A changing of the guard, in the form of General Petraeus handing over the keys to General Odiermo, presages by a couple months the changing of the guard in American politics. No one can really know, in either case, what the outcome will be and/or whether it will be good for the nation.
Take your pick, the political weather is cloudy and tending toward storms in both Iraq and America.
(Reuters) BAGHDAD: General Raymond Odierno took command of U.S.-led forces in Iraq on Tuesday, faced with the challenge of ensuring that security gains do not unravel at a time when American troop levels are being reduced.
Odierno replaced General David Petraeus at a ceremony presided over by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who said the two generals had formed an "incredible team" during the deployment of 30,000 extra U.S. troops to Iraq last year in the so-called "surge."
Odierno served as the second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq for 15 months until February.
"He knows that we are at a pivotal moment, where progress remains fragile and caution should be the order of the day," Gates said of Odierno. The ceremony took place in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces, now part of a sprawling U.S. military base.
Handovers are a time of reflection and I aim to reflect on a war I’ve never supported and criticized for nearly a year prior to the Bush plunge from the high-board.
My gut tells me we have been on the wrong side of strategic decisions from the get-go, because our president and vice-president saw this as an awarding of democracy, rather than a Yugoslav style imbroglio. Strong-men (as heads of state) leave bitter rivalries and we need not look to dictatorships for example. Our own near-shattered civic condition is the result of a near-dictatorship on the national political scene.
Near enough. Nearer than we need ever be again, if we are to prevent the unraveling of our national fiber. Much lip-service is given to coming together, to being the nation’s uniter rather than divider. But the fact is that ‘deciders’ are not all that likely to unite.
So, we came with a flawed strategy to Iraq and that complicates our decisions over what is best for that nation, as well as our own. I reflect, I opine. I am an opiner. Everyone seems to be these days . . . no license required.
Odierno and Petraeus came together last year to implement a new counter-insurgency strategy that helped drive violence down, allowing Iraq to begin seeking foreign investment to rebuild after decades of war and UN sanctions.
Petraeus leaves behind a very different Iraq from the one he faced when he took over in February 2007, when Iraq was on the brink of civil war.
Or not. We tend to see things as we would see them instead of as they are, especially from the outside of cultures, the inside of which we know very little. My personal view, standing bravely in opposition to my president and his four-star general, is that violence has gone down in Iraq because it suits the purposes of the Sunni population to get us the hell out so they can climb back in the saddle.
The Sunni minority ran Iraq until we overthrew Saddam Hussein and ushered in the majority Shiites. Remember our American Civil War? You can free the slaves, but you damned well better not walk off the stage after having done so. Exactly what we did in Lincoln’s time and it spawned a hundred years of lynchings, carpetbaggers, Jim Crow and segregation.
We somehow feel Iraqis are different in their ethnic ambitions because we don’t speak their language, move them like pawns on a chessboard and fail to understand their culture (which outdates ours by 4,000 years). Winston Churchill famously (and accurately) said, “America always makes the right decision…. after they have exhausted all other possibilities.”
The coming confrontation between Sunni and Shiite is inevitable, but it will be bloodier and more destructive of the national fabric because of decisions we made in desperation.
We were desperate to show progress—any kind of progress to slow the troop deaths and injuries. Those were described as ‘insurgent attacks,’ because it was politically untenable to call them what they were. What they were was the Sunni army (which we had sent home and pauperized) showing their anger at being sent home and pauperized. Additional anger accrued to street hatreds against the new guys in power—those Islamists who followed a different rightly-guided caliph fourteen centuries ago.
How do you understand that, when you sent everyone home over at the State Department who knew what the hell was at risk?
That’s a hatred of some proportion, an aging cheese of a hatred or, as Saddam himself might have said (before the trap was sprung at his hanging) the mother of all hatreds. Those who harbor that hatred have very little interest in George Bush or his war, but every interest in his weaponry. And therein, the plot thickens.
In order to satisfy our desperation for progress, we didn’t actually make progress, but redefined the enemy instead. A paper-victory worthy of a paper-tiger. We took the guys from the streets that were bombing us, renamed them Awakening Councils, armed them to the teeth and suddenly they were no longer counted as insurgents, but became partners against al Qaeda. No wonder deaths went down, we partnered with the insurgency. That’s an easy thing to do when you don’t actually have a definition of al Qaeda forces and can move them around at will on the chessboard that the Middle East has become.
Now, of course, we’re using that lessening of violence to draw down our troops. We got into this war on false pretenses and are planning to get out by sleight of hand as well. Petraeus is leaving for a promotion. Odiermo is going to oversee our orderly withdrawal, everyone stateside will breathe a sigh of relief, the troops are going to Afghanistan and the fragile Iraqi coalition government is going to get its ass handed to it.
Iraq's Shiite-led government will also soon take control of Sunni Arab tribal units that joined forces with the U.S. military to fight Al Qaeda. Some analysts fear the tribal units, which include many former Sunni Arab insurgents, could turn their guns on the government if their demands are not met.
Which will be ever afterward known in Baghdad as National Getting Our Ass Handed to Us Day.
But America will be out, China will have the first shot at the oil, nearly 5,000 kids will have been killed under false pretenses, Cheney will be either on the rubber-chicken circuit or under indictment, Bush no longer able to chain-saw the Constitution and what’s left of the fabric of America searching for what went so terribly wrong.
But not very hard. There’s a failing economy to deal with. Iraq will quickly become last week’s story—except for Iraqis. They will likely remember for the next fourteen centuries. Islam has a long memory.
My guess is blanket presidential pardons will be served like after-dinner mints on the way out the door.
Can a president do that? Probably. This is a president who gets away with stuff.