Thursday, July 12, 2007

False optimism

Patrick Cockburn smacks down the release of the "mixed progress report" on Iraq.

"The picture it hopes to give - and this has been uncritically reported by the US media - is of a mixture of progress and frustration in Iraq," Cockburn writes.

"The wholly misleading suggestion is that the war could go either way. In reality the six failures are on issues critical to the survival of Iraq while the eight successes are on largely trivial matters."


The danger of the false optimism in the report is that it prevents other policies being devised. In January, President Bush decided to in effect ignore the most important recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton report, which were to talk to Iran and Syria and to disengage US troops. Instead Mr Bush sent reinforcements to Iraq, denounced Iran and Syria and added to the number of his enemies by threatening to clamp down on the Shia militias.

But talking to Iran has always been essential to any solution in Iraq.

"The Iranians can afford to compromise in Iraq but they cannot afford to lose," said one Iraqi observer. The more threatened they feel by the US over nuclear power or the possibility of air attack, the greater incentive they have to ensure that the US does not succeed in gaining control of Iraq. For most of the past four years they have not had to do much because the US has helpfully ensured its own failure by pursuing disastrous policies.

Paradoxically, Iran, unlike Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Arab states, actually supports the Iraqi government in Baghdad. It is run largely by their Shia co-religionists and political leaderswho were supported by Iran for years against Saddam Hussein. The problem here is that Washington has never been willing to accept that the great campaign it launched to overthrow Saddam Hussein has increased Iranian influence and put Shia clergy in black turbans in power in Baghdad as they have long held power in Tehran.

The "benchmarks" in President Bush's report are trivial and prove nothing. They appear to be an attempt to pretend that the war is still winnable in Iraq up to the Presidential election in the US next year.

These vain hopes of victory rule out compromises that the US still might make and are a pretence which many Americans and Iraqis will die unnecessarily trying to sustain.