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Iraq: Mission (Almost) Accomplished?

Love him or hate him, you can’t say George Bush doesn’t do exactly what he always said he was going to.

America’s unlikely president, so widely despised, purportedly now a lame duck, has once again demonstrated that while others are uselessly dithering, dickering and putting forward dead-end plans, he will push his vision forward in defiance of obstruction. Whether it’s the United Nations and its reticence to enforce its own resolutions, or a United States Congress that thinks abandonment of an entire region to genocide and Iranian domination represents the moral high ground, obstructionists ultimately have proven no obstacle to Bush’s efforts to introduce order and security in the most volatile and dangerous part of the world.

Now, Bush and that strangest of bedfellows, Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, have revealed their strategic vision for an Iraq that, while politically still unfinished business, is on its way to becoming everything Bush promised four years ago. A free, democratic, U.S.-allied Iraq that has already inspired democratic movements in the region and can stand as a bulwark against the imperial aims of Iran.

We’ve arrived at another moment when, to the derision of his opponents, Bush could once again declare a mission accomplished, his vision realized.

The news that got sidelined this week by Bush’s other unlikely foreign policy initiative, the Annapolis peace talks, is that the United States and Iraq have agreed to a broad security framework, its practical details still to be negotiated. Predicated on a July 2008 drawdown of the surge’s five combat brigades, the deal reportedly envisions an ultimate reduction of U.S. troops from 160,000 to 50,000, pulling out of the forward posts in the villages, towns and cities of Mesopotamia, handing those to strengthened Iraqi forces, and remaining in fixed bases as a strategic force. Their purpose: to deter foreign threats and internal coups, to remain as an insurance policy against sectarian division and presumably, to continue in a support and advisory role to Iraqi forces. It leaves in place the U.S. military’s ability to surge into trouble spots as needed.

The deal further offers the United States, having expended so much blood and treasure in Iraq, preferential treatment in business dealings with Iraq. The much-disparaged oil for blood. Or, if you prefer, friendship, gratitude and loyalty for freedom.

It is a deal sure to enrage Iran, and is all the more surprising that it should be put forward by the waffling, Shiite-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki.

At this moment, Congress has walked away from Iraq and our troops there for the holidays. Congress has opted not to fund combat operations, hoping to apply some pressure while its impotent Democratic leadership figures out how it can possibly turn a growing success into disaster, for their own perceived political benefit.

George Bush, the United States and Iraqi military, and even the fracticious Iraqi government, under the electoral pressure of the 2006 Congressional turnover, but in defiance of the withdrawal lust of that body, have managed to turn around the debacle that was Iraq, giving that nation and her people some time to breathe and regroup. While the anti-war faction in Congress continues to demand withdrawal, Bush and al-Maliki are creating new facts on the ground that Congress will not be able to deny.

The strategic plan could do for Iraq and the Middle East what hundreds of thousands of American troops have done for Germany and greater Europe, Japan, Korea and greater Asia for more than 50 years. In all of those places, the United States is providing millions of people with security and the opportunity to thrive and live free in the face of well-established threats. Last spring, Bush was derided for offering a Korean vision of the U.S.-Iraqi relationship, but now, he is making it happen.

The next logical step would be a Middle East Treaty Organization, and it could be the seeds of that are being planted simply by bringing together once hostile nations to recognize their common interests this week in Annapolis. That would be ironic, if Israeli-Palestinian peace in fact turned out to be the linchpin to broader Mideast peace that cynical Arab and naive European and American leaders always insisted it must be. But that is a dream too far ahead of current events.

Before that can even be contemplated, there are significant threats to the logical strategic vision Bush and al-Maliki have outlined, any one of which could threaten the dream that more immediately presents itself.

The first is al-Maliki himself. Commanding little power within his own government, he’s taken a step that, if it wins over the Sunni Arabs and Kurds, could in fact make him Iraq’s first true national leader. But al-Maliki has been a self-interested and unreliable player. Has he recognized here, that the U.S. is his best hope for survival, and beyond that, seized an opportunity to build support among Iraq’s other factions?

The second is the American election. Anything George Bush does now is unlikely to be formally ratified, and may well be reviewed with a finger to the polls and political winds by whoever is elected in 2008. The best hope here is that Bush has created both facts on the ground and a vision of the future that, based on the current campaign rhetoric, the major candidates of both parties should be able to endorse.

The third is an intransigent Congress, bent on exerting its destructive will. The genius of the Bush-al-Maliki strategic initiative is, that even the Democratic-led Congress, which has called variously for immediate and total withdrawal, drawdown to bases and withdrawal to cross-border and the absurdity of “over the horizon” striking positions, can embrace this and claim victory, well short of the surrender they have so ardently if ineffectually sought. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is already deriding the strategic initiative, but may be increasing irrelevant in a process she has been unable to influence and on which she has failed to provide any meaningful leadership.

The fourth is the unknown. It is the enemy, in this case the twin threats of al-Qaeda and Iran. Their proxies … al-Sadr’s Shiite bloc in Parliament and the al-Qaeda-linked Association of Muslim Scholars … have already voiced their opposition. The enemy, whether on the battlefield or in elected office, always has a vote, and can be expected to do whatever it can to make its nightmare of a free, democratic, staunchly U.S.-allied Iraq disappear.

Read more from Jules Crittenden at Forward Movement.