Things are happening fast. While the drawdown of troops has yet to begin, the preparation for a drawdown of the war in Iraq is well under way. Reports in today’s papers indicate the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations to the president include troop reductions. Yesterday in Jordan, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki postponed a meeting with President Bush in the face of stiff resistance from elements of his own ruling coalition. Tuesday night, the New York Times posted a secret memo authored by National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley that shows the administration has doubts about both the Iraqi government’s ability and it’s willingness to curb sectarian violence. Many news organizations have had enough of the evasive language of the Bush administration in refusing to classify the conflict in Iraq as a civil war, and have decided to call a spade a spade. But most tellingly, before the meeting between Bush and Maliki was cancelled, when Bush was queried about what he would ask Maliki in their meeting, Bush said, “My question to him will be: What do we need to do to succeed? What is your strategy in dealing with the sectarian violence?” The blame game has been embraced by the Oval Office.
What we are beginning to see from Washington is the public laying of a foundation for withdrawal. This effort mirrors what was begun in 2002, when the Bush administration began to make its case for going to war. Whereas in 2002 the administration was trying to bring the nation on board with their plans, now the effort involves slowing the nation’s growing expectations for getting out and redefining what will be a military defeat up to a withdrawal with honor, or something similar.
President Bush still assaults the senses with stay the course rhetoric, even though the phrase itself has been discredited. In the press conference where he said the words quoted above, he also stated that he would not remove troops from the battlefield before the mission is complete. But the groundwork for shifting responsibility to the Iraqis was begun some time ago, when the administration began to build expectations that a reconstituted Iraqi military would be able to take over combat operations from American forces.
From this point forward, the failure to end the civil war in Iraq and establish a stable government is no longer our fault. It is the fault of the Iraqi people for destroying their own country, for failing to seize the opportunity for freedom we presented to them, and for failing to live up to their full capabilities and establish a peaceful, tolerant nation. With the coming drawdown of forces comes a further drawdown in culpability. It is conveniently ignored that Iraq would be a stable country were it not for our invasion. It is as if Iraq were pulled from the ether in April of 2003, fresh and without form, with 150,000 American troops and three nation’s worth of people already present pursuing a common goal of establishing a great society in Iraq, an exemplar of democratic rule for all in the region to eventually emulate.
When we begin to pull out troops next year, we will say it was not be because we failed, but because the Iraqis would not allow us to succeed. We will continue to watch the news, as more and more tortured and mutilated bodies are found in the streets of Baghdad, as more car bombs explode, as more people are kidnapped in broad daylight, and as our soldiers and Marines take fire from all sides in the civil war, and our government will finally conclude there is nothing more that can be done. Iraq is committing suicide as a country. If we have to parse out complete responsibility for this tragic turn of events to Iraqis in order to live with ourselves and bring our forces home, so be it.
This sort of denial is only justifiable in the short term. Hopefully, it will not cloud the many lessons that need to be gleaned from this war. The most important being the true magnitude of the job we attempted to undertake, our lack of justification for that task, and the lack of initial effort and resources we employed.
Thankfully, all of this means the war in Iraq is almost over for us.