Among my friends is a source in the Romanian defense ministry. This person tells me that even before the Iraq Study Group had delivered its report, administration envoys were asking the Romanian government to increase their troop commitment in Iraq as a complement to America's decision to do the same.
Despite all the posturing about reaching out for advice, and nothing being off the table, it's long been decided that George W. Bush is going to double down in Iraq. The only question that remains is whether the increase in our number of troops will be 20,000, 30,000 or more. All that argues for the lower end of that range is the reticence of The Joint Chiefs and General Abizaid who seem certain that if the Iraqi government is to become effective, and legitimate, it has to succeed without the promise of an ever larger American crutch.
The sacrifice of more lives for a failed policy is counterintuitive, but we shouldn't be surprised. This new initiative is a spasm born of aggravation and a fatal lack of understanding. George W. Bush cultivates a reputation as the ultimate cowboy, a risk taker who enjoys gambling on long odds. He avoids gray areas, goes with his gut, and never looks back. In the first instance he relies on a sense of entitlement that comes from a lifetime of failure and evaded responsibility. In the last instance he's emboldened by a belief in God so narcissistic that he's convinced the Almighty is obliged to save him from himself.
He swaggers, he smirks and he spins the roulette wheel.
Unfortunately he is gambling on a lost cause. The war in Iraq is a war we cannot win because the enemy we're committed to destroy, and the people we're pledged to defend are one and the same. If you have doubts, ask yourself where are the Iraqi volunteers, summoned by a sense of patriotism, who would sacrifice themselves for a new, secular and democratic Iraq? Even those who support administration policy concede that without American involvement the country would quickly fall into the hands of those who hate us. And why? Because there is no popular indigenous movement that wants what America wants.
The only Iraqis taking up arms in defense of the current government are paid by America, their loyalty is rented, and they are notoriously slow to confront the growing militia movement. Meanwhile, those who fight the Iraqi government take huge risks, die by the thousands, and they are paid by no one. If you look at these facts straight on and can still be optimistic there's a job waiting for you in the White House.
This simple statement of facts is lost on those who are ideologically committed. They see the world not as it truly is, but as they wish it to be.
What George W. Bush does know, and can understand, is that his everlasting reputation depends on the outcome of the war in Iraq. It's not so much that the rest of his Presidency has been characterized as successful, and all that stands between him and a garland of glory is victory in Iraq. We can only wish that were true. No, Iraq's importance is that it's singular. Iraq has been such a huge and colossal failure that if it remains that way nothing else will matter. And likewise, if Bush somehow redeems his policy and Baghdad becomes an Athens on the Euphrates, then Katrina will be remembered as nothing more than a toilet overflow.
At the same time, Bush is also painfully aware that he gets no extra credit for waking up late and trying to mitigate his mistakes through gradual disengagement. For him the choice is clear, he has to win with his only tool a policy that has been discredited. He has to hope that the surgery he's performing on Iraq hasn't failed because he's using a sledge hammer. He has to hope that the policy has failed because he's using a sledge hammer that's not big enough. So the roulette wheel is spinning and all his chips are stacked high on black 22.
Yet the one chance the ball will fall on black 22 is practically nil.
So what are the implications for a person who hopes to succeed George Bush in the White House. Right now the worst possible place to be is in the shoes of Sen. John McCain. Unless he's as misguided as the present incumbent, he has to know that the current policy is bankrupt. After all, he spent several long years suffering in a prisoner of war camp waiting for an earlier generation of political leaders to learn a similar lesson.
Still, for the last few years he's been demanding that George Bush do exactly what he is about to do. And why? My guess is that, at least in part, it was a political calculation. McCain is a smart man and he knew that the situation in Iraq was beyond saving, and has been beyond saving for a long time. Yet it would have been political suicide to say so. In fact, to say so even now would be suicide with the right wing of his own party.
Therefore, he staked out a position that was as bold as it was unlikely to be adopted. He could bluster about the need for an increased troop commitment necessary to see us through to victory, even as he banked on the belief that the White House would never throw more gas on the fire.
As the whole sad Iraqi enterprise met with its tragic but predictable conclusion, he could campaign at a distance from the policies of a failed President, even as he avoided all the baggage of having called for retreat. As political strategy it was brilliant, and while it may have been cynical, it was also true that nothing McCain could have said or done would have saved or lost a single life. His actual influence on the administration was zero, and he knew that.
What McCain did not expect was that the White House might actually do exactly as he had suggested, but for reasons that had nothing to do with the fact that he suggested it. To his own surprise he's now likely to walk into the 2008 primaries with Iraq an even bigger mess while his own name is tattooed on this huge mistake.
So what should you do if you're a Democrat hoping to be the next President? First, you should take a cold blooded and realistic assessment of the situation in Iraq. It is appropriate to hope and pray for the best, but you'd have to be a fool not to expect the worst.
With an increased troop commitment, and otherwise a very similar policy in place, imagine 2007 and 2008 with greater losses and absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel. The insurgency will have gained greater momentum with an increased number of American troops to serve as targets. With accelerated anti-war sentiment, the only position that makes sense is a position that is forward of today's public opinion, but exactly on target in the context of 2008.
As of today a position on the war that's moral, and one that will soon be seen as far sighted and sound, are exactly the same. Very early on, and right now would be best, the American people should be given the unpleasant news that they deserve to hear. They should be told that,
The war was flawed in its inception, flawed in its execution, and many brave soldiers have died. They died for a mistake that may have been motivated by the best of intentions, but still, it was a mistake.
Today we have faith that because of their loss good will eventually come to the Iraqi people, but it is also clear that things like freedom and justice can never be paid for by the blood of one people, and then given to another as though it were a gift.
If the goal for which our soldiers sacrificed is ever to be achieved the only payment acceptable is the bravery and patriotism of the Iraqi people themselves. Those willing to pay that price will never lack for the material support of the American people, but if I'm elected President, my first objective will be to prevent the loss of even one more American life in a war that can never truly be our own.