Some items from the last few days, on how bad things are going in Iraq:
From the NY Times: A nation in blood and ink.
Baghdad seems a city transported from the Middle Ages: a scattering of high-walled fortresses, each protected by a group of armed men. The area between the forts is a lawless no man’s land, menaced by bandits and brigands. With the daytime temperatures here hovering at around 115 degrees, the electricity in much of the city flows for only about four hours a day.
Things are going really, really badly. Not just in the ways they’ve been going badly; they’re going badly in new and different ways. And the Bush team’s faith-based cheerleading for our inevitable victory is gradually, grudgingly, giving way to more-realistic assessments.
From the Washington Post, a couple of days ago: No clear finish line in Iraq.
Administration officials have all but given up any hope of militarily defeating the insurgents with U.S. forces, instead aiming only to train and equip enough Iraqi security forces to take over the fight themselves. At the same time, they believe that the mission depends on building a new political infrastructure, a project facing its most decisive test in the next three days as deeply divided Iraqis struggle to draft a constitution by a Monday deadline.
In the face of all that, Bush is trying to buy time. After meeting with his national security team at his ranch near Crawford, Tex., yesterday, Bush again beseeched the public to stick with his strategy despite continuing mayhem on the ground, exemplified most recently by the deaths of 16 Marines from the same Ohio-based unit in the past two weeks. Overall, more than 1,800 U.S. troops have died.
At his meeting with his war cabinet yesterday, Bush reviewed the latest developments but reported no new direction. The administration has set up seven interagency groups focused on its main priorities in Iraq. These are providing security and training Iraqi forces, building national political institutions, restoring energy and other services, tackling economic problems, establishing rule of law, enlisting international help, and improving strategic communications.
Setting up committees like this might have helped three years ago, when the invasion was in the planning stages. They’re not likely to do much good now. And there are growing signs that this reality isn’t lost on the Bush team. An article from today’s Washington Post has some really choice quotes from anonymous source to that effect: US lowers sights on what can be achieved in Iraq.
“What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground,” said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. “We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we’re in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning.”
U.S. officials say no turning point forced a reassessment. “It happened rather gradually,” said the senior official, triggered by everything from the insurgency to shifting budgets to U.S. personnel changes in Baghdad.
The ferocious debate over a new constitution has particularly driven home the gap between the original U.S. goals and the realities after almost 28 months. The U.S. decision to invade Iraq was justified in part by the goal of establishing a secular and modern Iraq that honors human rights and unites disparate ethnic and religious communities.
But whatever the outcome on specific disputes, the document on which Iraq’s future is to be built will require laws to be compliant with Islam. Kurds and Shiites are expecting de facto long-term political privileges. And women’s rights will not be as firmly entrenched as Washington has tried to insist, U.S. officials and Iraq analysts say.
“We set out to establish a democracy, but we’re slowly realizing we will have some form of Islamic republic,” said another U.S. official familiar with policymaking from the beginning, who like some others interviewed would speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity. “That process is being repeated all over.”
Washington now does not expect to fully defeat the insurgency before departing, but instead to diminish it, officials and analysts said. There is also growing talk of turning over security responsibilities to the Iraqi forces even if they are not fully up to original U.S. expectations, in part because they have local legitimacy that U.S. troops often do not.
“We’ve said we won’t leave a day before it’s necessary. But necessary is the key word — necessary for them or for us? When we finally depart, it will probably be for us,” a U.S. official said.
The realization continues to spread: Bush’s war of choice in Iraq was a huge mistake, with costs that we’ll be paying for many years to come.