Thursday, December 07, 2006 

Get in or get out.

It's hard to countenance the apparent response by both Bush and Blair to the Iraq Study Group's findings. Here's an opportunity to more or less get out of Iraq - and get out soon - and still the sub-Churchillian posturing continues unabated. There's still talk of victory, talk of success, Blair thanking Bush for his clarity of vision, Bush saying that the violence is not a result of a lack of planning, all of which is insulting both to the Iraqis and to those who are genuinely reporting the reality on the ground.

The whole purpose of the Iraq Study Group was to find a way out of Iraq for the Republicans, not just Bush, which could be at the same time be supported by the Democrats, giving it the notion of bringing the two horribly split sides of America together. There's a reason why the theoretical withdrawal date sited by the report is by the first quarter of 2008 - just in time for campaigning to properly get under way for the Presidential election. The majority of troops would be out, some kind of victory would be able to be spun out of the all enveloping jaws of defeat, and whoever gets the Republican nomination would be able to start reasonably afresh.

Yet there they both stand, two lame ducks, two men who will forever be associated with this catastrophe, and nothing seems to have changed. Both are still grinning, both still hanging off each other's every word, seemingly oblivious to how their strategy has been torn to shreds, with an at least somewhat feasible alternative served up to them free of charge, and they refuse to take it. It was to be expected that the opportunity for talks with Iran would be rejected with the usual caveats that Iran must abandon its nuclear enrichment programme and stop supporting terrorism, and thanks to the assassination of Pierre Gemayel it was always going to be easier than expected to disregard the idea of engaging with Syria either, yet the blanket refusal to even consider such ideas continue to show the inherent phoniness which was of keeping all options open.

Despite all the talk of success and victory, it is apparent to everyone except Bush and Blair that we have failed, and failed horribly. How can the appearance, every day, almost without failure, of countless tortured bodies in Baghdad being anything other than a crushing hammer blow to everything that we have supposedly been trying to achieve? What now appears to be underway is a cynical and predictable shifting of the goalposts. What's happening in Iraq now, you see, isn't our fault. It's all down to the extremists and radicals and outside forces that don't want us to succeed; if necessary, as the Iraq Study Group suggests with its putting down of benchmarks to be reached by the Iraqi government, we'll even blame the politicians who have faced down assassination to represent their communities. We tried, but our efforts just weren't matched by the Iraqis. Gary Younge expanded on this a couple of weeks ago.

In the midst of all this, Blair's utter slavish nature to Bush continues. He has the clarity of vision, seemingly in the same sense that David Blunkett has the clarity of hearing. They stand shoulder to shoulder in complete denial. The Guardian again urged Blair to do the decent thing today - yet all the signs point to the fact that Blair both has no influence, and even if he did, his position has always been the same as that of Bush. When it comes down to it, despite MP's voting for war, the full blame for this tragedy will be purely on his shoulders. It was through his undying belief in his ability to communicate, to win over the public entirely through his shifting and evasive arguments that we are, to paraphrase John Kerry, stuck in Iraq.

The Iraq Study Group itself dismisses the idea of a quick withdrawal as it believes that it would be lead to increased sectarian bloodletting, yet there is no evidence that the current US/UK presence is actually helping to prevent the slaughter which is already out of control. It also rejects the possible splitting of Iraq into its three relative ethnic zones on a semi-autonomous nature similarly to that which the Kurdish area has enjoyed for over a decade, even though reports suggest that the nascent civil war is causing families who haven't already fled to seek the protection of their own in segregated neighbourhoods or areas of the country. Both deserved further consideration, especially as the second option may eventually become a reality thanks to the sectarian violence.

As Simon Jenkins argues though, the Iraq Study Group shouldn't really have any impact on the British involvement in the war. We were denied our own inquiry a couple of weeks ago, with the government and Sun newspaper using the specious argument that to order one would to be undermine our troops, a notion supported by cowardly Labour backbench MPs when it came to the vote. Whatever decision America makes for its own involvement, there is absolutely no credible reason for keeping British forces in Iraq. The only one which even starts to reach muster is that we should stay and continue to train the Iraqi army and police. With two regions already having been handed over to the Iraqis from British control, this justification is suitably weak. Whatever decision America comes to, and none of them are easy, we should and must get out of Iraq within the next few months. Prolonging the agony of our own soldiers is pointless and potentially counter-productive.

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