When Words are Just Words

Just after America’s Important Old Men (IOM) toured Iraq and told the American people that all is well, all hell broke loose. Gene Robinson summarizes the events succinctly.

Maliki’s decision to send troops into Basra and root out the “criminal gangs” that controlled the city was praised by the White House as a bold move to assert the Iraqi government’s sovereignty. In reality, though, it looked more like an attempt to boost Maliki’s political standing by dealing a blow to the Mahdi Army — the biggest and most powerful Shiite militia — and its leader, the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Iraqi forces launched their offensive and were immediately met by what Maliki’s defense minister called unexpectedly strong resistance. In other words, they ran into a buzz saw. Maliki went to Basra to personally oversee military operations. History will not confuse him with Napoleon.

The government might have suffered a humiliating defeat if not for the face-saving intervention of U.S. and British air power, and a bit of British artillery as well…  

Maliki was forced to sue for peace, Sadr magnanimously accepted, and the fighting ebbed. The Mahdi Army remains entrenched, in Basra and other cities, and armed to the teeth. Maliki’s regime looks less like a government than just another faction — albeit one with a couple of big brothers who will come in to finish any rashly started schoolyard fights.

All of which illustrates the insanity of the open-ended Iraq war policy that Bush has followed and that McCain vows to perpetuate.

Funny how, since the British left, there haven’t been so many headless bodies in ditches in Basra as we find in, say, Baghdad. As we soldier on through murders, IEDs, and mortars plopping into the Green Zone, Gene Robinson asks (and answers) a very good question.

What, exactly, did the United States use its military might to accomplish last week? We intervened in a struggle among various Shiite power centers for control of a city where much of Iraq’s oil industry — and thus much of its potential wealth — is based. We supported a political figure who was trying to weaken another political figure in advance of upcoming elections. We boosted the morale and fervor of the most implacable opponents of continued American occupation.

Does any of this have anything to do with our nation’s vital interests? I suppose you could argue that Basra is important because of the oil, but the city is no more under Baghdad’s control today than it was two weeks ago.

Please note that throughout this episode, you haven’t heard the name al-Qaeda. According to Bush and McCain, isn’t Iraq supposed to be the central front in the war on terrorism? Wouldn’t the only plausible reason for continuing the occupation of Iraq be to fight terrorists — rather than help one Shiite leader against another? And what’s the strategic reason for backing Maliki, who recently gave Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a red-carpet welcome to Baghdad, over Sadr, who is believed to be living in Iran, enjoying Ahmadinejad’s hospitality?

I still ask myself what “victory” is supposed to mean when there seems to be no objective beyond staying there and mixing it up every now and again. Nor do I have any idea what the Iraqhawks mean when they say that those of us in favor of getting out advocate “surrender.” Surrender to whom?

To whom indeed. You see, sometimes words — such as victory and surrender — are just words.

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