Goodnight, Anbar Province, and Good Luck

U.S. hands over former Iraqi insurgent flashpoint

By Tim Cocks
Monday, September 1, 2008; 6:09 AM
RAMADI, Iraq (Reuters) – The U.S. military handed over Iraq’s western Anbar province to Iraqi security forces on Monday, less than two years after the region was all but lost to a Sunni Arab insurgency.
“We are in the last ten yards of this terrible fight. The goal is very near,” Major-General John Kelly, commander of U.S. forces in Anbar, told U.S., Iraqi and tribal officials gathered near Anbar’s government headquarters.
Left out of the news report is that General Kelly is a marine and we desperately need marines over a few countries to the north and east, out Afghanistan way. And so it is we are leaving the most volatile of the Iraqi provinces, ten yards short of a touchdown.
Third and goal, we have come away from the huddle with a strategic surprise-punt and tried to put a good face on it.
There are lots of troops in Iraq–140,000 or so, mostly locked up and locked down in various camps, so they won’t be so vulnerable to casualties before the November elections–but they are not marines. Marines want Afghanistan. Moreover, they and their commanders want out of Iraq and who can blame them. Petraeus is leaving. If Anbar catches fire after he’s gone, it will just polish the well-crafted imagery that only Petraeus could hold it all together.
I have argued to get out of Iraq (but then I argued long and hard not to get in), suggesting that the tribal war will convene as it is destined to convene. All we are doing is holding off the inevitable, at great cost in blood, reputation and money, until we gather the wisdom to get he hell out or get all the way in. All the way in, means essentially becoming a colonial ruler and that is (so far) unacceptable to American values.
But American values are increasingly subject to the vagaries of fear-mongering, Muslim race-baiting and the pump price of gasoline. So, who can possibly predict what will be unacceptable, as America becomes more and more politically driven, riven and striven.
My complaint is not that we are drawing down. My comlaint is the hypocrisy with which we do that and the cost of that hypocrisy that will be borne by the Iraqi citizens of Anbar. Needing marines in Afghanistan, we are pulling our helicopters metaphorically off the roof of the Saigon embassy and calling it (as we did then) a ‘handover.’
Goodnight, Anbar province,” as Ed Murrow might have said, “and good luck.

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