Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Warner Pullout

The Warner Pullout

Republican Senator John Warner urged President Bush to withdraw 5,000 troops from Iraq by the end of this year. That would “send a signal” he said, to the Iraqi government that we mean business when we say they need to get their act together. Government officials love sending “signals” and “messages.” They have to, since their personal utterances have zero credibility.

Warner acknowledged that five thousand troops out of 160 thousand would not make any military difference, but would be important symbolically, marking the beginning of the end. He insisted he still opposes any legislation calling for a U.S. pullout by any date certain (although that is exactly what he has proposed). He was interviewed by Judy Woodruff on The News Hour with Jim Leher, on Friday.

Why did Warner say this, and why now? He gave no serious reasons, despite repeated questioning. Some of his superficial reasons were...

1. He just got back from Iraq and his assessment of the situation there compelled his statement. Sounds good, but he was only there four days. Without knowing exactly what he did or saw, I can imagine it would be difficult to make any kind of first-hand assessment of any country’s status in 4 days. He probably just talked to Generals and administration officials there, and learned nothing he couldn’t have learned from a few international phone calls. It was Kabuki theater.

2. He emphasized in his interview that it would be wonderful if 5,000 American troops could be home for Christmas and spend the holidays with their families. That is a non-reason.

3. He said the Iraqi government was not making any political progress and so we need to send a message that our military commitment is not open ended. President Bush himself has said the same thing about U.S. commitment, as have others. Sending such messages doesn’t seem to have much effect on the Iraqi political process. He would know that.

But Warner hinted at one reason that seemed real to me. He emphasized repeatedly that the decision to draw down troops was exclusively the president’s, and that he was merely offering a humble suggestion, as if such a “suggestion” had not already been blasted through loudspeakers by Democrats. As a leading Republican, Warner’s symbolic positioning of himself is exactly one of the behavioral “messages” he is so fond of, but it is actually aimed at the American public, not the president. I think he is trying to give cover for the president’s imminent announcement to draw down troops. In fact, I would guess that the White House asked Warner to make this public statement at this time for exactly this reason.

Bush will indeed have to draw down troops soon. Why? Because we must start rotating out existing forces, according to the Pentagon’s public statements, and we do not have any more troops to replace them. So there will be a troop draw-down, probably by the end of this year.

That being the case, what will the White House cover story be? Surely not the truth, that we are out of troops! That’s out of the question. No, they will announce, a few days after September 11th, a “new policy” that will sound shockingly similar to what Warner just said yesterday. The White House will suddenly want to send that message to the Iraqis.

Why September 11th? On that symbolic date, General Petraeus makes his official report about conditions on the ground in Iraq. Anybody who has spent more than two weeks in business or government knows that you do not sit around waiting for such a report to plop onto your desk. There is active “shaping” of the report as it is developed. The White House already knows what is in the report, which will be at best “mixed” about progress, and despite euphemism, dysphemism, and multiple, spinning tinted glasses, probably will be depressing.

Plus, the president’s people have to know Republicans are staring into a vortex of obliteration in the '08 elections because of the war. If there is any hope of avoiding utter destruction of the Republican party, the president has to do something, and this token gesture could be the beginning of a change in policy.

Will the president admit defeat in Iraq? Never. Will he confess that he made a mistake? No. Will he say his policy was ineffective. Not a chance. Everything is good and positive; He has never been more certain; This is not a surrender; Democracy is on the march; yadda yadda as before; but now we are “sending a message” – but it’s actually a message to the American public that we are going to loosen the thumbscrews on American society.

Will there be more troop drawdowns in ’08? Will this be the beginning of complete or substantial withdrawal? No. Bush will let the incoming Democratic president take the rap for “failure” and “surrender” after January ’09. No way he is going to admit anything. Despite that bitter cynicism, I see a long term trend toward partitioning Iraq, as I have suggested before in this blog.

Three weeks ago the New York Times reported that the administration has a plan to sell billions of dollars worth of technically advanced weapons to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel. ( . This story came and went very quietly. Amazingly so.

Israel? I hadn’t figured on that. My plan was to let Iran have the Shia territories, but that would be too hard a pride-pill to swallow for the White House. The Egyptians can do it just as well. The Saudis will not fight the Egyptians. Can Israel work with the Kurds? Israel might be a red herring here. I still think Turkey is the logical choice. Still, what do I know? There may be other layers of this chess game.

The point is that the proposed sale indicates that the White House is thinking about the upcoming civil war, who will fight it, and the eventual partition of Iraq.

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