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CSI: Iraq | The Nation

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CSI: Iraq

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Victory Laps and Other Celebrations

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Tom Engelhardt
Tom Engelhardt created and runs the Tomdispatch.com website, a project of The Nation Institute of which he is a Fellow...

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From toddlers with guns to wedding parties hit by drones, here’s the news for tomorrow.

From Vietnam to Pakistan, the business of counting deaths by American hands has never been simple math.

But folks, let's face it, despite the cosmetic acts of the President and his undertakers, America's Iraq is still a corpse. And yet, in this "post-surge" moment, everybody is arguing over just how "successful" the surge has been. The Democrats insist that the plan's "success" is limited, because its main goal, "political reconciliation," has not been reached. Republicans, assorted neocons, and some in the Administration are already doing modest victory dances. The newest New York Times columnist, William Kristol, just last week chided the Democrats in his typical way: "It's apparently impermissible for leading Democrats to acknowledge--let alone celebrate--progress in Iraq."

Let the celebrations begin! In the White House, anyway. After all, Iraq news is now regularly framed by this ongoing dispute about how much surge and post-surge success has happened, about how much to celebrate--another sign of success for the President. No wonder, as Michael Abramowitz of the Washington Post put it, Bush's meeting in Kuwait with Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, as well as his comments to a rally of 3,000 hoo-ahing US troops, "had the air of a victory lap for a president whose decision to raise the troop levels in Iraq last year was questioned not only by Democrats but also by many Republicans and even generals at the Pentagon."

But folks, George W. Bush can lap the Middle East, the planet, the solar system and America's Iraq is still never going to get up and walk away. Not even in 2018 or 2028. Don't forget, it's a corpse.

In the meantime, the military in Iraq is preparing for something other than a simple victory lap, just in case the President's surge luck doesn't quite extend to 2009. In fact, General Petraeus and the rest of the US military are faced with a relatively simple calculus for their exhausted, overstretched, overused forces: present military manpower levels there are unsustainable. Drawdowns are a must and "successful" Iraq, already experiencing signs of another uptick in violence and death, is likely to need a dose of something else soon, if that faint glow of life is to be sustained.

One candidate, as American troop levels drop, is air power. In Iraq, according to a recent study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the use of air power took a striking leap forward in 2007. The number of Close Air Support/Precision Strikes--sorties that used a major munition--in Iraq went up five-fold between 2006 and 2007, from 229 to 1,119 or, on average, from 19 per month to 102 per month. 2008 started with a literal bang, 40,000 pounds of explosives were dropped in ten minutes on thirty-eight targets in a Sunni farming area on "the outskirts" of Baghdad. This was probably the largest display of air power since the 2003 invasion and, as a harbinger of things to come, guaranteed to drive up the number of civilian dead. This is undoubtedly a taste of what "success" means in 2008-2009.

Dancing on a Corpse

The whole discussion of, and argument about, "success" in Iraq is, in fact, obscene. Given what has already happened to that country--and will continue to happen as long as the US remains an occupying power there--the very category of "success" is an obscenity. If violence actually does stay down there, that may be a modest godsend for Iraqis, but it can hardly be considered a sign of American "success."

Every now and then, history comes in handy. When the neocons and their allied pundits were feeling triumphant, they touted Bush's America as the planet's new Rome. That talk evaporated once Iraq went into full-scale insurgency mode, but perhaps Rome does remain a touchstone of a sort.

What comes to mind is the Roman historian Tacitus' description of the Roman way of war which went, in part, like this:

"They ravage, they slaughter, they seize by false pretenses, and all of this they hail as the construction of empire. And when in their wake nothing remains but a desert, they call that peace."

Folks, it's obscene. We're doing victory laps around, and dancing upon, a corpse.

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