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Jewish World Review
Nov. 16, 2007
/ 6 Kislev 5768
Some of us can't afford victory
You know the situation in Iraq has improved when the U.S. military starts to receive criticism for inflating security threats.
That's what happened last month when the Defense Department asked Congress for $1.4 billion in emergency spending to combat sniper attacks.
As USA Today reported, the Pentagon based its request on the assertion that sniper attacks have quadrupled over the past year and eventually might outpace improvised explosive devices as the top killer of U.S. personnel. USA Today questioned the data and, after a review, discovered the rate of sniper attacks has actually declined slightly in 2007. During the past four months, it has declined precipitously.
A Defense Department official conceded that the quadrupled claim was a mistake. The Pentagon modified the justification for the spending request. And since Kongsberg Defense and Aerospace, a Norwegian company that supplies the Army with countersniper technology systems, has a plant in Johnstown, Pa., the hometown of appropriator in chief Rep. John Murtha, it's a safe bet the request will survive.
This is a lesson, first, in the capriciousness of politics, where even a supposedly staunch, get-the-troops-out-now opponent of the Iraq war is all for Iraq war spending as long as his district gets a buck. The USA Today story hit the stands the same day the Wall Street Journal reported that Murtha, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, has directed more taxpayers dollars from the 2008 military-spending bill to his congressional district than any member of Congress.
It's also a lesson, more importantly, about the changing terms of the debate surrounding the Iraq war. Back in March, the new congressional majority bandied about resolutions calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq by August 2008, March 2008 and even, as stipulated in the Iraq Redeployment Act of 2007, within 180 days, which means the United States would by now have abandoned the Iraqi people.
Remember the logic of those resolutions? The presence of American troops was the destabilizing source of Iraq's deplorable security situation. The insurgency was the understandable homegrown response to military occupation. The surge would, therefore, only make matters worse by increasing instability and stoking the insurgency.
You don't hear rational people propound these theories anymore, and not only because of the obvious inability of its advocates to explain why they applied to Iraq but not to Afghanistan. You don't hear them because the facts on the ground have proven them to be utterly wrong a dramatic drop in civilian and coalition casualties, the dramatic rebellion of Sunni tribes in Anbar and Diyala provinces against al-Qaida extremists and their alliance with U.S. forces against foreign jihadists.
Which is perhaps the best explanation for why Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards won't make a pledge to get the United States out of Iraq by the end of 2013, let alone in 180 days. And it's why a reader can be surprised to discover under the headline "Pentagon misstates sniper data in $1.4B request" that sniper attacks in Iraq have fallen dramatically in the last four months.
Despite the turnaround, 2007 will be the deadliest year yet for U.S. forces in Iraq. War is a human, not a mechanical, endeavor. The bombing of the Askariya shrine in Samarra ignited sectarian conflict in 2006. A new strategy with new leadership and more boots is managing to tamp it down in 2007. Another act of terrorist ingenuity could fan new flames of violence.
A sensible administration would use the improved security situation to leverage political progress in Baghdad. After all, when conventional wisdom held that military force couldn't make Iraq any better, the threat of a drawdown was next to meaningless. Now that the situation has improved, more Iraqis have a vested interest in a continuing U.S. presence. Ironically, the biggest opposition to such a shrewd policy may come from some putative war opponents in Congress who can't afford to see the American mission wind down.
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JWR contributor Jonathan Gurwitz, a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, is a co-founder and twice served as Director General of the Future Leaders of the Alliance program at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. In 1986 he was placed on the Foreign Service Register of the U.S. State Department.
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