism.

But not too much, oh no, that would result in having to pull troops out because they are no longer needed, and we can’t have that.

But most importantly, in order for Bush to not fall victim to a revolt within his own party, he needs something to give to the American people, even if it’s little more than symbolic in nature.  For this reason he is more than pleased to announce that Patraeus, having fitted the narrative Bush needs right now to keep things going in Iraq, has qualified as one of the commanders on the ground he can listen to, and as a result, will announce, probably on Thursday, that he will be withdrawing some troops.

The number of troops to be withdrawn is uncertain, but given that Patreaus predicts the necessity of the surge until Summer of next year, it is likey that the number to be decided upon will be in the neighborhood of 4000 that has already been turning the rumor mills.

It should be noted that while this number is highly significant to the lucky members who do get to come home, I fail to see the relevence in regard to the total deployment.  Keep in mind, when you already have 130,000 troops somewhere, 30,000 hardly seems like much of an improvement.  Currently we’re at about 160K, and as a carrot, 4K will get to come home.

Words like, “token,” and “symbolic,” leap to mind here.

Meanwhile, what have we accomplished, and what will we continue to accomplish?  Have the concerns regarding the ongoing ethnic cleansing been addressed?  Have we figured a way to make the successes of Anbar portable?  And most importantly, has there been any tangible progress where the Iraqi government is concerned?

As far as we know, the answers among those who continue to conduct our role in the war appears to be “no.”  If this continues to be the case, and Patraeus still orders an end of the surge next summer, or Bush finds a general willing to do so, then look at where we will be.

Troop levels back to where they were in January of this year.  No political reconciliation among the many different sects and factions in Iraq, and in fact as a result of the ethnic cleansing and the failures of Maliki’s government to bridge the gap, these tensions have the distinct possibility of worsening.  And despite increased factional tensions, you will have homogenized communities disenfranchised by the federal government and therefore supporting whatever local powers exist to provide what the government cannot (et tu Hamas?).

In other words, it is more than likely that by Summer of next year we can not only find ourselves right back where we started, or even worse.

But at least Bush is listening to his Generals.

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