Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

A Disastrous Status Quo

By David G. Young

Washington DC, September 15, 2007 --  

America's surge in troops has accomplished nothing more than bolstering Bush's political position. Taxpayers and soldiers will pay the price.

With helicopters circling in the air, two zealous opposing camps faced off in the center of this city. On the one side, an anti-war march sponsored by the ANSWER coalition marched down Pennsylvania Avenue waving peace signs and sporting a brightly painted bus reminiscent of the 1960s protest movement -- a movement that was clearly inspirational to the marchers.

The opposition camp, sponsored by the Eagles veterans group, set up a defensive perimeter midway down the avenue across from the National Archives. They waved American flags and wore "Support our Troops" and "Give Victory a Chance" buttons. In the best of American traditions, the two sides met peacefully, exchanging nothing more hash than strong words and a few jeers.

The same cannot be said for the opposing sides of Iraq's civil war. The killing has continued throughout the summer -- although at a somewhat reduced rate, according to American government statistics, thanks to the "surge" campaign of increased American troop presence.

The much anticipated report and accompanying testimony on the effects of the surge have been a complete farce. Unsurprisingly, General David Petraeus testified before Congress as to the success of the surge -- exactly what his commander, President Bush, wanted him to say. (Did anybody really expect him to insubordinately contradict his boss on national television?) When defenders of Bush's Iraq policy plead with Americans to listen to the generals, it's imperative to remember that the generals are legally obliged to follow the president's lead. Petraeus' only alternative to towing the Bush line was to resign his commission.

The benefits of the surge are at best questionable. In a joint ABC and BBC News poll earlier this month, about 70 percent of Iraqis said that violence was actually worse than the time before the surge began.1 Given the alternative of believing a self-serving array of government statistics (statistics that are impossible to verify by independent journalists and agencies on the ground) or believing the contradicting eyewitness accounts of the people affected by the violence, I'll believe the latter every time.

This doesn't mean that General Petraeus is a liar. It just means that he is putting the best face he can on a bad situation in the hopes that his forces will be given the chance to put things right.

And this brings us to the most incredulous aspect of the testimony about the surge -- prospects for the future. The general presented detailed graphs showing how American forces are planned to be reduced in the future, as Iraqi army units become more capable and replace Americans in their security duties. This story sounds good, but we've heard it many, many times before, with few actual signs of progress.

The expectation that more Iraqi units will stand up and replace Americans is not a plan. It's simply wishful thinking. At least as likely, given past history and continued internal divisions, is that the same units will devolve into opposing sectarian forces, and fuel the very civil war they were designed to control.

The Bush plan on Iraq is not so much a plan, as it is an unrealistic fantasy to be used as a fig leaf to cover the continuation of a disastrous status quo. As Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) noted when questioning General Petraeus, this status quo is, every single month, putting American taxpayers in debt an additional $9 billion and ending the lives of 60 American soldiers.2 What does this accomplish? Even if you believe the Bush administration's doubtful position, the results are modest -- they claim to be somewhat reducing the violence of the Iraqi civil war, compared with what it would be without the surge. If you believe the Iraqis, however, the surge isn't even managing to do that.

Without a doubt, the benefits are not worth the costs -- but there is no chance that Bush will change course while he is still president. Solving the problem will not come until the inauguration of his replacement 18 months from now. The costs of this delay will be high. Between now and then, $160 billion and 1000 American lives will be washed down the drain.

Related Web Columns:

The Exodus Cometh, July 24, 2007

The New Iraqi Dream
Hope for a Less Destructive Trajectory
, August 22, 2006

Creating a Taboo Consequences of America's Disaster in Iraq, August 16, 2005

Islamic Proliferation
America's Foreign Policy Disaster
, February 15, 2005

Debating the Draft, April 13, 2004

Damnation Obscured, March 30, 2004

The 166 Billion Dollar Man, December 16, 2003

Presidents Lie, June 24, 2003

America Stands Alone, March 18, 2003

Drinking Your Own Kool-Aid
The Terrible Costs of an Inevitable War
, March 4, 2003

Heating a Tepid Dissent
The Case Against War on Iraq
, August 20, 2002


1. ABC News, Iraq Poll: Surge Working? Iraqis Say No, Sept. 10, 2007

2. WIBC News, Iraq Progress Hearing Quotes, September 11, 2007