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Military goals in Iraq

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From the nation’s military point of view, according to one military intelligence official who spoke anonymously to the press corps, even a veto-proof congressional majority elected in 2008 is unlikely to demand a full, immediate military withdrawal from Iraq. Instead, any withdrawal will be staggered to preserve the most stable situation possible in the hopes of preventing internal chaos. The military’s best possible scenario, as this official forecast, is to “get (Iraq) as stable as we can, with the troops we have, and in the time available. And then, we’ll back out as carefully as we can.”

It’s certainly not an outlandish estimate of what the political climate is likely to allow as military options for the next two years. And it’s instructive for Americans to understand what the military, as opposed to the administration or political candidates, thinks it will be able to accomplish before they leave that war-torn country. Note, for instance, that there is no talk in the military these days of securing a stable democracy in Iraq, of making friends with the Iraqis and establishing U.S. bases or diplomatic outposts there with the intent of helping reshape the Middle East, let alone sharing in their oil wealth. Rather, the military’s goal has been diminished to propping up an unstable government and leaving with a hint of stability in place so we’re not boarding the last planes home with mortar fire at our backs.

The better American voters understand the military’s assessment of this war, the better they will be able to assess the political goals of the various presidential candidates and of this administration.

Bush, for example, is still talking of a military victory and establishing Iraq as a democratic toehold in the region. Most political and military analysts know he’s whistling Dixie — and out of tune, at that. Presidential candidates from both parties can similarly be judged on the commonsense of their proposals.

Does a complete and immediate military pullout of U.S. troops make any kind of sense? Most likely not. A phased withdrawal may well be in the best interests of Iraq and of the U.S. troops stationed there. And most Democrats advocating pulling out of Iraq agree that a phased withdrawal lasting several months will be necessary from a logistical and military perspective.

It’s also essential American voters revisit the goals that President Bush and Congress established this past January when Bush requested a military “surge” in troop levels and dollars spent to reestablish security. Entered as a law of the land to secure additional funding for Bush’s surge, the president is now required to meet 18 specific goals that would be met before additional funding would prolong the war. That report and assessment will be made in September. An interim report to Congress is due in late July and it is already known that none of the 18 goals will be met by the proposed deadlines. Instead, the situation has deteriorated, yet Bush continues to insist he is on the right course in his fight against terror and is now undertaking a campaign to convince the public that a new set of political and military goals and parameters be used to judge whether progress has been made.

The late historian Barbara Tuchman describes such presidential stubbornness in her best-selling book, “The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam.” She wrote: “Wooden-headedness… plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists of assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish, while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.”

It should be clear to Americans, by now, that Bush and his neoconservative cohorts will not change course even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Only the majority’s voice, spoken loudly and clearly, will guide this nation out of Iraq and direct the country’s military resources to more effective use.

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