Monday, November 27, 2006

Is Denial Contagious?

Time columnist Joe Klein writes that his president's only remaining option in Iraq is how to withdraw 'creatively.' Klein cites recent testimony of CIA Director Michael Hayden as proof that there is nothing left to win and precious little left to salvage in Iraq:

"Iraq no longer exists as a coherent governmental entity. It is being atomized, according to CIA Director Michael Hayden, into 'smaller and smaller groups fighting over smaller and smaller issues over smaller and smaller pieces of territory.'

"Hayden's testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee a few weeks ago was largely overlooked, but it is stunning. He called the level of violence in Iraq 'satanic.' He said that as the violence increases, 'the center disappears, and normal people acting not irrationally end up acting like extremists.' In other words, if you're a resident of Baghdad, the most rational response is to seek protection from one of the militias—al-Qaeda if you're Sunni, the Mahdi Army if you're Shi'ite—or to get out of town. 'It's impossible to get your teeth fixed in Baghdad,' a U.S. intelligence official told me recently. 'All the dentists have left the country.'"

Klein points out that the CIA Director's assessment isn't shared by many military leaders if, for no other reason, that they simply are not trained to think that way, to brook any idea save for victory:

"Now, finally, the uniformed brass seem poised to speak more candidly. But that doesn't make a military solution to this disaster any more plausible. 'You know, we're trained to complete the mission,' a senior military officer told me. 'And that's our reflex reaction, to come up with a can-do plan—'Here's how you fix it, sir!' But we may lack perspective now. The situation may be reaching the point of no return.' Indeed, the best advice for the military to give the President at this point may not be how to "win" in Iraq—but how to withdraw creatively, how to limit Iran's influence in the Shi'ite regions of the south, how to keep special-operations and quick-strike units based in the region, poised to attack al-Qaeda operations on a regular basis. The United States has lost the war in Iraq, but the "long war" against Islamist extremism will surely continue. The most pressing issue now is how not to lose the battles to come."

The dismal reality on the ground in Iraq will be on everyone's mind, save perhaps Stephen Harper's, at this week's NATO summit in Riga. Washington's obsession with Iraq has undermined the effort in Afghanistan and the strained alliance. A month ago intelligence reports told of foreign jihadis now choosing Afghanistan over Iraq because it offered the chance to kill infidels instead of attacking other Muslims. NATO needs and deserves relief in the form of a transfer of large numbers of US and British troops now being tied down in Iraq. How America responds to the situation in Afghanistan may well hinge on the strength of denial afflicting not only George Bush but also his generals.

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