Today, Stephen "Go Deep or Get Out" Biddle, a Very Serious Person at the Council on Foreign Relations and architect of Bush's "Joint Campaign Plan," told the London Sunday Times' main neocon stenographer Sarah Baxter that British forces will have to fight their way out of Iraq in an “ugly and embarrassing” retreat. (And favorite mouthpiece of the UK defense and intelligence communities, Michael Smith, weighed in with British denials of Biddle's claims.)
Meanwhile, the uber-Right Sunday Telegraph, safe now that it can diss the labour party without dissing Bush's pal Tony in the process, cites even more lurid tales of British "failure" in Basra.
A senior US officer familiar with Gen Petraeus's thinking said: "The short version is that the Brits have lost Basra, if indeed they ever had it. Britain is in a difficult spot because of the lack of political support at home, but for a long time - more than a year - they have not been engaged in Basra and have tried to avoid casualties.The Surge Advocates (TM), like Biddle and General Keane, want to use all this doom and gloom as a bolster to their plans to stay in Iraq forever. "Look", they cry, "this is what will happen all across Iraq if US troops withdraw before the Surge has succeeded" (however long that might take).
"They did not have enough troops there even before they started cutting back. The situation is beyond their control.
"Quite frankly what they're doing right now is not any value-added. They're just sitting there. They're not involved. The situation there gets worse by the day. Americans are disappointed because, in their minds, this thing is still winnable. They don't intend to cut and run."
The officer predicted that the affair could have long-lasting implications. "There will be a stink about this that will hang around the British military," he said.
It is a view echoed by General Jack Keane, the architect of the surge strategy, who has just returned from Baghdad.
Gen Keane, who has the ear of Vice President Dick Cheney and Stephen Hadley, President George W Bush's national security adviser, told The Sunday Telegraph: "It is disappointing and frustrating to see a situation in Basra that was once working pretty well, now coming apart. The situation there has been getting worse for some time."
They're relying on your terrible memory to ensure no-one brings up Dick Cheney saying, at the time of the first major British drawdown back in February:
"Well, I look at it and see it is actually an affirmation that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well," Cheney told ABC News' Jonathan Karl.And, indeed, the official White House line:
"In fact, I talked to a friend just the other day who had driven to Baghdad down to Basra, seven hours, found the situation dramatically improved from a year or so ago, sort of validated the British view they had made progress in southern Iraq and that they can therefore reduce their force levels," Cheney said.
President Bush, who spoke to Blair on Tuesday, appeared upbeat about a British pull-out and said he hoped U.S. forces could follow suit when conditions allowed.Unfortunately, the blogosphere is an unforgiving place of long electronic memories. Which is why the pro-Surge Right who so glowingly reported the British withdrawal as a sign of success back then are so eerily silent when handed a gift of some pro-Surge spin today.
"President Bush sees this as a sign of success and what is possible for us once we help the Iraqis deal with the sectarian violence in Baghdad," Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said.
This is one of the few things that pro-Surger Michael O'Hanlon seems to have got right back in February, as he pointed out that if the Brit withdrawal was the success it was being touted as, the troops would be withdrawing only as far as Baghdad, to help, rather than all the way home.
However, that isn't the whole story either. O'Hanlon's been as vehement in his insistence that the Surge will work, given time, as Biddle and Keane. What then are we to make of the fact that the current US counterinsurgency doctrine - "authored" by General Saint Petraeus even though it wasn't - is based on the British doctrine that has now supposedly failed where the US one is supposedly succeeding? Again, it's a case of the neocons wanting their cake and to eat it too. They want to diss a British withdrawal that shows an alternative to surging but tout the Surge - while at the same time they would prefer a move back towards the Israeli COIN paradigm, also known as "bomb the rubble", instead of all this unmanly stuff about hearts and minds. In trying to get everything they want all at once, their spin falls apart.
So what's the truth, devoid of neocon spin? Well, back in February the AP asked a real expert:
The British have faced problems recently in the south. Since January 2005, Basra and Maysan provinces have both fallen under the sway of Shiite militias, which have resisted British efforts to uproot them. Relations with the Basra provincial government have also deteriorated.In other words, as I wrote at the time:
Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said though the British and American strategies appear to be opposite, they will achieve the same end: a consolidation of Shiite power in Iraq.
The British have already acquiesced to a ``situation of quiet sectarian cleansing'' in the south, and their decision to pull out of Basra simply marks ``acceptance of a political reality'' of Shiite control in the region. He noted, for instance, that southeastern Iraq has been ``a no-go zone'' for some time.
``If the Shiites continue to stand down (in Baghdad), the U.S. is fighting the Sunni insurgents for them,'' he said, further cementing Shiite control of the country.
no matter what is accomplished by the current "surge" in Bahgdad, as soon as the surge is over Sunnia and Shiite will fall upon one another once more. The signals to do so will come from the very top of the Iraqi government which the coalition has installed and protected.It has been clear for some time that any quiet, any peace, in Basra was entirely at the convenience of the various opposing factions and that as soon as the warlords had cause to fight the peace disintigrated. That will also be the course of the US Surge, even in Anbar where a patchwork of accidental and temporary alliances of convenience is for now the biggest sign of success. Personal accounts of retruning US servicemen only bolster that assessment.
...Petraeus must by now have figured out that Maliki intends using his surge as cover for even more ethnic cleansing and entrenchment of Shiite dominance. But in the South, where the Iraqi regime doesn't have to worry about Sunni insurgent attacks, they are happy to see the British go. It will give them a free hand, after all. Thus come Maliki's insistence on crushing the Sunni insurgency with every power available while Shiite militias lay low and wait out the storm.
It is against this backdrop that the British pullout - and any temporary success the surge might enjoy - should be viewed...the current majority Shiite government, protected by the aid of both the US and Iran, has little if any incentive to change until after the chaos has enabled it to consolidate power as a new dictatorship over Iraq's minorities.
As the NY Times op-ed everyone is talking about today puts it:
Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched.Right there is why no counter-insurgency doctrine, be it british or American or Israeli, will succeed in Iraq. A temporary cap is all that is possible and in a very short period of time even that temporary cap will erode and break. The Brits are right - withdraw while the withdrawing's good.