Aljazeera International interviews Gen. David McKiernan, who sounds to me just like Barack Obama on Afghanistan– saying that he doesn’t have enough troops in Afghanistan, that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are resurgent, and that the big problem is Taliban sanctuaries in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.
“General David McKiernan, commander of the Nato led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, says his biggest problem is Taliban infiltration from across the border in Pakistan… “
‘Pundits and diplomats nearly got whiplash from the double take they did when George W. Bush sent the No. 3 man in the State Department to sit at a table on July 19 across from an Iranian negotiator, without any preconditions. When Bush had addressed the Israeli Knesset in May, he made headlines by denouncing any negotiation with “terrorists and radicals” as “the false comfort of appeasement.” What drove W. to undermine John McCain by suddenly adopting Barack Obama’s foreign policy prescription on Iran?’
McCain had pledged to run a clean campaign, but like Mike Tyson when he’s in the mood to munch ear, the Republicans just can’t control themselves. First they tried to blame Barack Obama for the current price of energy, which is actually so high because Republicans have been in Big Oil’s back pocket and in denial about the need for alternative energy programs on a Manhattan Project scale.
Now they are comparing Barack Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, apparently intending to suggest that he is a celebrity with no substance.
I was thinking about the celebrities that might be compared to John McCain, who is notorious for his rage issues. He flies off the handle at people at the slightest provocation and gives them a tongue lashing they can never forget. I personally wouldn’t want him anywhere near the Bomb.
The most consistent answer to the differently phrased generic query, “When will the U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq?” is “Will be determined by the situation on the ground and U.S. military’s assessment of it.”
Is it really so? Is the U.S. presence in Iraq contingent upon the objective assessment of the security situation in the country? Will the U.S. forces leave only when the security situation improves? Will the U.S. forces ever leave the Iraqi territory? Every analyst of international politics is anticipating the timing and modicum of the U.S. withdrawal strategy. But given the record of U.S. involvement in such conflicts, the answer seems barely intriguing; the U.S. will withdraw when it suits them, when it is politically convenient for them, when they desire to change their land of adventures.
The subtle movement of U.S. policy indicates that considerable number of forces will withdraw from Iraq soon, sometime next year. If Senator John McCain is elected the next U.S. President, the troops will withdraw to demonstrate the success of the Republican Party’s ‘surge’ strategy. If Barack Obama happens to the next President, he will withdraw forces to demonstrate the credibility of his election promises. A movement towards that end has already been initiated and will be completely unrelated to the ‘situation on the ground’.
It was assumed (even by me) that Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s call for a withdrawal timetable was the assertion of Iraqi sovereignty. But it is difficult to expect that kind of public display of independence by a P.M. whose political existence has been craved out by the U.S. It is more appropriate to consider that the U.S. wanted to withdraw irrespective of the security situation in Iraq and hence the entire public drama was staged. Now the U.S. is equipped with a stronger argument of respecting the demands of the Iraqi P.M. who has demanded a timetable for withdrawal of foreign troops. And this will gradually be floated for popular consumption. The reconciliation between the Shia and Sunni political factions in Iraq could possibly have been facilitated by the U.S. behind the scenes to project the image of Iraq moving towards political stability. An image that suits the U.S. withdrawal strategy; a strategy which is gradually unfolding.
The differences over the Status of Force Agreement are another issue being published for justifying the troop withdrawal in the prospective U.S. strategy. The Iraqi Government and U.S. forces are expected to enter into a temporary agreement after the current agreement expires in December 2008. The U.S. is shunning any agreed long term commitments and can very diplomatically refer to the SOF disagreements as a reason for ad hoc involvement. Suddenly there has been a ‘surge’ in reports of the ability of Iraqi forces to conduct challenging operations and manage strategic strongholds. The Associated Press reported in early July that “Iraqi security forces arrested three locally prominent supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as part of a crackdown on Shiite militias in the southern city of Amarah”. In the same news report, the U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Neil Harper is reported to have said that “The government of Iraq and Iraqi security forces are determined to pursue all criminals and provide a secure and stable environment for the people of Iraq,”. The US troop “surge” in Iraq is reported to have ended after the last of five additional combat brigades left the country in the last week of May 2008.
Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that on his recent trip to Iraq the conditions had improved more than he had expected. This is what a news report states:
“In recent months…two significant improvements: Violence is down and the Iraqi forces are rapidly growing in size and ability.” The handing over of Qadisiyah, the centre of fierce Shiite resistance, to Iraqi forces in mid July was expected to support the assessment of the U.S. military in the region. Most recently the operations in Diyala, though conducted jointly with the U.S. forces are being referred to as the most convincing evidence of the qualitative improvement of the Iraqi forces. There are also reports that the threat from the Al-Qaeda in Iraq was receding.
Thus there is every reason for the U.S. to soon reconsider its degree and kind of involvement in Iraq. Since the liberals across the world were demanding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, the move is expected to be greeted with cheers. But the concern is, has the security situation improved for the U.S. to withdraw? Is the U.S. leaving because the task is accomplished or because their preferences have changed? The U.S. withdrawal due to general disinterest coupled with political opportunism is a not a historical aberration, but follows a general pattern. Remember what happened after the defeat of Communist forces in Afghanistan during the 1980s?
Now consider the following:
Search on ‘violence in Iraq’ at McClatchy’s site . The site carries a section on “The daily round-up of violence in Iraq” and would be the simplest way to comprehend how much has changed in terms of Iraq’s security situation. Just two days ago (July 28, 2008) three female suicide bombers killed at least 32 people and wounded 102 when they blew themselves up among Shiites walking through the streets of Baghdad on a religious pilgrimage. The incidents of violence in Iraq are still phenomenal but for the U.S. the ‘situation on the ground is changing.’
The U.S. can project whatever ‘on the ground situation’ that suits its pre-determined policies. Occupation or withdrawal is a matter of political convenience and barely related to real strategic concerns. The invasion proved that and so will the withdrawal of forces from Iraq.
- Madhavi Bhasin is a Doctoral Researcher at the Jadavpur University, India. Her research areas include conflict resolution, South Asia and Middle East. Currently based in California and working on Indo-U.S. Missile Defense Cooperation and India’s Public Diplomacy Strategy.
The al-Maliki government has just launched another of its military offensives against guerrillas, this time in Baquba, the capital of Diyala Province. I am skeptical about these campaigns. They are announced well in advance, allowing the guerrillas to go underground or relocate. Then in Mosul and now in Baquba the campaigns don’t appear to involve any actual battles. The Diyala situation is complicated by the province’s Sunni majority, which is unlikely to welcome largely Shiite government troops sent by a Shiite government. Some of the trouble in Diyala came from the dominance in the province of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a Shiite fundamentalist party, and its paramilitary, the Badr Corps, which was until 2003 part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. Shiites are a minority in Diyala, but the Sunnis boycotted the January 2005 provincial elections.
Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is taking great interest in the operation, because he believes it will have a direct impact on security in the capital, Baghdad. Al-Zaman said that only a small contingent of US troops supported the Iraqi army, and that they in turn were given cover by US helicopter gunships.
Worried that parliament might pass another bill similar to the one President Jalal Talibani vetoed, which gave equal representation on the provincial council of Kirkuk to Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds, thousands of protesters rallied in Irbil on Tuesday.
Russia just defeated the US in the race for Central Asian gas. The US bet on a gas pipeline through Taliban territory in Afghanistan and Pakistan to India while trying to sideline Russia and Iran! Putin is rivalling the emir of Kuwait as a fossil fuel master of the universe. The only question is when some big power will get hungry enough for natural gas to defy AIPAC’s congressional boycott on developing Iran’s oil and gas fields. It is likely that future historians will date the end of America’s superpower status from that date.