New York Times reporter Michael Gordon, whose recent antics were discussed at length by Glenn Greenwald, has been given a peek at a classified military plan requiring the U.S. to remain in Iraq until at least 2009. (Oddly, I haven't heard any outcry from the Bush administration this morning about leaks of classified information to the New York Times, have you?) It would seem fairly obvious that Gordon's new bff, former White House advisor Gen. Baghdad Bergner, passed it to him.
The latest plan, which covers a two-year period, does not explicitly address troop levels or withdrawal schedules. It anticipates a decline in American forces as the "surge" in troops runs its course later this year or in early 2008. But it nonetheless assumes continued American involvement to train soldiers, act as partners with Iraqi forces and fight terrorist groups in Iraq, American officials said.
Aside from moving the goal posts once again, it's hard to see what about that is new. Perhaps the White House just felt it would be polite to give formal notice that it is going to pass off the occupation to the next administration. The good news is that Gen. David Petraeus consulted some experts in the region this time instead of relying on Dick Cheney's Ouija board. Unfortunately, the experts are also having a very difficult time coming to terms with what they are dealing with:
The team determined that Iraq was in a "communal struggle for power," in the words of one senior officer who participated in the effort. Adding to the problem, the new Iraqi government was struggling to unite its disparate factions and to develop the capability to deliver basic services and provide security.
Civil war. That's the term they are struggling for. And once you say those two little words everything comes into focus. And comments like this sound delusional:
"You are not out there trying to defeat your enemies wholesale," said one military official who is knowledgeable about the plan. "You are out there trying to draw them into a negotiated power-sharing agreement where they decide to quit fighting you. They don't decide that their conflict is over. The reasons for conflict remain, but they quit trying to address it through violence. In the end, we hope that that alliance of convenience to fight with Al Qaeda becomes a connection to the central government as well."
Right. And then we will all get ponies.
There is one fellow who seems to still have one foot on the ground:
"We are going to try a dozen different things," said one senior officer. "Maybe one of them will flatline. One of them will do this much. One of them will do this much more. After a while, we believe there is [a] chance you will head into success. I am not saying that we are absolutely headed for success."
I doubt very seriously that the American people are going to be happy about the new "throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and hope something sticks" pony plan. But 2009 is the operative year and it's important that people begin to internalize it and recognize that the Bush administration is simply not going to withdraw significant numbers of troops before it leaves office. It is impervious to political pressure and cares nothing for public opinion. After all, its answer to the message of the November election was to escalate the war. Most Republicans in Congress are too far gone to develop the cojones to do much about it even if their constituents rebel en masse.
The Democrats can cut off funding for the occupation, but even if they do, troops will likely still be on the ground in 2009 -- and every casualty will be blamed on the lack of funds. This is the reality the country faces. There are many things to be done before then and hopefully some changes can be effected and accountability assigned. But the public's most powerful weapon will be fully cocked and loaded in November 2008. Let's hope we are prepared to use it -- 2009 is going to be a very, very challenging and busy year.