As the country’s focus has shifted to the economy, 140,000 American troops remain in Iraq and events there are not suspended. While violence has decreased dramatically in the past year and a half, Iraqi politicians have not taken advantage of the situation to come to the political compromises necessary to bring about stability.
The President’s announcement today that the U.S. will begin a modest redeployment of American forces from Iraq to Afghanistan – a recommendation progressives have been advocating for years – is a welcome shift. But the redeployment is so modest and will take so long to arrive that, effectively, the President remains fixated on Iraq - regardless of the larger implications for U.S. national security.
Iraq is entering a pivotal period. With little political reconciliation between Sunnis and Shia since the surge began a year and a half ago, the U.S. has now begun to transfer authority over the predominately Sunni Anbar province to the Shia-dominated Iraqi government. While conservatives have prematurely declared victory in Iraq, progressives have consistently warned that political reconciliation and the establishment of the Iraqi government will be the hard part.
It may not have seemed possible for things to get any worse for the Bush administration after last week, when the world witnessed the full-circle collapse of the Bush’s personality-driven approach towards Putin’s Russia and Musharraf’s Pakistan. Yet not only did the extent of the President’s failed policy toward Pakistan and Russia become more clear, but the events of the week also demonstrated the bankruptcy of the conservative approach toward Iraq, Afghanistan, and Europe.
In his last days commanding U.S. forces in Iraq, General Petraeus issued words of caution – the security gains that had been achieved were “tenuous.” The increase in U.S. forces played an important role in creating the decrease in violence, but during this time almost no progress has been made on political reconciliation.
Reports out of Baghdad are that the Bush administration and the Iraqi Government are close to an agreement that would include a timetable for the withdrawal of American combat forces by the end of 2010. While close to the timetable proposed by Barack Obama, John McCain continues to cling to the idea of a permanent American presence in Iraq.
This weekend Iraq’s leaders again failed to agree on a new provincial elections law, and a new wave of protests and bombings shook the region. It is a reminder that the reduction in violence we have seen recently is heavily predicated on political success.