Friday, February 02, 2007

No Way Out

By MAUREEN DOWD
Published: February 3, 2007
The New York Times



“Everything you’ve heard and read is true. And I am deeply sorry about that.” Who said it?

(a) George Bush, about the chilling new intelligence report on Iraq.

(b) Joe Biden, about his self-imploding prolixity.

(c) Condi Rice, on her ability to understand Peyton Manning’s vulnerabilities better than Nuri Kamal al-Malaki’s.

(d) Silvio Berlusconi, on his wife’s Junoesque lightning bolt after his public flirting.

(e) Jacques Chirac, after giving a Gallic shrug at the prospect of Iran getting un or deux nuclear weapons.

(f) Hillary Clinton, on enabling the president to invade Iraq.

(g) Barack Obama, for the ultimate sin of not being black enough or white enough.

(h) Mary Cheney, on her decision to work on her terrifying dad’s homophobic campaign because the thought of John Kerry was “terrifying.”

(i) Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, about his affair with his campaign manager’s wife.

The answer is Gavin Newsom.

It’s rare to get a simple apology when a complex obfuscation will do.

Even after releasing parts of an intelligence report so pessimistic that it may as well have been titled “Iraq: We’re Cooked,” Bush officials clung to their alternate reality, using nonsensical logic and cherry-picking whatever phrases they could find in the report that they could use to sell the Surge.

In the 2004 National Intelligence Estimate, civil war was a worst-case scenario. In the 2007 one, Iraq has zoomed past civil war to hell: “The Intelligence Community judges that the term ‘civil war’ does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, Al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent attacks on coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence.”

As John McLaughlin, the former acting director of central intelligence, told The Times’s Mark Mazzetti: “Civil war is checkers. This is chess.”

Far from Dick Cheney’s claim of “enormous successes” and Gen. William Casey’s claim of “slow progress,” the report shows that any path the U.S. takes in Iraq could lead to a river of blood. It says that in the absence of any strong Sunni and Shiite leaders who can control their groups, prospects are dim for a cohesive government, much less a democracy.

If the violence gets worse, the report concludes, three sulfurous possibilities loom: chaos leading to partition, the emergence of a Shiite strongman or anarchy “mixing extreme ethnosectarian violence with debilitating intragroup clashes.”

So after four years of war, we get to choose between chaos, another Saddam or anarchy. Good work, W. And at such bargain prices; the administration is breaking the record for the military budget, asking for $100 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan this year and $145 billion more for 2008.

The White House thinks it can somehow spin the Iraq apocalypse so it sounds as if multiple wars are better than one civil war.

At a Pentagon briefing yesterday, Bob Gates rebuffed the idea of a civil war, saying: “I think that the words ‘civil war’ oversimplify a very complex situation in Iraq. I believe that there are essentially four wars going on in Iraq. One is Shia on Shia, principally in the south. The second is sectarian conflict, principally in Baghdad but not solely. Third is the insurgency, and fourth is Al Qaeda.”

That’s a relief, all right — we’re in four wars in Iraq and threatening another with Iran.

Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, agreed that the term civil war is unacceptable: “We need to get across the complexities of the situation we face in Iraq ... and simple labels don’t do that.”

When General Casey testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, he sounded as if he was talking about a completely different Iraq than the one limned in the intelligence report. “Today,” he said, “Iraqis are poised to assume responsibility for their own security by the end of 2007, still with some level of support from us.”

Compare that with the bleak tone of the report, which states that “the Iraqi Security Forces — particularly the Iraqi police — will be hard-pressed in the next 12 to 18 months to execute significantly increased security responsibilities, and particularly to operate independently against Shia militias with success.”

It’s official. We’re in a cycle of violence so complex and awful that withdrawing American troops will make it worse and keeping American troops there may also make it worse.

We can try or we can leave, but either way, it seems, we’re cooked.

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