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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Even neoconservatives now accepting defeat in Iraq

David Frum was one of the leading neoconservative advocates of the invasion of Iraq. The former Bush speechwriter is a true believer, having co-authored a radical neoconservative book with Richard Perle entitled An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, which -- according to its publisher -- "calls for the United States to overthrow the government of Iran, abandon support of a Palestinian state, blockade North Korea, use strong-arm tactics with Syria and China, disregard much of Europe as allies, and sever ties with Saudi Arabia."

But in a strikingly candid essay on his National Review blog yesterday, Frum all but admits that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has been a failure, and says that the only realistic goal we can hope to achieve is preventing Iraq from becoming a training ground for Al Qaeda -- a goal which was already achieved, of course, prior to our invasion:

Hands up, everybody who believes that the "hundreds" of troops that the Pentagon plans to move from the rest of Iraq into Baghdad will suffice to secure the capital against the sectarian militias now waging war upon the civilian populations of the city? Anybody? No, I didn't think so.

To take back the capital from the militias that now terrorize it will take thousands, not hundreds, of American plus tens of thousands of Iraqis. . . . So a real plan for success in Baghdad will have to be built upon additional troops from out of area, potentially raising US troop levels back up to the 150,000 or so of late 2005.

Manifestly, neither the administration nor the Congress will contemplate such a move. Which means, most likely, continuing violence in Iraq and a continuing rise in the power of the militias, especially the Iranian-backed Shiite militias: the Hezbollah of Iraq.

Frum has been arguing for the last five years, at least, that Iran is an evil supporter of international terrorism and a monumental threat to the U.S. Indeed, Frum is credited with creating the phrase "axis of evil" when he was at the Bush White House, which famously included Iran, and even now is agitating for confrontation with Iran. And yet, by Frum's own admission, the invasion of Iraq which he and his comrades so desperately wanted, has delivered control of Iraq into the hands of our arch Iranian enemies, and Frum admits that the U.S. has no realistic hope of doing anything to reverse that result.

Frum now admits that the sectarian civil war will rage on until Shiites assert total dominion over Baghdad and all of Southern Iraq, at which point "Baghdad - and therefore central Iraq - will in such a case slide after Basra and the south into the unofficial new Iranian empire." About this result, Frum admits: "The consequences for the region and the world will be grim."

Admitting that the Bush administration, in an election year, will not deploy additional troops to Iraq, Frum says that the best we can hope for in Iraq is the essentially defeatist plan urged in a New York Times Op-Ed by Bill Clinton's Ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith. Galbriath points out that the Iraqi government actually governs nothing beyond the Green Zone in Baghdad and that -- as Frum accepts -- it is impossible for the U.S. to stop the civil war or re-take control from Shiite militias without substantially increasing our troop presence there.

With those premises in place, Galbriath advocates -- and, notably, Frum accepts -- that the U.S. military should withdraw entirely from the Sunni region and re-deploy as a small “over the horizon” force in Kurdistan. The rationale for Galbraith's plan is this:

Seeing as we cannot maintain the peace in Iraq, we have but one overriding interest there today — to keep Al Qaeda from creating a base from which it can plot attacks on the United States. Thus we need to have troops nearby prepared to re-engage in case the Sunni Arabs prove unable to provide for their own security against the foreign jihadists. . . .

Yes, a United States withdrawal from the Shiite and Sunni Arab regions of Iraq would leave behind sectarian conflict and militia rule. But staying with the current force and mission will produce the same result. Continuing a military strategy where the ends far exceed the means is a formula for war without end.

So that's what our mission in Iraq has been reduced to -- ceding most of Iraq to Iranian control and acknowledging that a civil war is now inevitable and we can do nothing to stop it. Worse, the only thing we can possibly hope to accomplish is to prevent Al Qaeda from turning Iraq into its new terrorist training ground, something it was entirely incapable of doing prior to our invasion.

Put another way, in exchange for the thousands of lives lost, hundreds of billions of dollars squandered, and destruction of U.S. credibility as a result of our invasion, the best we can hope for is what we already had -- a situation where Al Qaeda cannot run free in Iraq -- along with a vicious civil war and control by Iranian mullahs over most of Iraq. And that is what one of the leading neconservative advocates of the war is saying.

Americans have long ago recognized what even David Frum (though, notably, not Joe Lieberman) now admits -- that our invasion of Iraq will produce no real benefits and that our continued presence there can achieve nothing. The newly released NYT-CBS poll shows that a solid majority of Americans favor "a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq" -- precisely what the President most steadfastly refuses to accept. With even David Frum endorsing a close permutation of the "over the horizon" re-deployment which Jack Murtha months ago advocated, Democrats should have no trouble unifying on this issue and advocating that Republicans should be turned out of office for stubbornly and destructively clinging to the prosecution of a war which cannot possibly achieve any good.

When Howard Dean, in the wake of Saddam Hussein's capture, questioned whether the invasion of Iraq would make the U.S. "safer," he was ridiculed by virtually everyone as a radical and a lunatic, with the ridicule led by Joe Lieberman. But reality has become too overwhelming for all but the most manipulative political figures to deny. As a result, there are very few people left willing to defend the invasion and occupation as anything other than a disaster, but the remaining holdouts happen to be sitting in the White House (and in one of Connecticut's Senate seats). That discrepency is disastrous for American interests, but is an excellent opportunity for Democrats to finally make the case that this administration has been a failure on every level, not just including -- but especially -- in the area of national security.

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